September Scotch: From Gordon & MacPhail Comes The Oldest Single Malt Scotch Whisky Ever Bottled

Only 250 Sir David Adjaye-designed decanters exist of the Generations 80 Year Old from Glenlivet Distillery

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Released by Gordon & MacPhail—the historic, family-owned spirits bottler and distiller—the Generations 80 Year Old single malt scotch whisky from Glenlivet Distillery is more than a record-setting release. Of course, much should be made of the fact that it’s the oldest single malt whisky ever bottled, but the team of experts at Gordon & MacPhail have honored this milestone in many other ways. Not only is the rarefied liquid (which we had the pleasure of trying) astounding, but it comes in a vessel—designed by acclaimed architect Sir David Adjaye—worthy of its value. And, Sotheby’s in Hong Kong will auction decanter number one of the 250 limited edition bottles (with two matching glasses) this October, with all proceeds benefitting the Trees for Life organization, which restores the Caledonian forests of Scotland.

But first, of course, is the tipple itself. One might expect that 80 years in oak would lead to a profile of excessive vanillin. That’s not the case. In fact, the spirit noses of stone fruits with a hint of smoke. On the palate, there are tantalizing sherry and citrus notes, along with peppery sparks and a creaminess to the peated single malt. Today, Glenlivet isn’t known for peat—but this particular Speyside single malt was disgorged from a sherry butt barrel filled on 3 February 1940, back when the brand did dry barley, that was malted on-site, with local peat (from the Faemussach Moss).

This particular barrel—known as Geo & JG Smith The Glenlivet Distillery 340 1940 111—first held mosto (pre-wine pressed grape juice), then sobretables (young fortified wine) and finally mature sherry. When it arrived in Scotland, acquired by Gordon & MacPhail, the sherry was sold as Williams & Humbert oloroso and the barrel was filled with Glenlivet distillate. It sat there for decades, until opened on 5 February 2020. All of these factors contribute to the divine profile that the liquid imparts upon the palate today.

Adjaye’s crystal decanter and oak “pavilion” channel the soul of that liquid and the process behind it. For the former, artisans at Glencairn Crystal Studio were tapped to hand-blow the material so that the final vessel appeared to be “hewn from a single solid block of crystal.” Transforming the liquid’s theme, “Artistry in Oak,” the pavilion—crafted by Wardour Workshops—underscores Adjaye’s architectural magnificence and utilizes vertical staves to represent trees. Thoughtfully conceptual, both items work together to shield the liquid, while still allowing light and shadow to play upon it.

“Oak is a primary material, produced from the planet,” Adjaye says in a statement. “I appreciate its preciousness as an integral part of the whisky-making process.” He adds, “I wanted to create a design that pays tribute to the role oak plays in transforming liquid into an elixir with almost magical properties.” Understanding the use of oak in aging, he says, “and the bond between the cask and whisky,” should initiate “an appreciation and understanding that the vessel and the liquid are non-distinct, encased and growing together.”

Though very few people will have the opportunity to try Generations 80 Year Old, it’s a superb study on honoring a single malt scotch that has stood the test of time. Glenlivet dates back to 1824. Gordon & MacPhail has matched exemplary casks with spirit from Scottish distilleries for more than 120 years. As a result of their perseverance, one 80-year-old single malt scotch made its way from 1940 to today, and now resides in a bottle fit for the future.

Images courtesy of Sotheby’s