The Wood Makes The Whisky

The Wood Makes The Whisky by Gordon & Macphail

Independent bottler Gordon & Macphail recently started a campaign 'The Wood Makes the Whisky'. With it they aim to educate their customers on their wood management (purchasing, maintenance, coopering, allocating empty casks to be filled with new make and destructing unfit or overused casks).

The campaign is supported by a booklet written by the Cask Strength duo Neil Ridley and Joel Harrison and an interactive website. And whiskies to prove their point of course...

The Book

The booklet "The wood makes the whisky" excited me as much (or perhaps even more) than the samples. It's a thin book but it handles every aspect from a cask in detail. From the trees and its influence on the whisky to interesting graphs on unwanted characteristics, distillery character and cask impact to the differences between toasting and charring.

Beautiful typography, great pictures and a handcraft feeling to it. That's how you put yourself in the market as an expert bottler aiming at (would be) connaisseurs and geeks.

The Wood makes the whisky book charring vs toasting
The difference between toasting and charring?

The Wood makes the whisky - cask impact of a barrel
The impact of a cask on the distillery flavour profile

The whiskies

Two selected drams came with this pack. Both are fairly young but should be exemplary of Gordon & Macphail's wood management. The first one is an 8yo Glenrothes bottled for The Macphail's Collection. A range of mainly younger single malts released in small batches. The second one is a Speymalt from 2006. Gordon & Macphail's Speymalt range is a selection of single malts from Macallan distillery and are presented as vintages.

Update: in the meantime a 1974 Glenlivet from Gordon & Macphail arrived at ATD headquarters. A whisky that will be reviewed on a special occasion...

Glenrothes 8yo

  • The Macphail's Collection Glenrothes 8yo
  • Glenrothes Distillery, Rothes (Speyside)
  • 8 years old single malt
  • 43 % ABV
  • Bottled 10/11/2011
  • Refill sherry hogsheads and refill bourbon barrels

Glenrothes Distillery lies close to the Burn of Rothes. The distillery is owned by the Edrington Group (Highland Park, Macallan, ...) but the brand itself is owned by the London-based Berry Bros. & Rudd Wine Merchants.

Tasting notes

Colour: Golden straw. Leaves thin long legs on the glass.
Nose: A vanilla milkshake and French toast with lots of butter. Malt and wood, coconut water and eggnog. Crispy toasted bread. Far less sweet then the official Select Reserve. Canned pineapple.
With water I'm getting chocolate mousse with pieces of pineapple. Coffee with chocolate or mokka-chocolate cake. Roasted oak and a muddy forest trail.
Taste: The arrival is fairly fruity. Pineapple and vanilla. Milkchocolate with a pinch of salt and nuts. Green fir and wintergreen candy. A wooden greenhouse with plenty of geraniums.
With a drop of water there's plenty of chocolate with red fruit. Round and creamy with lots of sweet malty notes.
Finish: Milk chocolate and green fir. A light whisky.

Price: £31.95 (The Whisky Exchange) / €43 (Jurgen's Whiskyhuis)

This is not the best nor the most complex Glenrothes out there and it doesn't claim it either. Despite being fairly young it is highly enjoyable as an everyday dram. And if you're not too fond of the official Glenrothes Select Reserve, this one is worth a shot. Gordon & Macphail has a few other whiskies from the same brand that are probably very good value for money : an 8yo heavily peated Bunnahabhain (liquid smoked ham) and an 8yo Highland Park (haven't tasted it yet).

The Macphails Glenrothes 8 year old
An 8yo Glenrothes bottled under the
Macphail's Collection brand

Speymalt 2006

  • Speymalt 2006
  • Macallan Distillery, Aberlour (Speyside)
  • 2006 vintage / 9 years old single malt
  • 43 % ABV
  • Bottled 17/11/2015
  • First fill and refill sherry butts
Macallan or The Macallan as the Speyside distillery proudly states on their bottles is based in Craigellachie. On the label they state being a Highland malt (Speyside lies in the Highlands but is seen as a separate region) but proud themselves in having the smallest stills in Speyside. How does one create confusion amongst its buyers...?

Tasting notes

Colour: Golden straw. The whisky shows long graceful legs.
Nose: Strawberry jam and apricots. A bit of a sour touch after the sweet arrival. Sherry vinegar and and green apples. Whole-weat pasta and a distant whiff of liquorice root. Caramel sauce with chocolate ice cream.
Water makes it less sweet. Young wood twigs and leather. A leather arm chair in a colonial hotel interior. A plate of apricots and peaches.
Taste: Sweet melons and peppery malt. A round and spicy mouthfeel with banana and oak. Lots of ice cream flavours mingled together: caramel, chocolate and strawberry flavour.
With water I get raisins and sweet grapes mixed with sugar and a bitter note of melon peel and pineapple. A rather creamy evolution. Rye porridge perhaps.
Finish: A short caramel like finish and chocolate with bitter nuts and rye.

Price: £32.95 (The Whisky Exchange) / €48 (Jurgen's Whiskyhuis)

At the same price as The Macallan Gold, this is a no-brainer. I'm picking the Speymalt 2006. A bit more depth and oomph at the same price level without the "colour is important" chit chat and fancy packaging. Less is more. Feels even a bit older than most of the 9 or 10 year old single malts. The sherry is there but it's not a big bold sherry monster. And if you want an affordable Macallan with an age-statement, there aren't a lot of options anymore. Over here, it's Speymalt or an overpriced (in my opinion) 10 or 12 year old Fine Oak.

Speymalt 2006
A 2006 Speymalt a.k.a. The Macallan with an age statement
Gordon & Macphail certainly proved their point with The Wood Makes the Whisky. These are not their best whiskies but always honest single malts scoring high on value for money. Life does not always have to be complicated. Lucky us...

What do other people think of it?

Samples provided by Gordon & Macphail

Source and pictures: Gordon & Macphail