by Jerry ElengicalJun 01, 2022
“The wood makes the whisky” is an adage to abide by at Gordon & MacPhail, legendary whisky creators and pioneers in long term whisky maturation from Scotland. Throughout decades of its history in making the spirit and oak meet in a process of graceful ageing and perseverant maturation for the alcohol, nay, art, to meet the tongues of connoisseurs and leave an unforgettable, woody taste, Gordon & MacPhail has matched its own bespoke casks with spirit from over 100 Scottish distilleries. Their current revelation in the world of spirits is an enviously limited edition whisky, recently bottled after being stored in its mahogany cask for 80 years. Proudly endowed with the title of the world’s oldest single malt Scotch, Gordon & MacPhail’s near historic release hails from the Glenlivet Distillery and is part of the Scottish company’s ‘Generations’ range, signifying the many decades these whiskies have been left to mature, and the generations of family ownership of Gordon & MacPhail. To match the iconicity of the release, and to lead the design of an artistic partnership born out of shared values, Gordon & MacPhail commissioned Sir David Adjaye, OBE, to design the ‘shell’ in which the elixir would be made available to patrons.
“Oak is a primary material, produced from the planet,” explains David Adjaye in an official release. “I appreciate its preciousness as an integral part of the whisky-making process. I wanted to create a design that pays tribute to the role oak plays in transforming liquid into an elixir with almost magical properties”, he continues, explaining how themes of artistry and legacy, and how their manifestations in oak and whisky influenced his designs of the decanter, pavilion, and tumblers he designed for the historic whisky production. The designs follow a recurrent creative theme, ‘Artistry in Oak’, that pays tribute and stands testament to this rather inimitable fusion of oak and alcohol, carefully nurtured by four generations of the family that owns Gordon & MacPhail, over a period of eight decades.
The first layer encasing the precious liquid is its tesseract-like decanter, carved of crystal, and jewel-like in appearance. Almost cubical in volume, the crystal decanter contains lenses along its four facial edges to lend focus on to the viscosity, texture, and especially the colour of the richly aged whisky. Almost monolithic in form, this container is designed to appear as if hewn from a single solid block of crystal. The lensed, curving core of the decanter needed to be individually hand blown by artisans at Glencairn Crystal Studio, another Scottish family business dealing in ultra-premium decanters, leading to the creation of 250 70 cl. ultra-rare bottles of the even rare elixir, for sale by application among patrons. Rather poetically, Adjaye adds to the narrative by stating that “the gentle combination of liquid, weight and form invokes a sense of care, responsibility and slowness. As you pour, a sense of time fades and all that is understood is the preciousness of each drop."
Synonymous to the whisky being encased and aged in an oak cask, no. 340 for Gordon & MacPhail, the whiskey and decanter too is encased in a pavilion made entirely of hard wearing oak with a smooth finish and refined detailing. Stylishly so, the oak pavilion has delicate, minimal engravings of the number ‘80’ and various collaborators on the project. Resembling a cage-like enclosure, the wooden slats occur at a fixed distance so as to slide across each other seamlessly to reveal the jewel-like decanter within. Hand-made by the craftspeople at Wardour Workshops in Dorset, south-west England, the wood for the pavilion was also sustainably sourced from forests within five miles of the workshop.
Impressively enough, Adjaye’s design, elegant and oozing sophistication, manages to incorporate an element of natural inspiration and earthy ingenuity into the rare, interesting design narrative. A dichotomous relationship between light and shadow is described as a pivotal moment in the flow of the design narrative, and the rather ceremonial ‘unboxing’ of the whisky and its casing. The very delicate process is intended to emulate the tyndall’ing of sunlight though oak trees in a natural forest setting, as light is refracted through the opened casing and the inwardly scooped decanter.
With words as evocative as the supple imagery of a morning in that forest, Charlie MacLean, Scotland’s leading whisky writer, described the elixir as “vibrant and wholly satisfying”, and the rare whisky’s palate as that with a slightly oily texture, lightly sweet to start with hints of dates, salted plums, figs, traces of dry Oloroso Sherry, heading towards a lengthy menthol finish.
Name: Gordon & MacPhail Generations 80YO from Glenlivet Distillery
Designer for decanter and pavilion: Sir David Adjaye, OBE
Distilled: February 03, 1940
Bottled: February 05, 2020
ABV (Alcohol By Volume): 44.9%
Cask Number: 340
Cask Type: First-fill Sherry butt