Capturing the spirit

Gordon & MacPhail, Mortlach 70 Year Old Generations ‘Teardrop’ Decanter, 2010

5 Mar, 2021

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.

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.

Michael Urquhart

Gordon & Macphail

Former Joint Managing Director

The Brief

SD: When Gordon & MacPhail approached us with a decanter brief they already had a good idea of how they wanted it to look. They wanted the decanter to look contemporary and had decided this would look best in the form of a teardrop shape. They had also made it clear from the brief that they wanted this teardrop shaped decanter to have a pagoda style stopper.

MU: For a whisky of this age, we wanted to put the whisky in a decanter that was really unique. We chose Glencairn because we had been doing business with them for a number of years and we knew what they could do. They also knew Gordon and MacPhail and what we were about. We knew we could sit down and tell them what we wanted and they had the people who would think creatively to come up with something different rather than the same decanter and same shape as usual. We really wanted to push the boundaries with what could actually be done when it came to this project.

The Whisky

SD: The whisky at the time was one of a few remaining Mortlachs, and at the time of production, it was also the oldest whisky in the world to be released. There was only a few casks left of the Mortlach which is why Gordon & MacPhail opted for a teardrop shape decanter—to celebrate this greatly aged and unique bottling of Mortlach. From this single cask, there was enough whisky to fill 54 70cl decanters and 162 20cl decanters. The release was named ‘Generations’, to reflect the number of generations involved in maturing the whisky.

MU: The Mortlach 70 tasted smooth fresh and luxurious, with hints of fruits such as apricots, orange and dried figs along with almonds; a slight hint of ginger spice and light smoke at the back of the palate. It was bottled at 46.1% – a good strength for that age of whisky.

The range of these greatly aged whiskies was named Generations to reflect the four generations of the Urquhart family involved in maturing the whisky.

Scott Davidson

Glencairn Crystal

New Product  Development Director

                                             The Decanter

SD:Our in-house design team completed all aspects of the design work for the ‘Generations’ decanter and all techniques used in the creation of the decanter were the result of in-house training. The teardrop shaped decanter was created specifically for this project in line with Gordon & MacPhail’s brief. The decanters each had a silver base that was used as a cradle. The bases for the decanters were handmade, as each had to be matched up to the decanter it was cradling—this was due to the minor differences in decanter wall thickness.

The pagoda shaped stopper was also bespoke: the stoppers were applied in two separate parts. Firstly, the cork was fitted into the decanter, then using a screwing mechanism, the pagoda top was screwed onto the cork. The cork had to be short enough that it would not be visible below the bottom of the pagoda stopper but still able to screw onto the inside of the pagoda whilst not leaking any of the precious spirit. The cork that was used for the decanters was taken from the highest quality cork available at the time of production. Again, with the varying decanter wall thicknesses of each handmade decanter, the cork had to be sized and matched individually to each decanter in order for the spirit to be sealed properly.

MU:There wasn’t much difference between what was designed and what the end result was. We created this beautiful tear shaped decanter that was almost like a Faberge egg, that sat in a silver bowl with a silver stopper, that had a cork sitting inside.

The attention to detail that went into it was amazing and has stood the test of time. It was all about getting the cues about the uniqueness of the decanter and the supporting materials to celebrate—what was then—the oldest bottled single malt whisky in the world.

   

   The Challenges

SD: Making the decanter wasn’t the difficult part: the real challenges was making a seal that would allow the transport of the decanters without spillage. Tests were carried out until Glencairn Crystal found an adhesive that was both transport friendly and food safe so that the adhesive could sit close to the lip of the decanter. The inside of the stopper was then micro-dotted with adhesive tape to stop the pagoda top moving and causing the cork to move during transport.

Another challenge we faced was during the crystal blowing process; we had to ensure there was volume control in place. This meant we had to ensure a consistent amount of crystal was used in each mould and that it was distributed equally during blowing to allow for all of the decanters to have the same fill lines when filled with 70cl of whisky.

During the design process, our design team also had to ensure that the engraving artwork on the decanter appeared level, which was incredibly challenging. Due to the curved and narrowing shape of the decanter, the team had to pre-manipulate the artwork and curve it in a way that would follow the curvature of the bottle and appear level.

Finally, the whisky was bottled in both 70cl and 20cl versions of the decanter, so we had to repeat all of these processes that were used on the 70cl versions with the much smaller and more difficult to work on 20cl versions.

MU: We thought about how we would add some sort of security seal. This determined how we did various things because we wanted to maintain the integrity of the decanter knowing that some people would be buying it to put in a collection or hold it as an investment.

We also had to think about how people will know it is a bonafide example of it in, for example, 15 years. So that was a big part of the thought process: it’s not just about putting whisky into a decanter.

We didn’t want the cork to be visible, so the silver top came down past the cork like a skirt effectively.

Claire Urquhart

Launch at Edinburgh Castle

     The End Result

SD:When the Mortlach 70 Year Old was released, all 54 of the 70cl whiskies were sold within a couple of weeks at a price of around £10,000 each. One of the biggest successes of this release was that when this decanter was released, it was the first time that old whisky was perceived as rare or premium. Since the release of the Mortlach 70 Year Old, more and more companies have bottled their rare whiskies in super premium decanters.

MU:Charlie Maclean, who wrote a book to accompany the bottling, speculated the decanters would sell quickly which they did, within two weeks. It just seemed to capture the imagination and the 20cl decanters sold out very quickly too.

We did quite a lot of business with the duty free in Vancouver. A couple were travelling from China and were looking to buy whisky. As the ages of the whisky got higher, he got more interested, until he saw ours at 70 years old selling for 35,000 Canadian Dollars and he bought one as a gift. A few months later he came back and bought another one, again as a gift. There seemed to be this demand for it from the people travelling between British Columbia and China.

What’s interesting is this tear shape decanter has been used 3 times now, most recently with a Mortlach 75 year old. For the 75 year old we thought it would be good to cut 75 grooves into the decanter. It is these small technical challenges that Glencairn can accommodate to make the decanters special. They must tear their hair out at some of the requests that come through but at the end of the day the quality shines through and reflects the quality of the spirit that’s inside!