Contrary to popular belief, my lunchtimes rarely involve strings of Martinis punctuated by amuse-bouches, but rather a more conventional sandwich or perhaps an impromptu reformulating of last night’s culinary experiment (dinner). 

On Wednesday the 2nd of September however, I had the pleasure of being invited to a somewhat hush-hush unveiling at the Royal Opera House, hosted by Gordon & MacPhail. Mystery tastings are very much the thing nowadays, with whisky brands preying on the natural curiosity of dram hunters. My interest piqued by the fact that Wednesday morning just before lunch is unlikely to descend into a bacchanalian blingfest with the secret liquid in question being sidetracked by bright lights and shiny things. Besides, Gordon & MacPhail, who have been trading rare and old single malts since 1895, are not known to exaggerate a special occasion. So off to the opera I went.

The kilted-up Urquhart family, who have owned the business for four generations, were peppered around the room and began proceedings with introductions. Wordsmith Alexander McCall Smith read out an excerpt of the poems he had written for this whisky, before a teardrop decanter of Mortlach 75 year old – the latest in the ‘Generations’ range – was unveiled. Barrelled in 1939, in their words it is “believed to be the world’s most exclusive single malt whisky” (in terms of time it has spent in the barrel rather than how old the bottle is) and is disputably the oldest whisky in the world (Master of Malt’s Aisla T’Orten 105 year old also lays claim… there’s always one).  

To put the rarity of the stuff in perspective, as it was carefully poured into especially designed crystal glasses for the reverent crowd, I blew the cobwebs off my dusty Scotch knowledge and attempted to crank my rusty arithmetic machine into action. The average evaporation or ‘angel’s share’ (if you care to call whisky thieves ‘angelic’) for Scotch is around 2%, give or take the odd percent or half, meaning that after 75 years spent in a 500-litre sherry butt cask (which is the case here) we are left with just enough to fill 100 bottles (which is the case here), with a bit to spare for the likes of little ol’ me to taste before lunch.

As the crystal was passed around, posh whisky writer Charles MacLean – fresh off the back of collaborating with McCall Smith for an exclusive book for the release – offered up some of his own poetry: tasting notes to counter those from the distillery. Something very quaint and evocative about an ageing actress in her bedroom smothered in hand cream drinking a cappuccino, with an open sash window providing wafts of freshly mown grass, and beyond that lawn Charles could just make out a salty sea with bits of desiccated coconut floating about in it, and beyond that sea he found himself magically in Venice at Harry’s Bar, which he (as is commonly but incorrectly assumed) identified as the bar in which the Bellini was created. I didn’t correct him.

Me? On the nose I got apricot, lavender, and curiously Jerusalem artichoke (I swear), followed by hazelnuts, coco butter, dried raisin and finally a hint of young oak. In my gob I got lots and lots of honeycomb wax, a thick creaminess, hints of cacao, glints of grass, a bit of rose, apricot again (stone and skin but no flesh), and a little spice (could’ve been clove) on the finish. Predictably for such a grande dame, it was a case of peeling back tightly knitted layers of constantly evolving flavours, yet it was surprisingly light, bright, spirited and sprightly for one so old. I left it in my gob graciously for a second for each of it’s years (as I have been taught to do by my whisky Yoda) I got liquorice, sap, honeysuckle and dirty looks for not replying to any small talk for a minute and a half.

When I left to grab a cheese sandwich the whisky hawks were already circling, so expect this teardrop of liquid history to be swiftly secreted away in private collections for undisclosed amounts, making brief appearances in auction houses in years to come.

Julian de Féral is an award-winning bartender-turned international drinks consultant and occasional raconteur.

Mortlach 75 Years Old by Gordon & MacPhail was matured in a first-fill Sherry butt cask. Only 100 decanters, bottled at cask strength (44.4% ABV), have been released for worldwide sale. The RRP of Generations Mortlach 75 Years Old is £20,000, although prices may differ in international markets due to local taxes and duty. For more information visit