The years of World War II were some of the most horrific and tumultuous in history, yet something truly beautiful was produced during that era: one of the rarest and most exclusive—not to mention oldest—single malts in the world today.
On January 14, 1943, as bombs rained down across Europe, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, French General Charles de Gaulle, and U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower met in Morocco at the Casablanca Conference to devise a strategy to eventually end the war.
On that historic day, a whisky was distilled at the Glenlivet Distillery and put into Cask 121, a first-fill sherry hogshead specifically selected by John and George Urquhart—first- and second-generation owners of Gordon & MacPhail, the preeminent purveyors of Scotland’s finest spirits. The war had severely curtailed whisky production in Scotland, with rationing and rising prices causing many distilleries to close; Glenlivet temporarily shut down a few months after Cask 121 was filled. Consequently, wartime whiskies became extremely scarce.
In 2013, Stephan Rankin, a fourth-generation Urquhart, decided that it was time to bottle Cask 121. After seven decades of aging, there was only enough whisky left to fill 42 crystal decanters, just 40 of which are being offered for sale. The Private Collection Glenlivet 1943 by Gordon & MacPhail—the last of Gordon & MacPhail’s 1943 whiskies—has a natural cask strength of 98.2 proof and a rich, burnished gold hue that reflects its sherry-barrel heritage, which is evidenced even more dramatically by the marzipan-and-toasted-wheat bouquet that hovers over the glass. A first sip reveals honeyed and candied nuances, with chocolate, brambles, and whiffs of smoke in the lengthy finish. But this is a single malt that needs time to fully evolve in the glass. After all, it has waited 70 years for this moment.