A Tale of Independent Whisky BottlersBy George Koutsakis
The world of independent whisky bottlers is vast. New releases of old casks drop constantly, each with their very own, unique story.
We previously covered this exciting part of the whisky world, with an overview of the independent whisky industry.
Independent bottlers buy casks of whisky directly from distilleries. They can choose to bottle the cask immediately or allow it to age for longer in their own warehouses. Some even transfer the whisky to a different cask, for a different finish.
Independent bottlers create their own bottle designs and labels, as they aren’t able to use the distillery’s own branding. However, the distillery name is often allowed, as long as it is in their contract.
The huge variety of bottlers makes for a large variety in bottlings, such as different ages, types of oak and designs.
For this reason, we decided to follow our first piece on independent bottling, with another. Here we look closer as some of our favorite, most popular bottlers; telling the story behind the tasty ranges we all know and love.
Founded in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1842, Cadenhead’s is one of the oldest independent bottlers in the country. After founding the company—initially a distilling agency—George Duncan brought in his brother-in-law, William Cadenhead, as co-director. Sadly, Duncan passed away in 1858, leaving the company to William, who changed the name to his own.
Over the years, through continuous change of leadership, the company has seen highs and lows. In 1972, Cadenhead’s was bought by J. & A. Mitchell and Co, the company behind the Springbank and Glengyle distilleries. It has since grown into one of the most popular bottlers in Scotland.
The Cadenhead’s range of non-chill-filtered and non-colored single malt whiskies is remarkably varied. Spanning from affordable expressions to others, which go for thousands of dollars at auction, there’s no end to their vintages.
Apart from whisky, the company offers several gin and rum bottlings. Furthermore, Cadenhead’s has tasting rooms in London and Edinburgh. Globally, the company enjoys partnerships in Germany, Denmark, Cologne, Germany and various other countries. It’s safe to say that they’re on the right track.
Once part of Douglas Laing & Co., Hunter Laing came about when the company was divided by brothers Fred and Stewart in 2013. Today, Fred and his daughter, Cara run Douglas Laing. Stewart and his two sons, Andrew and Scott, manage Hunter Laing.
With a long history working in the whisky industry, Stewart has accomplished a lot in the company’s five years. Working with greats like the Macallan, the company has released countless gems under the popular Old & Rare and Old Malt Cask ranges, both formerly under the Douglas Laing banner.
They also have a First Edition Range featuring single barrel, cask strength releases as well as their Kill Devil range, a line of single cask rum bottles.
In recent exciting news, Hunter Laing are now building Islay’s newest distillery, Ardnahoe, scheduled to open this year.
On both a local and global scale, Gordon & MacPhail is, perhaps, the biggest independent bottler out there. Starting out as a grocer in Elgin in 1895, the company has come a long way.
The company is still owned by a descendant of one of the very first employees and operates in Speyside. Gordon & MacPhail make sure not to forget their origins as they expand globally.
In their warehouses, one can find some of the oldest whisky casks in the world, by some of the most renowned distilleries—think Glenlivet, The Macallan, and Dalmore. A word for the whisky hunters out there, many of their casks are released as country exclusives. Check out a liquor store if ever in Japan for expressions you won’t find anywhere else.
Like other bottlers, Gordon & MacPhail also explore the world of distilling with their wonderful Benromach distillery.
The name, Rest & Be Thankful, comes from a stone inscription made by the soldier who built the long military road in the Scottish Highlands. Owned by the Fox Fitzgerald group—founded by Eamon Jones in 2010—the Rest & Be Thankful range features amazing bottlings from Bruichladdich, including Octomore and Port Charlotte peated single malt whiskies. Additionally, single malts from The Macallan, Springbank and Bowmore have also been released with great fanfare.
Eamonn Jones and Aidan Smith—who later joined as co-director—previously worked for Whyte & Mackay Ltd. They have used their experience with the company to make Fox Fitzgerald a multi-faceted company.
Apart from private bottling, the company represents and helps whisky brands grow, sources whisky in bulk, and offers several brands of Scotch whisky in its portfolio.
Despite what the name suggests, Wilson & Morgan is one of the few independent bottlers that isn’t based in Scotland, or the UK for that matter. Although they have an office in Edinburgh, the company is based in Treviso, Italy.
Founder Fabio Rossi learned the ropes of whisky importing from his father, Mario. While the family business mainly revolved around wine and oil, Mario greatly focused on importing whisky into Italy during the 1960s.
Due to different tastes at the time, importing began with blends. By the 1970s, however, Mario’s main focus was on high-end, premium whisky purchased directly from Scottish distilleries.
The business eventually developed into the Wilson & Morgan we know today, bottlers of some of the best whiskies in the world. Fabio, who has studied and mastered the art of wine-making, hand selects each and every cask he purchases.
After purchasing casks from the distilleries, Fabio allows them to mature further. Often, they transfer the whisky to a different cask (Marsala wine, for example), for an exciting finish. With ties and distributions channels across the globe, one can easily find bottles from the company’s ever-popular Barrel Selection.
The bottle is, often, our first contact with the bottler. Yet, looking beyond opens a whole new section of whisky we never knew existed. Of course, there are simply too many amazing companies and stories to tell in one piece. But, we highly recommend that you give them a try. We’ll let the bottles speak for themselves.