Renowned Scotch whisky company Gordon and MacPhail have announced that they no longer intend to purchase stock for their releases, effectively ending their time as an independent bottler. Instead, the company will focus on bottling and selling stock from their own distilleries.

Elgin-based Gordon & MacPhail was established as a grocers in 1895. Whisky was one of their primary goods and soon became the core of their business, boasting an impressive portfolio of casks by the 1910s. Their iconic Connoisseurs Choice range was first introduced and remains a staple on many a whisky retailer’s shelf to this day.

Recent years have witnessed the company grab headlines as they unveiled some of the oldest whiskies within their warehouse, such as the 80 Year Old Glenlivet released in 2021.

It would be fair to say G&M were pioneers in the field of independent bottling. They were among the earliest names in that field and established a framework that would be borrowed by many of their contemporaries. Importantly, G&M also offered distilleries a much needed outlet for their spirit during the Scotch whisky industry’s less prosperous periods.

In addition to bottling, Gordon & MacPhail have been involved directly in distilling since the 1990s. They bought the Benromach distillery in 1993, successfully relaunching the brand in 1998. Later they built their own distillery, Cairn, which opened in 2022.

G&M’s business practice varies from many contemporary bottlers. Rather than buying casks from distilleries, they purchase new make to be matured in their own casks within their warehouses. From 2024 this will no longer be the case.

However, G&M’s iconic labels won’t immediately be disappearing from our shelves. Enough stock remains to carry the brand for at least another 10-15 years as they patiently wait for the spirit at their Cairn distillery to reach full maturity.

Ewen Mackintosh, managing director, has said that this move is in line with the company’s “rare and exclusive mantra” that has guided G&M in recent years. As stocks reduce, the rarity of the spirit increases. And with increased scarcity comes increased value.

Mackintosh reasons that Gordon & MacPhail were always driven by a desire to “complement not compete” with a distillery’s output. Indeed, many independent bottlers pride themselves on offering something different from what you would normally expect from a certain brand.

As Scotch whisky has grown in popularity this has been harder to achieve. Distilleries are expanding their ranges, often offering a variety of ages, cask finishes or limited small batch expressions.

Similarly, lesser known brands are increasingly available. It’s easy to forget, but once upon a time whisky from distilleries such as Longmorn, Mortlach or Strathisla were only available as a G&M offering. Nowadays these brands are well established and ‘official’ bottles are significantly easier to get a hold of.

In light of Scotch whisky’s growth in popularity the world over (the industry maintained relatively strong sales despite COVID and has witnessed a remarkably strong post-pandemic recovery), it’s not surprising that distilleries will look to keep more of their stock for themselves.

Legacy is obviously of great importance to a 125+ year old, family owned company such as Gordon & MacPhail. In light of the above, Mackintosh states that the move to bottling their own spirit helps future generations of the family have greater control of their own destiny. No longer relying on another company’s spirit safeguards G&M’s longterm future since they are longer guaranteed to get the fillings they require for their releases.

Of course, Gordon & MacPhail aren’t the only independent bottler at the helm of a distillery: Hunter Laing own Ardnahoe in Islay; Adelphi operate Ardnamurchan; Dornoch Distillery was opened by Thompson Bros; the list goes on. While each company will have their own modus operandi, it’s not hard to imagine that scarcity of stock is a motivating factor for many bottlers to move into distilling.

It might be tempting to frame this development as the death of independent bottling, but it’s hard to believe that this will be the case. Licensed bottles make up a small but not insignificant part of the whisky boom-period we’ve been experiencing.

Humans are inherently curious creatures and whisky drinkers are always keen for something new. Distilleries themselves are making great effort to meet these needs with increasingly experimental releases. Nevertheless, as long as the market for a niche dram exists there will always be a need for independently released whiskies.

As for Gordon & MacPhail, they will be leaving behind a monumental legacy within the world of independently bottled Scotch. But they’re not going anywhere. Their reputation will only be enhanced with the premium stock they have left, while Benromach and Cairn will solidify the G&M brand well into the future.

Ewen MacKintosh reckons that Gordon & MacPhail will be a part of the whisky business for the next 100 years, and it’s hard to argue with him.