Gordon MacPhail whiskies tend to frequently crop up in our Whisky Advent Calendar for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the family owned firm has one of the broadest ranges of bottled whisky in the world. Then there is the issue of quality, they won’t put their name on anything they don’t believe in, and it shows. Finally, and perhaps most crucially is the fact that they bottle quite a number of whiskies in both full size (700ml) and 50ml formats.
In last year’s Calendar we had a Gordon MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice Inchgower distilled in 2000. It was quite a different beast from tonight’s malt. Although it to was matured in Ex-Sherry casks, I find the sherry notes more dominant, rounded and balanced in this younger bottling. Inchgower is a whisky we almost never see bottled by its owners, Diageo, and even independent bottlings of it are infrequent. The distillery is about median sized by Scottish standards today, with an annual production of 3.2 million liters. Virtually all of this however goes into blends, principally Bell’s, Johnny Walker and White Horse.
Inchgower was founded in 1871 in the Banffshire town of Buckie, on Scotland’s Moray coast, near where the Spey River empties into the sea. The distillery was built by Alexander Wilson & Co., with equipment they had removed from their Tochineal Distillery (Est. 1825), shut down the same year. In 1936 Alexander Wilson & Co. goes bankrupt, and the town of Buckie purchased the distillery for £1,600. This seems like a ludicrously small sum by today’s standards, but the town council was no doubt quite pleased to sell the distillery on to Arthur Bell & Sons for £3,000 just two years later. Quite a tidy profit.
Th distillery’s capacity was doubled in 1966 at the beginning of the 20th Century’s first whisky boom. By the 1980s boom had turned to bust, and in 1985 Guiness acquired Arthur Bell & Sons after nearly 50 years of operating the Inchgower distillery and a number of others. Arthur Bell & Sons was merged with Distilleries Company Ltd in 1987 to form United Distillers under the Guinness umbrella. In the nearly 30 years which Diageo (a later reorganization of Guinness and United Distillers) has run Inchgower, there have only been a handful of official releases. Inchgower has remained one of the most important components in the Bells Blended Scotch whisky over the period. 26 million bottles of Bells were sold in 2015. The brand is the second best selling blend in the UK, and #10 in the world.
I have always found Inchgower to be a meaty, and naturally sulphurry whisky. A number f whiskies, like Mortlach and Dailuaine, are also made to have meaty-sulphurry styles, which add weight and complexity to Blends. In the case of Inchgower, its style is largely influenced by its long middle cut. The distillery starts its spirit run, or heart, at 72% (which is common), but runs it down to 55%, much lower than most distilleries. This particular bottling of Inchgower by Gordon MacPhail has been bottled at 46% without colouring or chill-filtering.
G&M Connoisseur’s Choice Inchgower 2005 – 46% - Refill Sherry Casks – Andrew’s Tasting Note: “Nose: Toffife and Werther’s Original, Scottish Tablet, brown sugar melting on warm creamy porridge and Twizzlers Black Licorice; some dark fruits, chocolate fudge and orange Starbursts. Palate: more Toffife and Werther’s Original with soft earthy leather, chewy malt and more molten brown sugar; there is a base of creamy vanilla, overlaid by sherry notes: more black Twizzlers, dates and figs with very gentle spices; moving towards Christmas cake and musty dunnage notes of old European oak. Finish: medium long, but big and very sherried; fading fudgy chocolate, dark fruits and leather; spices start to emerge late. Comment: this is a pleasant surprise, I like it a lot more than the 2000 Inchgower last year; very sherried, but far from over the top.” - $100