The Book of Kells series is one of the most iconic series that independent bottler Gordon and MacPhail has produced. At Mark Littler Ltd, we currently have a Book of Kells bottling of the Glenlivet 1940 50 Year Old whisky available on our shop.
We’re taking a look at the history of Gordon & MacPhail and this impressive Book of Kells series to see why this series is so exciting to whisky collectors and why you might want one for yourself.
Gordon & MacPhail
Gordon & MacPhail is an independent bottler based in Elgin, Scotland. It grew from a grocery business that was established in 1895 by James Gordon and John Alexander MacPhail. Gordon & MacPhail has become famous for its collection of old and rare casks that have been used to produce some of the most iconic bottling series in the industry. These include, amongst others, the Connoisseur’s Choice series, the Generations series, and of course the Book of Kells series which we are taking a closer look at here in this article.
In 1915, John Urquhart took control of Gordon & MacPhail, working alongside his son George.It was Urquhart that championed the bottling of whisky from prized distilleries under special licenses. The Urquhart family has gone on to manage Gordon & MacPhail for four generations, the last of the family to join being Fiona Vine, John Urquhart’s great granddaughter, who took on the role of Procurement Manager in 2019.
The Urquhart family, and John Urquhart in particular, are the ones to credit for having the forethought and willpower to leave a large number of casks to mature for a long period of time, allowing the iconic series that we know today.
Although Gordon & MacPhail began as a bottler, and gained notoriety in this industry, one of the main aims of the business was to own a distillery. In 1993 this was achieved when Gordon & MacPhail bought Benromach distillery.
Gordon & MacPhail are continuing to release high age statement whisky like they have with the Book of Kells bottles, and most recently they have announced a record breaking 80 year old Glenlivet.
Book of Kells Series
The Book of Kells was originally an illuminated manuscript gospel book that was written in Latin, dating back to the 9th century. The book contains the four gospels of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The original text has its origins in either Scotland or Ireland, due to its age it is hard to know for sure, but either possibility sparks inspiration within the whisky industry. An illuminated manuscript consists of a text that is supplemented with illustrative decoration including initials and borders, and it’s this decorative text that provides the inspiration for the Book of Kells series by Gordon & Macphail.
The series is often also referred to as The Dram Takers bottlings as the illustration on the label, whilst in the style of the illuminated manuscript, depicts two characters drinking a dram together.
The Book of Kells bottlings began in the 1980s and it appears that a Speyside 1938 45 year old whisky that was bottled in 1983 was among the first. However, that bottle is not the oldest vintage in the series; that accolade goes to the Mortlach 1936 50 Year Old whisky. To put this into perspective, in 1936 King Edward VII took the throne of the United Kingdom, construction of the Hoover Dam was finished, and the first ever television coverage of an international sports event took place with the summer Olympics in Berlin. This whisky was left to mature for 50 years and bottled in 1986, the same year as the Voyager 2 probe made its first encounter with Uranus and the first 3D printer was sold.
The Book of Kells series has become one of Gordon & MacPhail’s most famous bottle series as it contains some of the oldest and rarest whiskies available and there are bottlings from many different distilleries. This includes:
- Mortlach 1936 50 Year Old
- Glen Grant 1954 59 Year Old
- Glenlivet 1948 50 Year Old
- Clynelish 1972 37 Year Old
- Glenlivet 1940 50 Year Old
This series has three different styles of bottles whilst the label design remains consistent. The first bottle style is the very standard 70cl whisky bottle that we would associate with the spirit usually. Whiskies such as the 1972 Clynelish and the 1938 Old Elgin are in this style of bottle. The second type of bottle is a ‘dumpy’ wide bottle, that is much shorter than the typical whisky bottle. The most expensive Book of Kells, the Mortlach 1936 50 Year Old, as well as the Glenlivet 1940 50 Year Old are in this style of bottle. The final iteration is also a short bottle that has a curved edge. The Glen Grant 1948 50 Year Old is in this shape of bottle. Unfortunately these latter two bottle shapes have become notorious for very low levels due their age and the wax seal and cork used on these bottles.
The Book of Kells bottles don’t appear on the secondary market all that often. Since the first appearance in April 2014, in which a Strathisla 1960 49 Year Old bottling sold for £543, bottles in this series have only been sold at auction 253 times. For comparison, the Connoisseurs Choice series by Gordon & Macphail has been sold at auction over 13,000 times. Of the Kells bottles that have been released, the Mortlach 1936 50 Year Old has been the most successful at auction. The bottle has only appeared at auction 8 times and achieved £4100 in 2017 at Whisky.Auction.
The Book of Kells series is an iconic bottling series from one of the most famous independent bottlers in the industry. The series combines a fantastic design with even better whisky ensuring that they are bottles that any collector would love to have on their shelf.