Apr 082017

Speyside’s Strathilsa distillery is the spiritual home of the Chivas Regal blends. This seems normal, the way it’s always been. Only it isn’t.

Strathisla, which was officially named Milton (although it was founded in 1786 as Milltown) enjoyed a stellar reputation for making great whisky, which was named for the river that ran behind the distillery, Strathisla. In the 1940s, the distillery was owned by one George Jay Pomeroy, who resisted advances by Seagram’s agent in Scotland, the famous whisky broker Jimmy Barclay (a true character, worthy of a book about his life, who owned Ballantine’s and was one of the big suppliers of whisky to the prohibitionist USA, and the man who bought the Chivas grocery for Seagram’s – who had a burning desire to best DCL, owners of Dewar’s, Bell’s and Johnnie Walker who had turned down Bronfman’s offer to work together during prohibition). Quite conveniently, Pomeroy was convicted of tax evasion in 1949, and the distillery went out to auction in Aberdeen. Chivas, acquired by Sam Bronfman in  needed a reliable source of single malt around which to build a blend, and Barclay was going to get it. You can read a lot more about this fascinating story in  F. Paul Pacult’s well written book “A Double Scotch: How Chivas Regal and The Glenlivet Became Global Icons” ($4.99 on Kindle).

Photo Credit: Strathisla Distillery by Reinhard Fasser on 500px

Gordon & MacPhail have wanted to have their own distillery since the 1940s, and in April 1950 when the distillery was put up for sale, G&M bid on it, against Jimmy Barclay. Barclay had the deeper pockets, and bought the distillery for £71,000, which opened the way for Chivas Regal – reintroduced in 1954 – to become the powerhouse it is today. G&M maintained a close relationship with Strathisla, and were the de facto official bottlers of the brand for many decades.

What about Gordon and MacPhail? The Urquhart family held on to the dream of having a distillery, and in 1993 bought DCL’s silent Benromach distillery, which they rebuilt and refitted (the equipment being dismantled for parts), taking it well beyond what it was (or probably would have been) under Diageo.

Gordon & MacPhail Strathisla 1963, Bottled 2009 (43%)

Photo Credit: masterofmalt.com

Appearance: Deep mahogany, thick legs running down, slowly tapering off.

Nose: Sherry, burnt wax, mint, blueberries, really fresh nutmeg and some strawberry jam. Despite being 45 years old, it has those fresh berries. They just don’t make them like this anymore.

Palate: That bitter old burnt wax, with a fruit compote and lots of red wine tannins, and quite a bit of milk chocolate.

Linger: Bitter with sweet overnotes, dryness in the mouth and coffee and some chocolaty notes.


It’s really hard to beat these old G&M sherry casks, with their signature burnt wax and the deep deep sherry. I could nose this stuff all day.

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At the Gordon and MacPhail tasting at the London Whisky Show I thought the two best whiskies were the first and the last ones we tasted. The 1953 Linkwood was the best of the four in my opinion, and will be reviewed tomorrow, and the 1951 Strathisla was the most interesting of the bunch.

Strathisla and G&M have a history, as Gordon and MacPhail not only were the “semi-official” bottler for the distillery, which is the signature malt for Chivas Regal, but have also bid to buy the distillery way back in 1950 after its former owner, Jay Pomroy, was jailed for tax evasion and the court mandated an auction. They lost the bid to….you guessed it….Chivas Brothers!!! It would be another 43 years before Gordon & MacPhail got their own distillery, buying Benromach in 1993.

This cask was selected by Michael Urquhart and his daughter Laura, who is the newest member of the G&M management team. She told me after the masterclass that she has just now completed her 18 month training program with the company and is now starting to fill a “real” position – Brand Manager. It was Michael’s retirement that actually spurred the creation of this series, as he’s the youngest of the third generation Urquharts and the last to retire. Michael also led the masterclass, presenting G&M’s illustrious history.

What sets G&M apart from all other independent bottlers is the fact that they source about 95% their own casks, and fill the new make they buy into their own barrels. The company has close to 35,000 casks in wharehouses and bottles about 1000 of them each year.


1957 Strathisla, G&M Private Collection Ultra, Sherry Hogshead #1736, 61 Bottles in Total (51.6% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: This is the darkest of the four bottles, with a deep mahogany tone. The legs are slow and leave a ring of beads on top.

Nose: Polished wood, freshly minced white horseradish, cinnamon, fresh fruit, dusty leather and that old sherry notes similar to old books.

Palate: The palate is very dry, with dusty spices. After a few seconds in the mouth, the oak takes over with a pleasant bitterness.
Linger: The linger is very long in the gullet, with dry wood spices on the tongue.



This was the most interesting of the drams. It had that horseradish note I never had in any other whisky. The color is much darker than any of the other bottles, despite being the youngest of the quartet at “only” 57 years, really making it stand out.

This is also the oldest Strathisla ever to be bottled.