Eighty years ago there really was only one gig in town, certainly in Europe anyway – as World War Two ended its Phony War pretensions and in early 1940 matured into a real, nasty, proper war with the Nazi Panzer tanks Blitzkrieging their way through Norway, the Low Countries and France. Next stop was supposed to be London courtesy of Operation Sealion – but a certain legendary Kiwi called Keith Park put an abrupt end to that idea by orchestrating a seemingly impossible victory for the RAF over the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain.
Meanwhile, 500 odd miles north of the brutal dogfights above Kent, but close enough to feel Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering’s breath on the back of their necks, John Urquhart and son George from the Glenlivet distillery in the Speyside region of Scotland were bottling a single malt whisky. In such dire times, the Urquharts didn’t expect their whisky to even reach the early stages of maturation before its bottles were smashed under the tracks of Rommel’s thunderous invading tanks.
Yet, thanks to Keith’s RAF and the efforts and sacrifice of millions of others, the Nazis never made it to Scotland and thus the Urquharts’ 1940 vintage Glenlivet whisky was able to survive the War. Plus the worst the world could throw at it for the next eighty years including; the H-bomb of Hiroshima; Suez Crisis; Flower Power; glasnost; Black Friday; 9/11 and even Donald Trump too.
The World’s Oldest Single Malt Scotch Whisky
In February 2020, exactly eighty years after the Urquharts laid down their spirit, the difficult decision was made by whisky creators Gordon & MacPhail, the safekeepers of the Urquharts’ legacy, to finally release this time capsule of wartime whisky that they had guarded for so long. But it was time, the whisky was ready.
And in releasing it as the Gordon & MacPhail Generations 80YO, they would be breaking the world record for the oldest Scotch whisky of all time; a special event that surely required a special celebration! So how about creating a unique vessel to hold the whisky and making some distinct packaging to display it? The gentlemen of Gordon & MacPhail knew immediately who to approach for the job:
A World Class Design for a World Class Whisky
Sir David Adjaye OBE is an award-winning Ghanaian-British architect known for using a variety of materials in his buildings and for his willingness to assist with community-driven projects. His works include everything from bespoke furniture through to the National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, DC. Recognised as one of the 100 most influential people of the year by TIME Magazine, Sir Adjaye was perfect for the job – and he was keen. Though world-renown primarily as an architect, Sir David is also a dab hand at product design and realised that this project offered up the chance to create something amazing; a totally experiential vessel: “Something that could become a tactile experience,” Sir David said, “where every act of opening would become a ceremonial and sensorial process.”
Taking his cues from the casks used in the whisky-making process, Sir David created an oak pavilion from sustainably grown trees. His design uses staves from the original cask so when the pavilion is open, light shines between the uprights like how sunlight shines through the oak trees of a natural forest setting.
Inside this pavilion, Sir David designed the decanter that actually holds the whisky to appear as hewn from a single solid block of crystal. Then 250 were hand-blown individually by specialists at the Glencairn Crystal Studio to look similar but, like trees and whiskies, to never be exactly the same. The decanters also all include lenses to highlight the rich deep umber liquid within.
Only 250 of these 70cl decanters have been made, Decanter #1 along with a framed cask end from the original and a lithograph of the original drawings signed by Sir David Adjaye, is being auctioned by Sotheby’s in Hong Kong on October 7. Net proceeds of which will go to local charity Trees for Life whose mission it is to replant local trees, including oaks, throughout Scotland. Another legacy for the Urquharts.
The taste of history
The Gordon & MacPhail Generations 80YO isn’t just a whisky; it is the oldest single malt Scotch whisky the world has ever seen. It was distilled at a time when those WWII nightmares the vast majority of us have only ever read about in history books were really happening; when the world was wobbling very much on the edge. Yet, thankfully, both the world and the whisky survived so we can enjoy them today.
John and George Urquhart’s legacy has a complex, mellow nose-feel with top notes of almond oil backed with sandalwood and gorse flowers on a warm day. It has an oily texture to the palate with a light sweetness to start followed by a lengthy menthol finish. A whisky that Charlie MacLean, Scotland’s leading whisky writer described as; “truly, one of the finest malts I have ever encountered.”
Bottled in individually hand-blown decanters and packaged in a design by one of the world’s finest and most innovative architects, the Gordon & MacPhail Generations 80YO is both the ultimate celebration of matured whisky and a timely reminder that the Nazis of this world were defeated once and can be again.
It is also available, as soon as the Hong Kong auction is over, from Whisky Galore.