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Issue 8 - Grand masters of malt

Whisky Magazine Issue 8
February 2000


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Grand masters of malt

Gordon & MacPhail brought malt whisky to the people. Ken Hyder salutes the legendary pioneers who have always done it their way

The next time you raise a glass or quaich, you might like to consider the case of Mrs Crowe and the magistrates of Elgin. If Mrs Crowe had won, your choice of malts, and perhaps their quality would be much reduced. A small grocer's shop in Elgin would have been denied a licence to sell alcohol and Gordon & MacPhail's would have had to stick to bannocks (oat cakes) and jam. Instead, the bench threw out the British Temperance Movement's stern objections and the Elgin grocer's became one of the most influential forces in the whisky business, mainly by simply bottling the stuff.

In 1895 when Gordon & MacPhail opened its Elgin shop, whisky drinking was less of the connoisseur's art that it is now. Sure, there was a whisky boom, but it was the blended version that was making all the running in the Scottish cities and over the border in England. The Highland distilleries were pumping out malt whiskies mainly for the blenders and the idea of letting it mature for a few years longer was still to come. It was Gordon & MacPhail which led the way.

Elgin is a quiet, small town in Morayshire, surrounded by good fertile land, and some of the most famous distilleries in Scotland. When James Gordon and John Alexander MacPhail set up their family grocer's shop in South Street the countryside around was bustling with activity from a wide range of small distilleries. Some, like Corn Cairn, Cairnarget, Caul and Lesmurdie, eventually went out of business. But Miltonduff and Linkwood went from...

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