Gordon + Macphail Connoisseurs Choice – Glendullan, Glenburgie, Caol Ila

We continued our whisky explorations at the Gordon & Macphail stand at Paris Whisky Live, switching gears from their DIscover to Connoisseur Choice range with:

  • Glendullan 12 year (2009 / 2022) 45% (approx Eur 100)
  • Glenburgie 26 year (1995/2022) 1st fill Sherry Puncheon #6349, 56.8% (approx Eur 250)
  • Caol Ila 25 year (1996/2022) 1st fill Sherry Butt #16074, 59.2% (approx Eur 350)

Glendullan 12 year (2009 / 2022) 45% 3245 Bottles.

  • Nose – A burst of berries – sweet and inviting
  • Palate – Strong berry flavours – mostly raspberries with some cassis
  • Finish – Nice sweet and sour cherry plus berry finish

What more do we know? The bottle states that this whisky had its initial maturation in a refilled bourbon barrel, finished in Cote Rotie cask for 3 years. It must be the red wine that brought such distinctive berry flavours to the fore – my tasting notes are merely variations on a berry theme! Their official tasting notes share a bit more with:

Dried strawberry aromas give way to roasted peanuts and crystallised violet. Rasperry compote flavours combine with liquorice and red apple. A medium-bodied finish with citrus and red berries.

Glenburgie 26 year (1995/2022) 1st fill Sherry Puncheon # 6349, 56.8% 564 Bottles.

  • Nose – Beautiful elegant pear, lovely sherry elements, some marmalade
  • Palate – Gorgeous! Lovely balanced palate, complex, nuanced, fruity, yet at the same time “heavy” and nutty
  • Finish – Again – stunning! Full fruit flavours, long, strong with hint of spice

I’m already partial to this Speyside distillery – with Glenburgie fixed in my mind as the “Downton Abbey” of whiskies – something that harkens back to an earlier era, still with some character and spunk but overlaid with a summery elegance. Everything that I love about Glenburgie was evident here – its age merely augmenting all the elements I’ve grown to love.

What more do we know? The label indicates this was a single cask 1st fill Sherry Puncheon – clearly responsible for the full flavours found in this impressive whisky. Their official tasting notes state:

Sweet raisin aromas combine with orange peel and fruitcake. Sultana flavours emerge alongside pepper and toasted hazelnuts. A full finish with spice.

Caol Ila 25 year (1996/2022) 1st fill Sherry Butt #16074, 59.2% 555 bottles

  • Nose – Cured meat, bacon, bonfire, sweet, heavy maple
  • Palate – A proper “campfire” dram – all those meaty aromas and sweet maple combine
  • Finish – An incredibly sweet peat feat! Some chilli chased by sweet cinnamon
  • Water – Whilst I only had a small sample, I added a drop. Wow! Brings such balance to every element – fabulous!

I was careful in my tasting order – sampling all the non-peated whiskies before turning first to the Discovery Range Caol Ila then this Connoisseurs Choice single cask. It made for a nice progression with this 25 year old being absolutely spectacular. Well worth sampling if you have the chance.

The official tasting notes are a great reflection of what to expect:

Raspberry compote aromas give way to festive spices and smoke. Cured meat flavours complement summer fruit and orange peel. A full finish with black pepper and bonfire embers.

Well done Gordon & Macphail with all three! None of the Connoisseurs Choice expressions disappointed and I appreciated that they kept two vintage single casks for the “main floor”, not just featuring such rare whiskies in the VIP section.

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Remarkable Gordon + Macphail Whisky Ranges

Gordon & Macphail is in a class of their own – with a 125-year history – they are no mere “indie bottler”… With long-term relationships with distilleries, an impressive set-up of their own casks, legendary warehouses with an exceptional range of old and very rare whiskies, this is one area at any whisky show you shouldn’t miss!

So what did we try at the London Whisky Show?

We began with the Discovery range, a newer series launched to introduce accessible, affordable single malts to the world:

  • Green for ex-bourbon casksGlenallachie 14 year 43%This ex-bourbon cask was a nice contrast to the current GlenAllachie sherry or cask finish styles
  • Purple for ex-sherry casksBunnahabhain 11 year 43%A solid expression
  • Grey/off-white for smokey/peaty – Caol Ila 13 year 43% – Skipped as was a bit early for peat!

We then progressed to the Gordon & Macphail’s Distillery Labels with Ardmore with a whiff of sea breeze, soft peat, and sweet!

From there, we got serious with their Connoisseurs Choice range, which has been a consistent series from Gordon & Macphail since 1968. We’ve tried many remarkable drams in this series which showcases various distillery spirits matured in Gordon & Macphail’s own barrels. At Whisky Live 2022, we tried:

We thought this would be the end of our journey…. however then our fabulous Gordon & Macphail’s guide shared a pair from their exceptionally rare Private Collection with:

Wow, wow, wow! What an amazing journey through some fabulous whiskies! And a very clear reminder of why Gordon & Macphail are worthy of slowing down and spending time exploring…

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London Whisky Show – Gordon + Macphail Connoisseurs Choice

Next up in our Gordon & Macphail tastings at the London Whisky Show were offerings from their Connoisseurs Choice range…

We’ve enjoyed several very special whiskies from this range! Including those we tried in London Oct 2022…

Old Pulteney 23 year (2008/ 28 Apr 2022) Refill Bourbon Barrel Cask No. 17603801 56.6% (G&MP Connoisseurs Choice) Batch 22/101, 243 Bottles

  • Colour – Amber
  • Nose – Joy in a glass! Lovely citrus, honey then coconut, chocolate… shifting into apple sauce
  • Palate – Creamy, full, and luscious. Simply gorgeous
  • Finish – Heavy finish, sweet and lightly spicy
  • Water – Amps up the tropical elements like caramelized bananas

It was endlessly complex… absolutely fabulous! Let’s just say, it was everything I appreciate in Old Pulteney, even more exquisite. 

Our fabulous guide shared a refilled Hogshead, retailing for approx GBP 200. As for the official tasting notes? The label shares the following:

Grapefruit and lemon aromas give way to baked apples and freshly cut grass. Honey and banana flavours are balanced by cracked black pepper. A full finish with mixed nuts.

Would I agree? Absolutely!

Tormore 29 year (1993/ 30 May 2022) 1st fill Sherry Butt Cask 5053 54.5%(G&MP Connoisseurs Choice) Batch 22/109, 554 bottles

  • Colour – Rich dark burgundy
  • Nose – Oh wow! No question this Tormore was matured in an ex-sherry cask. Incredibly intense, rich marmalade, with a berry punch,
  • Palate – A proper, mature sherry, dark fruits, rich chocolate
  • Finish – Candied dried fruit, a dash of cinnamon, heavy, burnt molasses

This is the kind of dram that makes you want to slow down and savour… preferably while lounging on a comfy sofa, curled up with a cosy throw, a good book… and all the time in the world to simply enjoy.

Even after the glass was empty, it left such a beautiful aroma… it was a shame to have such a special whisky in the hustle and bustle of a whisky festival.

What about the official tasting notes? Here is what they have to say:

  • Nose – Stewed RED BERRIES complement VANILLA POD and subtle COCOA POWDER. MEDJOOL DATES give way to DARK TREACLE and notes of soft ANISEED.
  • Taste – BAKED APPLE intertwines with CINNAMON and GINGER SPICE. DARK CHOCOLATE leads to subtle CITRUS FRUIT and CHARRED OAK.
  • Finish – Full with lingering SUMMER BERRIES and soft HERBAL notes.

What did we try next? A pair from the rather remarkable and very rare Private Collection range!!

Curious about some earlier Connoisseurs Choice explorations? Here are a few favourites!

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Gordon + MacPhail – Glendullan 2001/2014 46%

1st up in our Gordon & MacPhail trilogy evening was a bright, light delightful dram from Glendullan.

Glendullan Distillery was founded in 1897, and was the last built of the original seven distilleries of Dufftown. Glendullan was rebuilt in the 1960’s and an additional distillery unit was built between 1971-72. Currently owned by Diageo.

And what did our Whisky Ladies think?

Glendullan (2001/2014) 46%

  • Nose – Light, flowery, a spring breeze and then a balmy summer day, sweet lemon curd, beautiful… after the 1st sip, turned to a honey cinnamon spice, apricot, fresh fruit, crisp applies, caramel shift to wild flower honey
  • Palate – A delightful spice, all rather “grown up” then shifts to candy cane with a light tingle
  • Finish – Really stays…

I was expecting something light bodied, refreshing, likely best had chilled… and sure enough… it was absolutely delightful. A completely “happy” whisky, nothing harsh yet avoided stepping into the territory of cloying sweet. Instead it was nuanced quality, exceedingly drinkable, just warm, lovely doing a sprightly dance on our palate…

On the bottle, the notes confirmed it is from 1st fill ex-bourbon barrels and describes it as:

The whisky has sweet vanilla notes with hints of kiwi and green apple aromas. The palate is sweet with cracked black pepper, lime and orange flavours. These combine with a lingering creamy chocolate edge.

Here’s what the folks over at Gordon & MacPhail have to say:

Without water:

  • Aroma: Sweet vanilla with hints of kiwi, green apple and lime. These are complimented by underlying coconut, white chocolate and rose water aromas.
  • Taste: Cracked black pepper with lime, ripe banana and orange zest flavours. These combine with a lingering creamy milk chocolate edge.

With water:

  • Aroma – Vanilla pods with hints of cucumber, green banana and lime zest. A subtle freshly cut grass and cedar wood note lingers.
  • Taste – Ripe banana, pressed apple and melon flavours initially. A delicate trace of vanilla and digestive biscuit develops.

Would we agree? For the most part yes! And for the rest? Who cares… we loved it!

The ‘affordable’ G&MP trio featured:

This bottle was purchased at The Whisky Exchange for GBP 45 and freshly opened in November 2017 for our Whisky Ladies.

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Mini Malts – Glen Keith 1993 46%

Next up in our miniatures sampling was a duo from Gordon & MacPhail from their Connoisseurs Choice line.

From the Speyside region, Glen Keith was founded in 1959 by the Chivas Brothers near their Strathisla distillery. At the time, their gas fired stills was a novelty. It was mothballed in 1999, sold to Pernod Ricard in 2001 and re-opened in 2013 with completely new wash backs, new still and more.

Primarily used in Chivas blends such as Chivas Regal, Passport and 100 pipers, official bottlings are near impossible to find. And none from the revamped distillery have been officially released.

We tried a Gordon & MacPhail bottling of approximately 17 years.

Glen Keith (1993/2011) 46% (Gordon & MacPhail)

Auchroisk + Glen KeithHere’s what we found:

  • Nose – Quite restrained, organic fruits, subtle yet very malty, yeasty, like wet dough or moist unbaked cake, a bit of pine cone, damp good, humid, with absolutely no hint of spice
  • Palate – Dried orange rind, potpourri, beautiful round spice, like an old fashioned orange with cloves, black peppercorn
  • Finish – Initially sweet then spice then bitter

Overall, there was a muted quality to this whisky. Yet a nice contrast between zero spice on the nose and then a nice round spice on the palate.

It really had the most unbelievable moistness – like a greenhouse in a glass. We even covered the glass and it swirled with moisture.

This was an unpredictable date – flirtatious, changing its mind yet maintaining its coquetish quality.

Here’s what the Gordon & MacPhail folks have to say:

Without water:

  • Aroma -Fresh fruit aromas – apples, bananas and grape must. A sweet floral hint – bubblegum. Some chocolate and vanilla notes also present.
  • Taste – Peppery notes again with floral herbal flavours. Slightly drying with wood elements present.

With water:

  • Aroma – More aromatic with malt and cereal elements. Some more floral aromas remain with a subtle sweetness.
  • Taste – Peppery amd spicy initially followed by a sweet, slightly fruity element. Hints of cedar wood.

More malt miniatures from the Whisky Exchange:

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Mini Malts – Auchroisk 1996 46%

Up next up in our miniatures sampling was a duo from Gordon & MacPhail from their Connoisseurs Choice line.

From the prodigious Speyside region, Auchroisk was built in 1974 with high necked stills intended to produce a lighter elegant spirit. Today it is owned by Diageo with some official bottlings released under the label ‘The Singleton’ (until 2001) which confusingly now is used for three different malts in three different regions: Dufftown (Europe), Glendullan (USA) and Glen Ord (Asia).

Primarily used in blends such at J&B, you may find it difficult to track down a bottle. Only a few casks have been acquired by independent bottlers and there are very limited official releases such as a 20 year, 30 year and a few single casks.

I previously sampled an Auchroisk 20 year old from independent bottlers Duthies – a sub-brand of Cadenhead. This experience didn’t enamour me as my impression was “dishwater soap meets dry wood”… however I also speculated my sample had become tainted, so was keen to try again.

This time, I went with a Gordon & MacPhail bottling of approximately 17 years.

Auchroisk (1996/2014) 46% (Gordon & MacPhail)

Auchroisk + Glen KeithHere’s what we found:

  • Nose – Initially quite organic, overripe fruit – especially banana, think sour mash, leaves in the spring damp after a rain,  flowers, then a delightful honeydew melon. After airing, revealed fresh crisp pears
  • Palate – What a contrast! A soft, subtle yet delicious peat, sweet, smooth, beautifully balanced, still quite fruity with a nice coating, like sucking on gumdrops
  • Finish – A lovely long finish, sustaining a gentle sweetness

Absolutely delightful! We quite enjoyed how the nose shifted from over-ripe fruit to crisp fresh pears… the taste brought another dimension but above all it was the finish that invited us to slow down and enjoy.

This is no frivolous dram, instead one for a meaningful relationship.

My sipping companion is now a full convert to the “If it is Gordon & MacPhail… buy it!”

Here’s what the Gordon & MacPhail folks have to say:

Without water:

  • Aroma – Fresh and fruity with ripe plum and kiwi aromas. Toasted malt and subtle herbal notes with hints of old leather and aniseed.
  • Taste – The palate is peppery initially with stewed plums and lemon flavours. A lingering milk chocolate edge develops.

With water:

  • Aroma – Stewed pears, banana and grapefruit aromas. A subtle hazelnut and toasted malt edge lingers.
  • Taste – Sweet with cinnamon, nutmeg and black pepper. Fruit flavours develop with plum and lychee.

More malt miniatures picked up from The Whisky Exchange:

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Caol Ila 1997 43% (Gordon + McPhail Connoisseurs Choice)

After an organic experiment from Bruichladdich and the Bunnahabhain Eirigh Na Greine expression, our Islay tour came to a close with a special Caol Ila from Gordon & MacPhail’s Connoisseurs Choice range.

Caol Ila 1997 (Whisky Lady)

Gordon & MacPhail Caol Ila 1997 (Whisky Lady)

Caol Ila Sept 1997 (bottled 2009) 43% (Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice)

  • Colour – lovely pale gold
  • Nose – Peat – not in a crazy overwhelming way but very much present with a light touch. A nice smoked kabab, more smoked meats, then a delightful perfume, caramel, charcoal. That insanely yummy distinct indescribable ‘yum’ malty quality with hints of brine.
  • Palate – Initially a lot of caramel, charcoal, a strong decisive character, oily, then dry, bitter, ashy warm, like curling up next to a warm fireplace kinda feel, opens up further and meeeeeellllooow, rich robust, complex and ever so smooth
  • Finish – While doesn’t have that crazy mature OMG finish, still ever so nice, long and oh so good with a little herbal flourish
  • Water – Loved it without and loved it with.. sweater, custard, creamy

Naturally, when we began our sniffing, sipping and savouring, it was completely blind.

Given the theme of the evening, our speculation immediately turned to different Islay distilleries – Laphroig? Lagavulin..? Caol Ila…???! With most favouring Caol Ila

However it was equally clear this was a special expression, eventually most concluded it might be from an independent bottler like Gordon MacPhail.

With the unveiling, there was an exuberant ‘Yeaaaas!!’ feeling rather smug in our guessing prowess – at least on this evening.

Our overall impression was that this is simply gorgeous 12 year old… with comments like “This is my next buy!” and “This is what ALL Caol Ila’s should taste like!” could be heard.

As an added experiment, I pulled out the standard Caol Ila 12 year expression – while clearly the same family, not in the same league.

Here are what the folks over at Gordon & MacPhail have to say:

Caol Ila 1997 (Whisky Lady)

Without water

  • Nose – Hints of sweet cured ham, with a subtle ashy nose. Sweet honey influences, with a delicate malt note.
  • Taste – Some delicate brine, with a rounded sea air influence. A warmth lingers and delicate peat embers develop.

And with water:

  • Nose – Sweet and fresh, a more delicate sweet cured nose, the ash is now more pronounced, with a lingering smoke.
  • Taste – Some cigar ash, with a rounded sweetness. Delicate salt influences and fresh.

So there you have it… another fine evening with a trio of single malts from the Islay region.

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