The 14th edition of the International Whisky Competition took place earlier this year in Bardstown, Kentucky. Out of thousands of entries, the field was whittled down to three medalists per category, just like the Olympics: gold, silver, and bronze for each. Atop that, the contest doles out an annual top prize to its “Whisky of the Year.” Those results were just announced, so it’s time we take a closer look at the grand champion:
That’s a mouthful. Let us explain why. Gordon & MacPhail is an independent bottler based out of Elgin, in the northeast corner of Scotland. As opposed to a distillery— which produces whisky—an independent bottler sources its juice. In the case of Gordon & MacPhail, they’ve been doing it for over 120 years. Today the family-owned operation exists as one of the most prestigious IBs in the industry, assuming ownership of select casks from across the country and stewarding them in their own special way. The result is exceptional, one-of-a-kind liquid like the one we’re talking about now.
This particular expression began its life back in 1989 at Mortlach Distillery—about 18 miles down the road from the Gordon & MacPhail family shop. New make spirit was filled into a refill sherry hogshead and in that wood it sat patiently for some 31 years, until the fine folks at G&M deemed it ready for the glass. By the time it was bottled at 54.2% ABV, it demonstrated all manner of stewed, dark fruit in the nose and palate, with the finesse of fresh leather and dried tobacco in a lengthy finish. In other words: a sherry bomb. And the exact sort of which connoisseurs clamor over.
Fittingly, the release is part of the brand’s “Connoisseurs Choice” line—a range of single malts established in the 1960s by G&M, at a time when independent bottlers were far more likely to be concerned with blending scotches.
“We are incredibly proud to see our Connoisseurs Choice Mortlach 1989 recognized as the Whisky of the Year,” said Richard Urquhart, head of American sales for Gordon & MacPhail. “This accolade is a testament not only to the exceptional quality of the Mortlach spirit but also to our expert team in selecting the ideal cask and maturing it for just the right amount of time. Every bottle we produce is the result of a careful process followed since 1895, embracing innovative methods to push boundaries in whisky maturation.”
You can currently find bottles of the award-winning whisky on American shelves for around $1000 per decanter. In a press release, Sébastien Gavillet, who heads up the tasting panel at the International Whisky Competition, had this to say: “We warmly congratulate the entire team at Gordon & MacPhail for creating such a complex, rich, and perfectly balanced whisky.”
The accolades for Mortlach as well as Gordon & MacPhail don’t stop there. The judges were evidently quite impressed by both this year. In addition to this liquid winning the overall distinction, its master distiller Bob Christine was also named Master Distiller of the Year at the 2023 International Whisky Competition. G&M, meanwhile, took home the Golden Barrel Trophy for its work with wood. Other top awards revealed at the competition include the following:
Distillery of the Year
Kavalan Distillery – 92.45 Avg/Pts (Taiwan)
Master Blender of the Year
Stephanie Macleod, John Dewar & Sons (Scotland)