World’s Oldest Single Malt Scotch Headed For The Auction Block, For Charity

By Gary Carter / September 8, 2021

A taste of whisky history, spirit laid down in 1940 in a quiet corner in the north of Scotland, will soon hit the auction block.

It was George Urquhart and his father, John, who had the foresight to take the spirit from Glenlivet Distillery and put it in a bespoke Gordon & MacPhail cask to be enjoyed by future generations. That was 80 years ago.

In February of 2020, the decision was made to finally bottle the cask’s precious liquid into 250 decanters.

Decanter No. 1 is being auctioned by Sotheby’s in Hong Kong on Oct. 7th of this year with a framed cask end from the original cask and a lithograph of the original concept drawings signed by world-renowned architect and designer Sir David Adjaye.

Generations 80 Year

Generations 80 Year (image via Gordon & MacPhail)

The jewel-like decanter contains lenses to provide focus on the richly colored liquid. A volume of crystal balances both heft and delicacy, and provides a tactile presence.

“The gentle combination of liquid, weight and form invokes a sense of care, responsibility and slowness,” Adjaye said in a prepared statement. “As you pour, a sense of time fades and all that is understood is the preciousness of each drop.”

Auction proceeds from the sale of Decanter No. 1 (minus costs) will be donated to local Scottish charity Trees for Life, whose mission is to rewild the Caledonian forest.

“The donation will help the Trees for Life nursery, which grows 100,000 rare and native trees, including oaks, from seed each year,” said Ewen Mackintosh, managing director at Gordon & MacPhail. “It’s fitting that this whisky will provide a legacy for all that will last for generations.”

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He said that it’s often quoted that the maturation of whisky over very long periods of time is more art than science. Fitting then, that the decanter and oak pavilion created for this historic release is seen by the brand as being a true reflection of the art of whisky making.

“I’m sure George Urquhart and his father John, who had the extraordinary foresight to lay down spirit from the Glenlivet Distillery in a bespoke Gordon & MacPhail cask to be enjoyed after their lifetime, would love the design,” Mackintosh said. “It pays tribute to their craft and vision.”

Jonny Fowle, Sotheby’s spirits specialist, said that joining forces with Gordon & MacPhail to auction the world’s first 80-year-old single malt whisky is quite the thrill. “To have expertly matured this whisky for eight decades and maintained the vibrancy of the exquisite liquid is remarkable. Decanter No. 1 represents a landmark moment in Scotland’s liquid history and the cask end and signed 1-of-1 lithograph further elevate this unique and very special lot.”

Public showcases of the Gordon MacPhail Glenlivet 80-Year-Old decanter and oak pavilion will be exhibited in Sotheby’s historic galleries on New Bond Street in London, at Sotheby’s HQ in New York on the Upper East Side, and at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre as part of the company’s 2021 Hong Kong Autumn Sales Series preview exhibition.

The creative theme for this ground-breaking release is “Artistry in Oak,” and it bears tribute to both the rare liquid, nurtured in an oak cask by four generations of the family that owns Gordon & MacPhail, as well as its bespoke presentation.

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The eight-decade old spirit was described by renowned whisky writer Charlie Maclean as “truly, one of the finest I’ve ever encountered.”

His tasting notes for the Gordon & MacPhail Generations 80-Year-Old from Glenlivet Distillery:

  • Appearance: Deep umber with magenta lights; old polished rosewood.
  • Aroma: A complex, mellow nose-feel, still vivacious after all these years. Top notes of almond oil, scented hand-soap, backed by sandalwood and gorse flowers on a warm day. A whiff of peat-smoke in the empty glass.
  • Palate: An oily texture, and lightly sweet to start (dates, salted plums, figs), drying elegantly (traces of dry Oloroso Sherry), towards a lengthy menthol finish. Drop of water increases spiciness.
  • Summary: Vibrant and wholly satisfying. Truly, one of the finest malts I have ever encountered.