Scotch 101: What are independent whisky bottlers?

At Whisky Foundation, we’re always writing about independent bottling, independent whisky bottlers, casks, finishing and new exciting bottlings.

But we noticed recently that we’d completely forgotten to write about the most basic topic of all: what are independent whisky bottlers?

So, what are independent bottlers? 

OK, here’s a Spark Notes version of what independent bottlers do.

Independent whisky bottlers are bottlers that buy whiskies from distilleries and bottle them themselves.

In a nutshell, that’s it.

Except, it’s also so much more than that.

Independent bottlers aren’t focused on profit or efficiency. They aren’t looking to squeeze every penny out of a cask or to release a whisky that is coherent with the distillery’s brand or signature.

They’re all about the whisky, man.

They experiment with longer maturation periods. They experiment with different casks and finishes. They bottle at cask strength, avoid chill-filtration and artificial colouring, and – in the main – only release single malts.

Independent whisky bottlers are whisky experts, for sure.

But they’re also craftsmen.

They use their experience (as well as maverick spirit and sense of adventure) to mature and handle whiskies in ways that bring out the flavour, enhance the character and bring new twists to the whisky.

But why are independent whisky bottlers so important?

If you’re an IB nut, you’re probably shaking your head and rolling your eyes at this question, but the fact remains that independent bottling is (sadly) a little-known concept to the vast majority of the population (including some whisky drinkers).

Whilst distilleries and international whiskies (particularly Japanese whiskies) have seen their moment in the sun, independent whisky bottlers have stayed there at the back of the class, quietly keeping their head downs and producing great, show-stopping whiskies.

Which is a shame.

Nay, it’s almost a tragedy.

Here at the Whisky Foundation we believe that such a wonderfully experimental and educational practice should be broadcast to the world. We want drinkers young and old, new and experienced, to try some of the work of some great independent whisky bottlers.

But they’re not important because they bottle great whiskies.

Or should we say, they’re not only important because they bottle great whiskies.

They’re important because they’re at the forefront of experimentation within the industry. They experiment with casks, maturation periods and techniques that the distilleries don’t have the time to experiment with. And the results, frankly, are incredible.

Ever had a whisky that’s been finished in a sherry cask? Incredible, right?

It wouldn’t have been possible without the experimentation of an independent whisky bottler.

And, finally, they’re important because (in the case of some independent bottlers) they hold the last drops of whisky that several great, but sadly mothballed, distilleries ever produced.

In a very real sense, independent whisky bottlers are the link between whisky’s past and whisky’s future.

Isn’t that something worth drinking to?


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