Capturing the spirit

Generations 2021

20 Oct, 2021

To mark the 40th Birthday of Glencairn Crystal we’re showcasing some of our most interesting and innovative decanters.

The fifth decanter story in this series features Gordon & MacPhail’s Generations range 2021 launch with Operations Director, Stuart Urquhart. Stuart is from the 4th Generation of the Urquhart family who owns Gordon & MacPhail and – amongst many other roles – is the custodian of the company’s unrivaled liquid library, which includes some of the oldest and rarest single malt scotch whiskies in the world.

This week we talk to Stuart about Gordon & MacPhail’s Generations 80YO from Glenlivet Distillery – the oldest single malt scotch ever bottled.

To mark the 40th birthday of Glencairn Crystal we’re taking a trip down memory lane to showcase some of our most interesting and innovative decanters with Scott Davidson (Glencairn Crystal’s New Product Development Director and son of Founder Raymond Davidson).

We kick off our series of decanter stories with the ground-breaking Mortlach 70 Year Old ‘Teardrop’ decanter from 2010, which was incredibly special; when it was released the whisky was the oldest in the world to have ever been bottled and sold. We worked closely with Michael Urquhart (MD of Gordon & MacPhail in 2010) and his team on the project and Michael also shares his views below on what made this whisky and decanter so unique.

SU: It is an 80YO whisky and 80 as an anniversary is oak, so we looked at how we could bring the two concepts together by working with Glencairn for the decanter and Sir David Adjaye for the overall presentation.

SD: This project came about because we’ve done all of the oldest releases for Gordon & MacPhail since 2009 but this is the first time they’ve done it with an architect and designer who they brought on board to give it a different appeal to the marketplace. We developed this decanter based on a rough sketch that they had come up with which was trying to marry up wood and glass together because of the oak cask the liquid was carried in.

  The Whisky

SU: This whisky still retains some of the Glenlivet character and has an element of wood that is quite subtle. There is a big hit of orange marmalade that is kind of the dominant aroma and then on the palette we get cherries and a lingering smokiness which is still vibrant. You can tell it’s old but it still has an element of youthful aromas and flavours coming through and it’s perfectly balanced.

    The Decanter

SD: Gordon & MacPhail wanted their concept to be seamless, but you can’t have glass and wood stuck together as the whisky would seep through the wood. It had to be a container so what we have achieved is that seamless move from whisky to wood. That’s what they wanted visually but they didn’t know how to execute it and that’s what Glencairn does – the key thing we do is to create the visual representation that the client has in their head.

We had to build a product that would perform as well as a piece of jewellery or another piece of creative art, but at the same time we’re actually making a container that needs to conform to standards, conform to specifications and be able to integrate with other components.

SU: There are different ways to make things but trying to find a way which amplified the liquid allowing light to reflect through it and the pavilion that the decanter sits in is to replicate a forest – it’s all about how the light interacts with the liquid.

    The Challenges

SD: Integrating all the components is the most complicated – lots of iterations and samples and prototyping just to enhance it as best we can before it even goes into production. It’s 4 kilos of glass, metal, wood and spirit and it’s got to be strong and sturdy and do everything a bottle normally does but it’s also got to look perfect.

SU: The decanter is a square design with curves and this is where the challenge comes in. Moulding glass and internal surfaces results in some design constraints. The decanter itself was really technically challenging and some of the things we asked for were pushing new boundaries of detail and margin for error. We were working with millimetre variances and hand-blown decanters which is very challenging. It was difficult, but it strengthened our relationship. The most important thing is trust – that’s the reason we work with Glencairn. They always deliver the projects that we look for and deliver to the highest quality which is why we’ll be working with them hopefully for a long time in the future.

 The Response

SU: It has been well received and people around the world are really interested. People are looking at it as a piece of art and not just a bottle of whisky which is what we aspired for.

SD: Everybody loves it. It sits there held, quite rightly, by the fact that it’s not just the oldest but also a step of change in terms of engaging with a different audience. It’s an example of how whisky is now moving beyond its own marketplace into mainstream collectible products.