Interview: Gordon & MacPhail's Stephen Rankin on the release of the Glenlivet 1943

We spoke to Stephen Rankin, Gordon & MacPhail director and fourth generation of the Urquhart family, ahead of their launch of the Private Collection Glenlivet 1943.

Published 2nd Oct 2017
Updated 21 st Sep 2023

The seventy-year-old Glenlivet 1943, which is due to be unveiled by the Elgin-based whisky specialist, commemorates a key date in wartime history.

Distilled on January 14 1943, as Prime Minister Winston Churchill met President Franklin D Roosevelt, General Charles de Gaulle and General Dwight D Eisenhower at the Casablanca Conference, the new make spirit was filled into a carefully selected Sherry hogshead at the renowned Speyside distillery.

• READ MORE: One of the world’s rarest whiskies unveiled by Gordon & MacPhail

Why did you decide to bottle such a prestigious bottle of The Glenlivet now?

We have been nurturing this phenomenal whisky for 70 years through four generations of the Urquhart family.

Initially, we sampled it at 24 years and already it was a beautiful whisky.

For many companies, they would have bottled it at this stage.

"Glenlivet 1943 is, quite simply, a malt without comparison"

However, we felt that the quality of the cask and the attention that had been paid by our Great Grandfather and Grandfather to matching it to exactly the right wood meant that the whisky could continue to mature without overwhelming the subtle flavours for which Glenlivet is famed.

As time went on, we sampled it more and more regularly until we were tasting it every six months.

When it reached exactly the right balance, we felt we were ready to share it with the world.

The structure of the whisky is excellent with a good balance of the spirit character.

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Gordon & MacPhail
Stephen holds a glass of The Glenlivet 1943. Picture: Gordon & MacPhail

Whisky author Johnny McCormick is writing the accompanying book, how important was it for you to involve someone of Johnny's experience?

It has been wonderful to explore this exceptional whisky with someone of Johnny's pedigree.

Listening to his tasting notes and exploring the flavours together has been a great experience for us both.

At Gordon & MacPhail, we are proud of the relationships we have built with independent experts in the industry and it offers consumers another point of view on rare and aged expressions.

What can someone who is looking to purchase the bottle expect from it?

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Glenlivet 1943 is, quite simply, a malt without comparison.

The first thing anyone privileged enough to taste this whisky will notice is its rich dark colour.

Dark mahogany that flashes bright amber when the light catches it. There is a welcoming warmth to the nose that invites you in. It takes the drinker to a comfy leather armchair where notes of coffee, milk chocolate and wood spices linger.

"It is, quite simply, a piece of liquid history"

It has a heavy sweet perfume that is a real treat. When you sip this whisky it coats the mouth with a luxurious feel.

Hints of roast coffee, treacle and burnt caramel come through, mingled with orange notes and rich sherry.

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A nuttiness develops towards the back of the palate adding another intriguing dimension.

The finish lingers on and on in the mouth, leaving a touch of dark chocolate caramel, coffee, stewed fruits and sherry.

I hope that those drinking it will pause and consider the past 70 plus years and smile.

Those who taste this whisky are truly members of an exclusive club.

How important is it to you to be able to tell the story surrounding each of these exceptionally rare casks and not just provide 'another rare bottle' for collectors to buy?

Gordon & MacPhail
The Glenlivet 1943 is described by Stephen as a "malt without comparison". Picture: Gordon & MacPhail

We hope that those who are lucky enough to own a bottle of Private Collection Glenlivet 1943 by Gordon & MacPhail can imagine what this cask would have witnessed over the last 70 years.

Every cask has a story to tell but if this one had eyes to see or a mouth to speak, it would have some wonderful stories to share.

Whisky is not an instant business but one that has been built on its stories, its personalities and on its history.

At Gordon & MacPhail, we have the benefit of a generational family business where each generation passes down to the next the history of the casks, the reasons for it being chosen and why it was matched to a particular spirit.

Each generation learns so much from the past while developing and enhancing their own skills to advance their knowledge and understanding further.

We know some people will buy this as a collector’s item but we do hope that whisky lovers will have the opportunity to savour this exceptional dram as well.

It is, quite simply, a piece of liquid history.

Not only is this one of the oldest and rarest whiskies ever to be bottled but it also commemorates a time when the world was very different.

Across the UK, the population were in the throes of rationing, distilleries lay silent and the world was in conflict.

This cask has a story like no other and we are proud to share it with the world.

Gordon & MacPhail are rightly lauded as one of the best independent bottlers in the world - how important is it to you to maintain that pedigree with special releases such as this one?

We are extremely proud of the reputation that we have built in the industry, which we attribute to the incredible dedication and hard work shown by everyone who works at Gordon & MacPhail.

As maturation experts, we are able to bring releases like this special cask to the world because the generations that have gone before us have selected exactly the right cask and matched it carefully to the spirit.

They have also planned ahead to ensure that we have such a wonderful and rare inventory at our fingertips.

The insights and expertise surrounding our policy that it is the wood that makes the whisky, is passed down through the generations of the Urquhart family.

One of the key benefits of being a family business is that each generation is not interested in making a name for themselves but are focussed on being the custodians of the business and building the business during the time that they are working here.

It is our generation’s role to leave the business in an even stronger position for future generations to come.

Some of the unique casks we have selected today and matched with new make spirit will, hopefully, be bottled in 70 years time, or maybe more, by future generations of our family.

We are also incredibly respectful of the relationships that we have built with so many distilleries and companies within the industry.

We have played our own part in developing the single malt category by complementing the products produced at the distilleries themselves as well as introducing many malt whiskies.

Are there any exciting projects coming up that you are involved in?

There are many, and 2018 is going to be a particularly exciting year for the company and for the Gordon & MacPhail brand.

We continue to strengthen our position internationally and look forward to sharing more about our plans soon.

Has the recent demand for liquid and the arrival of newer players onto the market put pressure on yourselves to innovate or are G&M simply enjoying the expansion of the single malt market?

We welcome innovation in the whisky market and are strong believers in supporting newer players as they bring unique facets to this fascinating category.

At Gordon & MacPhail, we have a 122-year history and, through that time, the company has been through turbulent global and economic periods, including two world wars.

We have been at the forefront of the aged malt whisky market. George Urquhart was described as a “great pioneer”.

We are experienced in adapting to change and, as a company, we have a strong history of innovation.

Our Connoisseurs Choice range, for example, which we launched in the 1960s, continues to resonate with consumers around the world as we bring whiskies to the market from distilleries that would not normally have been bottled as single malts.

We have twice launched the oldest whisky in the world through our Generations range and our Glen Grant Collection, launched earlier this year, allows consumers to own and taste six vintages from the same distillery over consecutive years of distillation.

We look forward to bringing our next innovation to the market in the near future and hearing the response from our consumers.

Driven by a passion for all things drinks-related, Sean writes for The Scotsman extensively on the subject. He can also sometimes be found behind the bar at the world famous Potstill bar in Glasgow where he continues to enhance his whisky knowledge built up over 10 years advising customers from all over the world on the wonders of our national drink. Recently, his first book was published. Dubbed Gin Galore, it explores Scotland's best gins and the stories behind those that make them.
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