Ask Whisky Foundation: Should I put water in my independent bottlings?

whisky taste chart

 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll probably have read the study that found that putting water in whisky definitively improves the flavour of it. (Well, in so far as taste is highly subjective and a matter of opinion.)

Did you miss it? Here’s a quick watered-down recap. (Get it, because it’s about putting water in whisky…)

Brace yourself, here comes some whisky science.

In a nutshell, the study looked at the effect of guaiacol in whisky and how this interacted with differing amounts of ethanol and water.

For those that don’t have a PhD in whisky, guaiacol – or, C6H4(OH)(OCH3) – is the molecule that gives whisky that smoky goodness. Unsurprisingly, guaiacol is found in higher quantities in whiskies from Islay. (That’s what gives them the huge fist of smoke and peaty flavour.)

Now, here’s what the study found.

When whisky is at 45% ABV or less, these guaiacol molecules sit close to the top of the liquid. That means, when you nose the whisky or take the initial sip, you’ll get hit with them straight away.

That’s why a Lagavulin is so distinctive – you’re assaulted by a horde of guaiacol racing towards your taste buds and overwhelming you with smoky, peaty flavours.

However, as the concentration of the whisky increases – say to cask strength levels of 55% ABV or 60% ABV – the molecules cling to the ethanol, which sits further away from the surface of the drink.

That means that you’re not going to get a huge hit of smokiness (although you will still notice it).

What does this mean for independent bottlings? 

Before we get onto that, it’s important to note a few things about this study.

First of all, the study doesn’t prove that putting water in whisky makes it taste better. It simply proves that it disperses the smoky characteristics more evenly across the whisky.

However, whisky isn’t just about the initial sip. It’s a journey.

Sometimes it’s good to discover hints of smokiness after an initial hit of sweetness, or sometimes it’s good for the smokiness to fade and give way to something a little subtler. Spreading the smokiness across the whisky might come at the cost of losing some more subtle flavours.

Secondly – and this is a big concern – the study was performed on a computer. It wasn’t performed by whisky tasters or whisky experts. It wasn’t carried out by a distiller or a bottler. It was a simulation.

And, on top of that, it was a simulation that examined whisky in a box shaped vessel.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never sipped my whisky out of a box.

(Although, never say never. Who knows what the next hipster trend will be. Whisky out of a shoe box? Whisky from a hollowed-out Rubik’s cube? It’s scary that these plucked-from-thin-air ideas will probably pop up in Shoreditch next week. We best send off the patent forms…)

The big question: does this make the blindest bit of difference? 

Not in the slightest.

If you’re a fan of independent bottlings, you’ll have known for a while that water in whisky can bring out the character of a whisky or stave off the alcohol burn.

But you’ve probably also realised that some whiskies – even cask strength ones – often don’t need dilution at all.

After all, why would bottlers release something at cask strength if it tasted better diluted?

Cask strength whiskies are all about putting you in control. You drink them how they taste best to you. If you want to put water in whisky, do it. If you don’t, don’t.

That’s what we’ve always been about here at Whisky Foundation: people drinking whisky how they enjoy it.

So, while this study might be great for science or for shutting up the ‘oh-you-add-water-to-your-whisky-do-you?’ people, we can’t help but feel that it backs up the idea that there’s a right and a wrong way to drink your whisky.

And we don’t like that.

However you like your whisky – whether over ice, diluted with water or cask strength – we don’t care.

The fact you enjoy your whisky is enough for us.

Death to whisky snobbery.

Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’ve got a delivery of 10,000 Rubik’s Cubes to hollow out…

 

 

Independent bottler in the spotlight: Kingsbury

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Last month, we kicked off a new series of blog posts that placed the focus on the bottlers that produce the incredible whisky we love to drink with a look at Signatory Vintage.

This month, Kingsbury step into the limelight.

In case you missed it, here’s why we started this series:

At Whisky Foundation, we often talk of our favourite bottlings and our favourite cask-finishes. We often talk of whisky regions and whisky terms and the whisky industry in general.

But, for an independent bottling site, we feel like we’ve neglected talking about independent bottlers a little.

This series is going to change that.

Now, each month, we’re going to pick out an independent bottler to celebrate.

We’re going to give you a bit of history, a bit of insight and a little taste of what makes them so good. (Oh, we’ll also be recommending some of their whiskies too, just to keep it interesting.)

The History of Kingsbury

Kingsbury – or Kingsbury Wine & Spirits Co. as it’s officially known – was founded in Aberdeen in 1989 by Katsuhiko Tanaka, the president of Japan Import System Co. Ltd.

(See, this is already a little different from your usual independent bottler origin story, right?)

Japan Import System Co. is a very well-established, family-run liquor store in Tsukiji. They first opened their doors in 1956 (it was Katsuhiko’s grandmother who owned and ran it at the time) and evolved over the years to be a purveyor and seller of the finest spirits.

They weren’t just focused on mark-up and margins, they wanted to source spirits that were an authentic representation of their terroir. In other words, they didn’t want cheap Scotch, they wanted the very best expressions of Scottish heritage and tradition in single malt form.

As such, they started Kingsbury to source, bottle and provide them with a steady supply of the very best whisky.

What makes Kingsbury so special?

For a start, most of Kingsbury whiskies are only available for the Japanese market. (Well, and here at Whisky Foundation, of course. Quite a lot of Kingsbury bottlings are exclusive to Whisky Foundation. Not that we’re bragging or anything…)

Secondly, all whiskies are hand selected by Katsuhiko Tanaka and Gordon Wright (from Springbank). That’s a pretty decent indication that they’re great whiskies.

Thirdly, from day dot, Kingsbury has been dedicated to bottling their whiskies non-chill-filtered and – in most cases – cask strength.

In short, they do things right.

(And, if you’re based in the US or UK, they’re something a little different.)

Our favourite Kingsbury bottlings:

Bowmore 18 Year (Kingsbury, 1997)

Bowmore 18 Year

Like most Kingsbury bottlings, this bad boy is Whisky Foundation exclusive.

And this is something very special indeed.

Distilled in 1997 at Bowmore Distillery on Islay and then matured in a rum cask, it was bottled after 18 years of soaking up those sweet, Caribbean notes from a rum cask. Kingsbury finally bottled it at a cask strength of 58.6% ABV in 2016 (with no chill-filtering or added colouring, of course).

Plus, there were only 188 bottles produced, so this really is a rare treat. Get it while you can.

Caol Ila 20 Year (Kingsbury, 1996)

Caol Ila 20 Year

You might remember this one – it was our IB of the Month a few months ago.

But it’s so good that we had to include it again.

(Plus, we’re incredibly proud to have it as a WF exclusive.)

It’s well-rounded, balanced and has a long salt finish typical of Caol Ila malts. Plus, it has been aged in a rum cask for two decades and then bottled at a cask strength of 56.90%.

That means that all the subtle flavours (particularly the spice, fruit and vanilla notes) from the rum cask have been left intact.

We love this whisky. Why not treat yourself to a bottle before we drink the stock room dry?

Whisky buff to whisky bluff: what on earth is chill haze?

what-is-chill-filtration

If you’re anything like the team here at Whisky Foundation, you’re a fan of beer as well as whisky. If that is the case, then you might have noticed the recent trend of hazy IPAs cropping up all over the place.

They’re the current ‘in-thing’, and for good reason: they have enhanced aromas, are smooth and creamy and have a reduced bitterness that you sometimes get with an IPA.

Does that sound familiar? (cough, independent bottling, cough)

Now, we’re going to sound like a broken record. But it’s no coincidence that craft beer is now discovering – or at least, craft beer drinkers are discovering – things that drinkers of independent bottlings have known for ages.

As we’ve said before (several times), craft beer and whisky are, in very many ways, very similar.

And this trend towards hazy beer is very similar to the argument against chill filtration – the haze (in whisky’s case, it is known as chill haze) is a purely aesthetic concern. Sure, it might not look as pretty when you upload a picture to Instagram or Facebook, but the haze adds flavour, depth and character to the drink.

Still with us?

No.

Let’s break a down a little bit.

First of all, what on earth is chill haze?

Good shout. Let’s deal with the basics first.

When it comes to whisky, there are certain elements that get us very excited indeed. They’re the basic elements, sure, but they’re also key to a great whisky.

If you get the aroma, the taste and the texture of a whisky just right – it’s one of the greatest experiences on the planet.

The problem is, these attributes come from compounds within the whisky itself.

The vast majority of these compounds are soluble in the water and ethanol that make up the whisky. However, some of these compounds – specifically, the esters, proteins and fatty acids – are only soluble at warmer temperatures.

Once the whisky cools, these compounds stick together to form small particles (known to those in-the-know as micelles).

These particles scatter the light as it hits the whisky, causing it to appear cloudy. This cloudiness is known as chill haze.

OK, so it’s just a slightly hazy whisky? 

Pretty much, yep.

So why is chill haze such an important thing?

Well, it’s not so much that the haze itself is important, but what the haze signifies.

It signifies that the whisky hasn’t been chill-filtered and that all the esters, fats and proteins are there to give the whisky that extra oomph.

That extra ‘something’ that makes it special.

Hold on, hold on. What’s chill-filtration when it’s at home? 

Unsurprisingly, chill filtration involves chilling the whisky to remove all the compounds that clump together to cause the haze.

Single malts are chilled to zero degrees Celsius to make sure that the micelles form.

Then, the whisky is pushed through a succession of metallic meshes or paper filters. These meshes and filters collect the clumps of particles and remove them from the final product.

This is usually done to ensure a consistent, aesthetically pleasing product.

However, it also removes the things that take a whisky from something pretty good to something special.

Still not making any sense?

We’ve compared independent bottlings to music before, and the analogy works again here.

Remember as a teenager, having a favourite band?

They had probably released a scratchy demo or first album, but you loved every aspect of it.

The way the guitars play off each other, the driving bass lines, the clever lyrics… It was really something, right?

Now, if you were unlucky enough to witness them signing to a major label, you might have experienced a chill-filtration of their sound.

Perhaps the guitar lines were tightened up a bit, their lyrics made a little more wholesome or the production made them sounds polished and tight rather than rough and raw.

The little things that made them extra special had been removed to make them as appealing to a mass audience as possible.

And although they were still a great band, they’d lost that special something.

They’d lost the thing that made them really special.

That’s what the chill haze is – a sign that the whisky still has that special something.

Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’re off to dig through our teenage record collection and weep.

 

 

Whisky Tales: Wilson and Morgan, Michael Jackson and the whisky tailor

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Every so often, we hear a whisky tale so good that we just have to tell you here on the Whisky Foundation blog.

This story isn’t just a great anecdote, but it’s full of other little titbits about the whisky industry at large and – best of all – ends with a message that pretty much sums up what makes independent bottling so special.

It involves Wilson and Morgan, a family-run Italian independent bottler. We love them here at WF. They’re a great example of the innovation, creativity and international collaboration upon which the independent bottling industry is built.

It also involves Michael Jackson. No, not that one, sadly. (However good this tale is, there’s no way it couldn’t be improved with a bit of moonwalking.) We’re talking about the beer and whisky writer, Michael Jackson, who not only is responsible for elevating beer from something to stave of thirst to something to treat like an art, but who also wrote the comprehensive guide to all things whisky, Malt Whisky Companion.

(We love Michael Jackson here at Whisky Foundation. Not only was he an incredible writer, but he also had a sense of humour. Knowing the mix-up between him and his namesake, he used to wear a single white glove to present his TV programme, The Beer Hunter, and said that he didn’t drink Pepsi, but drank beer.)

And it also involves lots of talk about whisky and the care it takes to produce an incredible independent bottling.

Shall we begin?

By the start of the millennium, Wilson and Morgan – having only been bottling for a decade or so – had built quite the reputation.

They were following in the footsteps of the great Samaroli, producing consistently great bottlings time and time again.

Of course, this put them on the radar of Michael Jackson, who was writing the new edition of The Malt Whisky Companion. (And was going to include some of their bottlings with lavish praise.)

MJ’s assistant was travelling around Italy and wanted to meet Fabio, the head of the Wilson and Morgan family. They met, wined and dined and got on incredibly well.

They agreed to meet again the next year, with Michael in tow. (OK, it’s not the most interesting story so far, but bear with us.)

They met at a restaurant in Treviso at the height of truffle season (‘tartufi’ or white truffles are a speciality of the region).

Surprisingly, over glasses of Piedmontese red wine and taglioni al tartufo, not much whisky was discussed all. Instead, they talked of good lives well lived; of music, travel and the little things.

But it was after dinner that talk turned to all things malted.

Fabio brought out a couple of new Wilson and Morgan bottlings: a Bowmore 1989-2003 with an Armagnac finish, and a Longmorn 1990-2002 with a Marsala finish. (The story is good now, right?)

The Longmorn wasn’t just a new bottling for W&M either, it was the first of its kind. According to all reports, it was the first attempt to give a whisky a Marsala finish (but not the last.)

MJ loved it.

Not only did he love the innovative spirit and the fact that Wilson and Morgan were pushing the boundaries of whisky, but he also loved the design of the bottles.

That’s when he uttered his immortal words:

‘You make whisky like your jacket, you are a tailor.’ (Fabio was wearing fine Italian tailoring, of course.)

High praise indeed.

In fact, it’s something that Wilson and Morgan are still incredibly proud of. When we interviewed them a little while ago, it was something they mentioned then too:

Fabio has told me many times he believes himself to be a tailor because, as Michael Jackson intended, he likes to create small craft bottlings each with a particular mark of distinction. Like a tailor, he likes to have elegant variations in his all creations, and so not two of them are alike. However, being a tailor, all of them bear his mark of distinction nonetheless. A good tailor always has his “recognizable style” even between two very different kinds of dresses.

And doesn’t that just sum up everything that is great about independent bottlings? That each whisky has been cared for, crafted by hand and meticulously planned, like the finest of suits.

We’ll drink to that.

 

 

 

From the Whisky Foundation collection: our favourite Rest and Be Thankful bottlings <

rest and be thankful

There’s nothing we love more at Whisky Foundation than seeing an independent bottler appear with a bang and then consistently produce whisky after whisky after whisky that blow us away.

(Well, there is: drinking whisky after whisky after whisky that blow us away.)

And, if you’ve never heard of Rest & Be Thankful, then you’re in for a treat because they’re an independent bottler that does just that.

Rest and Be Thankful: a brief history 

The brainchild of two colleagues, Eamonn Jones and Aidan Smith, who also run Fox Fitzgerald Whisky Trading Company, Rest and Be Thankful is the result of a lifelong dedication to producing and selling the very best whisky.

Smith and Jones worked together at Whyte and Mackay Ltd and then established Fox Fitzgerald in 2010. From there, they worked very closely with Bruichladdich, the Islay distiller with a reputation for doing things a little differently.

As Smith and Jones moved on with Fox Fitzgerald, they began to sell and package their whiskies a little differently. There was a strong focus on producing a great looking product (as well as a great tasting whisky).

A little while later, Bruichladdich was sold off.

But this didn’t deter Smith and Jones.

They spoke to all of the Directors and Shareholders – who had managed to amass a huge collection of incredible Bruichladdich, Octomore and Port Charlotte casks – and proposed bottling them under one independent label: Rest & Be Thankful.

The name comes from a landmark on the A83.  As you make the whisky pilgrimage between Islay and Campbeltown, there’s a stone just at the summit of the hill (the A83 is pretty steep) that reads ‘Rest and Be Thankful’. It was inscribed by the soldiers who built the road in 1753, presumably after weeks and weeks of hard work.

It has now become tradition for travellers to take a pew, look at the view and be thankful that they’ve reached the top.

And what better name for a whisky?

Here are a few of our favourite Rest and Be Thankful bottlings: 

Highland Park 27 Year (Rest & Be Thankful, 1989)

Highland Park 27 Year

Oh boy. Let’s start with a cracker of a whisky.

This whisky was distilled on October 26th, 1989 then aged for 27 years in a single bourbon cask until, on February 4th, 2016, it was bottled at 48.4%. (Of course, there was no chill-filtering or colouring at all.)

And it’s quite something.

On the nose, you’re hit with that classic Highland Park character; smoke. Like a huge hit of bonfire, the whisky grabs your senses and assaults them with smoky aromas. But then, there’s a little flicker of something else. A flash of something a little more subtle; lingonberry.

As you take a sip, you’re treated to hints of citrus and oak. It’s a delight. As you build towards the finish, you notice a slight note of honey.

Then, as always with an Island whisky, the crescendo comes with a huge hit of herbal smoke.

It’s really quite something.

If you’re a fan of smoky, bold whiskies – this is a real treat.

Springbank 25 Year Old (Rest & Be Thankful, 1991)

Springbank 25 Year Old

Here’s another treat for you. Springbank whiskies are special enough on their own, but when they’ve had the Rest and Be Thankful treatment?

Oh yes.

This whisky was distilled in 1991 then aged for 25 years in a bourbon barrel until it was released to the world.

And boy, can you can tell that it was aged in the bourbon barrel.

On the nose, you’ll get that sweet, vanilla smokiness that comes from the bourbon cask. Then, as it hits your tongue, you’ll get a smooth mix of sweet dough, peat, smoke and butter. It’s smooth as hell.

And, as with any peaty whisky, you’ll continue to get the peat all the way to the finish.

It’s good.

It’s very, very, very good.

Octomore 6 Year Old (Rest & Be Thankful, 2008)

Octomore 6 Year

This is an Octomore, so if you don’t like peat, close the tab now.

This is PEATY.

As Octomore is the most heavily peated whisky in the world, you should expect huge hits of smoky goodness.

But it’s far more complex than that.

Far, far more complex.

On the nose, you’ll get a rich mix of salted butter, cured meats, leather, wood and sugar. It’s almost like a buffet table of goodness; you’ve got the rich buttery smells, the almost smoky cured meats, the sugary delights and the smell of wood. (I couldn’t think why there’d leather on a buffet table, but let’s just ignore that…)

As you get to the palate, you’re hit with waves of sweet melon with herby notes. But then, all of a sudden, you notice the peat rising up. Soon, a hit of earthy smoke arrives in a crest of sea salt and vanilla notes. This wave just keeps going and going, leading to a long and smokey finish.

Fantastic.

Really, genuinely, out-of-this-world fantastic.

Have you tried a Rest & Be Thankful bottling? What did you think? Let us know in the comments or on social media! 

 

 

Learn the lingo: independent bottling-specific whisky words

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If you’ve read any of our other posts, you’ll know that here at Whisky Foundation, we’re all about stripping away the crusty image of whisky drinking.

That’s because we know that there’s a lot about whisky culture – the whisky words, the attitudes, and the elitism – that can be off-putting to the casual whisky drinker.

And this is especially the case for independent bottlings. As a niche subset of whisky, independent bottlings can be even less accessible than their original bottling counterparts.

But it shouldn’t be like that.

At Whisky Foundation, we don’t want it to be like that.

That’s why, whether we’re writing our Whisky Bluff to Whisky Buff series or writing articles explaining different aspects of the whisky-making process, we’re always looking for ways to make whisky drinking accessible to all.

And breaking down the language we use to talk about independent bottlings is a key part of that.

The whisky words we – and other whisky drinkers – use are often esoteric (sometimes accidentally, sometimes accidentally-on-purpose).

We’ll throw terms like moth-balled, chill-filtration and expression around with reckless abandon, forgetting that people new to the world of independent bottlings might not understand them yet.

So, that’s why we’re going to break down a few independent bottling-specific (in most cases) whisky words this month; to make things accessible and break down the barriers between hardened whisky drinkers and enthusiastic new drinkers.

Whisky Foundation’s whisky words to plain English translator:

Cask

Ah, we’re kicking things off with a simple one: the cask.

But, in terms of independent bottling at least, there is almost nothing more important than the cask. It’s what gives the whisky its colour, character and flavour. After that – as is almost par for the independent bottling course – IBs are often moved to another cask to finish ageing.

What is a cask?

It’s pretty much just the wooden barrel the whisky is matured, aged or finished in. (For a more detailed explanation of how this works, why it’s important and the differences that different types of wood make, we’ve written a comprehensive article on casks. We used Latin names for the wood and everything.)

Cask finish

Right, now we’ve got cask out of the way, let’s kick things off with a few terms that begin with the word ‘cask’.

Cask finish simply refers to a whisky that has been transferred from the primary barrel (the barrel that it started to mature in) to a second (and sometimes even third) barrel for extra maturation.

This is particularly common for independent bottlings. Independent bottlers often transfer their whiskies to a sherry, bourbon – or even, rum or beer – cask to finish the whisky in a special way.

(If you’ve never tried a sherry finished IB, you’re missing out. We love them here at WF. Here are a few of our favourites.)

Cask strength

Another cask-based term! This one is a little simpler. It just means that the whisky has been bottled at the strength that it came out of the cask. It hasn’t been diluted in any way; it’s as the cask intended it to be.

(Distilleries tend to dilute their whiskies to around 40.0%ABV to ensure a consistent product. Independent bottlers are more concerned with producing an outstanding, one-off whisky than a so-so consistent whisky, so they ignore this step.)

Chill filtration

Put simply, chill filtration is a process that removes the esters, proteins and fatty acids from whisky to give it consistency and make it look appealing. (Although, we’re yet to see a glass of whisky that hasn’t been a sight to behold, regardless of whether it was chill-filtered.)

The problem is, these esters, proteins and fatty acids give the whiskies an oilier texture, long finish and a richer flavour. (In other words, they improve the whisky.) So why bother removing them at all?

It’s a big topic for fans of IBs – there have been many debates, arguments and studies into whether chill-filtration can be detrimental to a whisky. To get up to speed, check out our article on chill filtration.

Chill haze

If you’ve tried had an independent bottling, then you might have experienced chill haze. Did it appear a little hazy or cloudy?

It did?

That was chill haze.

You see, the things that make whisky so great – the smell, the texture and the taste – all come from compounds within the whisky. These compounds are soluble in both aspects of the whisky; the water and the ethanol.

However, some of them are only soluble at certain temperatures. (If you’re interested, that’s the esters, proteins and fatty acids.)

Once your whisky falls below a certain temperature, these compounds clump together to form small particles (known by scientists as micelles). Light hits these micelles and makes the whisky look hazy and cloudy – hence the term chill haze.

Congeners         

Here’s one of the professional-grade whisky words: congener.

A congener is a chemical compound found within whisky, responsible for the taste and smell of the whisky. They form during fermentation, distillation and maturation and give the whisky its unique characteristics. (Chill-filtration removes some of these congeners, too. Another reason to avoid it, where possible.)

However, scientists also think that congeners might at least be partially responsible for hangovers. Suddenly chill-filtration doesn’t seem so bad, eh?

Cooper

Coopers are the unsung hero of independent bottling!

A cooper is a highly-skilled person who makes and crafts the casks that whiskies are matured in.

Without them, there’d be no cask strength, no cask finishes and – worst of all – no whisky at all.

Dram

Ah. Here’s one of those pieces of lingo that seems fancy for the sake of it.

Ask your average whisky buff and they’ll say that it’s the Scottish term for a measure of whisky. (They might even tell you the word stems from ‘Drachma’, the Greek word for sixty grains, which is the equivalent of an eighth of an ounce.)

But really, it is just a fancy way of saying a measure of whisky.

Floor malting

Floor malting is a traditional method of malting grain that dates all the way back to the 3rd Century A.D. It forces the grain to produce the sugars and enzymes needed to make sweet, sweet whisky.

The floor malting process requires the wet grain to be put on a smooth concrete floor while it germinates. Over the course of four or five days, the grains germinate and produce the sugar that is then fermented into alcohol.

Most distilleries don’t use floor malting anymore – machinery is capable of producing similar (and more consistent) results – but there are a few that still do.

And at Whisky Foundation, we love to see people doing it the old-fashioned way.

Mothballed

Have you ever heard of a distillery referred to as mothballed or silent?

It essentially means a distillery that is no longer in use. It no longer makes whisky.

Usually, distilleries are mothballed during periods of financial crisis or strain. (Such as the crash of whisky demand in the 1980s, which caused lots of distilleries to go silent.)

However, some independent bottlers are keeping the memories of these distilleries alive by producing IBs of their whiskies.

If you see one, snap it up. They’re rare, special treats that will probably never be seen again. We like to think of them as the swan song of the distillery; a beautiful, but once-in-a-lifetime, blaze of glory.

Did we miss any? Are there whisky words that leave you a bit baffled? Let us know and we’ll add them to the list! 

Ask Whisky Foundation: should independent bottlings be called indie whiskies?

indie whisky

If you’ve ever tried to introduce independent bottlings to a friend – even a friend that enjoys a dram or two – it can get a little bit complicated.

You’ll probably talk of how bottlers buy whiskies from distilleries but then release them under their own labels after maturing and finishing them.

You might talk of cask strength, chill filtration and E150.

You might even throw some of the bigger independent bottlers into conversation. Everybody knows Gordon & MacPhail, right?

Wrong.

If you’ve never tried this approach, take it from us: there are going to be more than a few blank faces and glazed-over eyes.

Which led us to wonder, should we rebrand independent bottlings as indie whisky?

(Hear us out before you go digging around for your pitchforks, whisky purists!)

For starters, indie whisky is much more marketable term for the Brewdog-drinking, beard-donning, skinny-jean-wearing target market that would take to independent bottlings like a duck to water. This would bring a new crowd of drinkers to the whisky well, boosting the industry and creating more exciting bottlings. And that has to be a win.

(Hipsterdom, for all its faults and annoying affectations, also has a similar ideology to independent bottling: quality and authenticity above all else.)

And that’s to say nothing of the fact that indie whisky – as a term – is much more accessible. It calls to mind indie movies, indie coffee shops and – most importantly – indie music.

Because, one thing we’ve discovered here at Whisky Foundation: indie music is an incredibly useful device for explaining independent bottlings and independent bottlers.

Think about the definition of indie music or indie rock. It’s almost the perfect metaphor for independent bottling (and a pretty comprehensive argument for calling it indie whisky).

We’ve taken this from the Indie Rock Wikipedia page:

The term indie rock, which comes from “independent,” describes the small and relatively low-budget labels on which it is released and the do-it-yourself attitude of the bands and artists involved. Although distribution deals are often struck with major corporate companies, these labels and the bands they host have attempted to retain their autonomy, leaving them free to explore sounds, emotions and subjects of limited appeal to large, mainstream audiences.

Let’s change a few words and see what happens:

The term indie whisky, which comes from ‘independent bottling’, describes the small batch and single cask whiskies and the do-it-yourself attitude of the bottlers involved. Although the whiskies are supplied by major corporate distilleries, these bottlings and bottlers retain their autonomy, leaving them free to explore maturation periods, cask finishes and other experimental approaches of limited appeal to casual whisky drinkers.

Pretty spot-on, right?

But it goes beyond that too. Most indie bands aren’t linked by much more than artistic intentions and a DIY ethos, just like most bottlers aren’t linked by much more than an ethos and attitude.

The raw, strutting attitude of The Buzzcocks’ ‘Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t)’ has very little in common with Radiohead’s sombre, orchestral and electronic ‘Exit Music (For A Film)’ except for an attitude of doing-it-themselves, of being fully in control of the shape and sound of the records they produce and of having the last word on the final product.

It’s not about making money or appealing to the masses.

It’s about creating something that is honest, authentic and without affectation.

And what else is independent bottling if not the alcoholic embodiment of these same objectives?

What else is independent bottling if not indie whisky?

Granted, we’re not likely to rename ourselves as Indie Whisky Foundation anytime soon.

And you’re unlikely to come across anybody in the whisky industry calling IBs indie whisky.

But the next time you’re faced with blank looks after saying chill haze, esters and casks for the tenth time, we bet you’ll think back to this article and – reluctantly – resort to calling IBs indie whiskies.

You’ll compare Gordon & Macphail to The Buzzcocks (credited with the creation of independent bottling and indie music, respectively).

You’ll be comparing the care that Radiohead give every song to the way that independent bottlers carefully choose their whiskies and casks.

And you’ll compare the effect of a sherry cask finish to the way that Johnny Marr’s jangling guitar on How Soon Is Now? complements the song and brings out nuances you wouldn’t have noticed before.

What do you think of the term ‘indie whisky’? Love it? Hate it? Let us know in the comments below.

Legends of the future: independent bottling companies to watch

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As you might have noticed, we love independent bottling companies here at Whisky Foundation.

We’re mad about them.

We love seeing new independent bottlers getting started and releasing their first expression.

We love to see them bringing a new twist to a whisky that we didn’t think could get any better.

And, of course, we love to see people across the globe take an interest in the world of independent bottling.

(But most of all, we love drinking independent bottlings.)

And, while you can never go wrong with an IB from a classic independent bottling company – Gordon & MacPhail, Signatory Vintage or Maltman – there are independent bottling companies springing up all over the place.

Add this to the fact that independent bottling companies usually like to keep themselves to themselves and you end up with a load of independent bottlers flying under the radar and completely missing the attention of whisky drinkers everywhere (even ones that like to keep up to date with all things IB.)

And so, to remedy that, here are a few independent bottling companies you might have missed along your IB journey so far.

Independent bottling companies you might have missed:

Compass Box

The story of Compass Box is similar to the story of independent bottling; a story of bold decisions, a unique sense of style, and a focus on the craft.

In 2000, John Glazer (who used to be the International Marketing Manager at Johnny Walker, if the name rings a bell), launched Compass Box and travelled straight to London to promote it. Making his way through the pubs and clubs of the capital, he gave out samples of his whisky with a business card that described him as a ‘Whisky Zealot’. (He’d go on to win Whisky Magazine’s Innovator of the Year four times, so he wasn’t wrong…)

From there, John and the Compass Box Team concentrated on creating boutique whiskies with a focus on quality and craft. As such, you’ll find no chill-filtering or E-150 here, thank you very much.

Instead, Compass Box exclusively mature and finish their whiskies in American oak (Glazer is American) to give that distinct sweetness and vanilla notes to the whiskies.

Wemyss Malts

Go on, take a punt at pronouncing that. (No Googling, thank you.)

(OK, I’ll tell you. Weems. It comes from the Gaelic word for the caves which stem from the rocky outcrop on the Firth of Forth on which Wemyss Castle, Wemyss Malt’s ancestral home, sits.)

Although Wemyss Malts was only started in 2005, the Wemyss family have connections with the Scotch industry that date back to the turn of the 19th century when John Haig (founder of Haig’s) built his first distillery on Wemyss land.

We like Wemyss Malts here at Whisky Foundation because of many reasons, but our favourite reason is that they avoid fluffy whisky terms. As they say on their website ‘even for the knowledgeable consumer, much of the malt whisky terminology can be confusing. Our range of hand crafted malts was conceived with the aim of making them more accessible and understandable.’

Their whiskies are pretty much the Ronseal of whiskies – they taste and smell like the name on the bottle.

From Driftwood to Fresh Fruit Sorbet, their cask strength independent bottlings are always bottled at cask strength, non-chill filtered and free from colouring. (And they’re excellent, too.)

But the level of craftmanship and thought extends beyond the name and the process, it extends right to the barrel. They only use first and second fill casks to make sure that they get the most flavour into the whisky as possible.

If you’re new to independent bottling – or new to whisky tasting – Wemyss are a great place to start.

Blackadder

Blackadder is the older independent bottling company on the list, but also – perhaps – the most interesting.

Founded by Robin Tucek in 1995, Blackadder (named after a Scottish rebel preacher Bishop John Blackadder, not Baldrick’s pal) believe in bottling whiskies in the most natural state possible. Obviously, this means cask strength, non-chill-filtered and free of colouring, but for the Blackadder Raw Cask series, this goes a step further: they are completely unfiltered (without any filtering whatsoever), which means it’s not uncommon to get bits of cask in the bottle.

Now that’s authentic.

Did we miss any? Do you know of an independent bottling company that deserves its moment in the sun? Let us know in the comments and we’ll write about them soon!

 

The Maltman range: independent bottling at its finest

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If there was ever a collection of whiskies that epitomised the independent bottling ethos, it would be The Maltman series.

I mean, check out this quote from their website. If it was in Latin, it’d pretty much be the motto of the independent bottling industry:

Our Maltman range, all single cask releases, is without any added colouring or chill-filtration. We like to keep our whisky as natural as the day it left the cask, leaving all the goodness of mother earth’s oils, fats and proteins, offering you a dram with outstanding aroma, texture and most importantly, taste.

(Interestingly, The Maltman’s actual motto is ‘Courageous and Faithful’ which is also a pretty great description of the independent bottling ethos.)

Just in that short quote, they’ve demonstrated why The Maltman series embodies everything we love about independent bottling.

But let’s break it down a little bit more:

Independence, impartiality and expertise

The Maltman range is the crown jewel of Meadowside Blending Co. Ltd (who also produce The Royal Thistle blend) thanks to their dedication to sourcing and bottling the finest single malt whiskies they can find.

But it goes beyond just finding great whiskies and buying them from distilleries. Each whisky under The Maltman banner has been hand selected by Donald and Andrew Hart, the father and son team that runs the company.

Both of them are bona fide experts in the field, honing their noses and knowledge over long careers (Donald started working in the whisky industry in 1964) and bringing that experience to bear with The Maltman range. (In fact, both of them are now Keepers of the Quaich, an elite honour bestowed upon those working to promote the good name of Scotch whisky, and in recognition of their achievements.)

A dedication to authentic drams

As you’d expect, The Maltman range has a strict no artificial colouring, no caramelisation and no chill filtration whatsoever policy.

The award-winning range is all about the whisky as authentic and natural as possible, with the very least amount of interference. You might get some chill haze, you might get two drams that are different colours and you might be greeted by a big whack of alcohol, but it’s all worth it for the end result.

Incredible whiskies

Time after time, The Maltman put out incredible independent bottlings. And they’re not just your typical bottlings either, they put out incredible bottlings of rare single malts from mothballed distilleries.

Plus, they use sherry and bourbon casks to mature or finish depending on the character of the whisky.

Every step of the process is carefully considered to complement and enhance the whisky they’re bottling.

Fancy a dram or two of an excellent Maltman expression?

How about the Benrinnes 18 Year (Maltman, 1997)?

We absolutely love this whisky; you can taste every step of the journey it has been on, from still to cask to bottle.

Not to mention the fact that a Benrinnes single malt is a rare treat (they are usually used for top-shelf blends). (Which is a real shame, because Benrinnes have distinctive notes of dark chocolate and fruit that are often lost in a blend.)

Building on that incredible foundation, Maltman let it mature for 17 years in a bourbon cask. During that time, it picked up that vanilla sweetness from the charred wood.

And then, after that, it had another 6 months of maturation in a ruby port wood cask. Finally, it finished its maturation in a Pedro Ximinez cask for a sweet sherry finish.

And boy, has that journey has been more than worth it.

On the nose, you get hints of sweet barley that build into toffee and dark chocolate on the palette, followed by hints of Christmas cake, treacle and figs. Finally, you get a warm and smooth finish of marzipan and sweet smoke.

Quite simply, a sublime whisky. Why not treat yourself to a bottle and share it with some friends? We promise you won’t be disappointed.

 

Scotch 101: What are independent whisky bottlers?

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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?

Slainte.