If you follow me on Instagram, you might notice that a lot of wild names pop up on my timeline. Bottles with weird lables or funny names.
Whisky with the wildest finishes and brands you may have never heard of. Often these are whiskies bottled by Independent Bottlers.
So let me tell you why I find those bottles so interesting.
Why an Independent Bottler?
The very first whisky I bought, was from an Independent Bottler (IB). Back then I did not have a clue what it was or what made it special, I just encountered a bottle in a shop and bought it. That easy.
It made me enjoy drinking whisky. Unfortunately for me, I can not buy that bottle again. It was a limited range, because that IB only had a certain amount of casks for their blend.
But I think I'm going too fast. It has been common practise (And I think this might change in the future) for distilleries to sell barrels with their whisky to other companies who either blend their own blend (Look how the big walking man started), or bottled it under their own label.
An Independent Bottler is just that, a party that buys barrels (or just the new make) to bottle and market themselves. Just the way they like it.
Distilleries bring out a certain range of Single Malts ( 8yo, 12yo etc) and are committing to a certain standard of flavors they have to repeat. To achieve this, they might mix multiple vintages to create that standard.
They have to create the same flavor. Over and Over. (But that is a skill!)
So why do I like to buy bottles from IB's?
Because they tend to differentiate from the standard distillery editions.
You got IB's that bottle at a different age or bottle at cask strength (I think I need to do a piece about that separately.). Bottlers that un-chillfilter the whisky when they bottle.
Then there are IB's that finish or even age the whisky on different casks. For example a Speyside whisky, aged on an ex-Islay cask. Or experiment with the toasting and charring of the cask.
I like to buy IB's because of that variation. How many different Linkwoods can I explore? What would be the effect of an Ex-bourbon cask on a Tamdhu? A distillery that only uses sherry casks to age their whisky.
And, although not always true, sometimes you can get a very unique, single cask, cask strength edition of your favorite distillery for a somewhat lower price then when the distillery bottles it. (Don't ask me how they do that.)
In short: I truly like to get those bottles, because they help me to discover a wide range on aroma's, flavor and other items in experimenting with whiskies.
But, however, and: The future
Do IB's have a future? With the rising popularity of whisky world wide, the market for buying barrels or new make is getting tighter. Prices rise on those markets, making it less interesting for some smaller IB's to purchase barrels.
At the same time, almost every distillery is using that popularity to cash and to do their own experiments with casks and release those as special editions or even as a standard in their range of whiskies.
Recently one of the older and larger IB's Gordon and MacPhail, in the business for 128 years, has announced they are no longer buying stock from distilleries in 2024.
As a brand, they invested in their own distilleries (BenRomach and the Cairn) and will focus on that. No worries though, they have enough stock to keep on releasing whisky for a couple of decades! But more IB's are following that example.
So I'm watching that progress with some interest, for now, I really enjoy looking for those special bottles from IB's that make me enjoy whisky so much!