Thursday, September 5, 2013

Our Top 10 - Independent Bottling Companies

The world of the independent whisky bottling companies can seem confusing, especially when in your whisky journey.  However a few pieces of basic information can help - this opens up a huge new corner of the industry and offers many more products to choose from and taste. Essentially, these companies buy casks from the distilleries, or send them empty casks to be filled and stored, and then carefully choose when to bottle and release them.

The final product has all of the original distillery character but is also completely unique. The independent bottler may release whiskies at a different age to that of the original distillery's whiskies, or finish the spirit in a different cask.  Quantities of some releases can be low as they may choose to just release one single cask, with the number of bottles being dependent on the size of the cask. Independently bottled whiskies generally offer good value for money, especially when considering the rarity of the liquid, and can be found in most specialist whisky retailers.

The choice of different independent is staggering and the amount of products hugely diverse, so we thought that we would put together a list of the Top 10 that we have experience of during our years of writing Whisky For Everyone.  It is difficult to say that one is better than the other, so we have simply listed them in alphabetical order.  Please let us know of any good (or bad!) independent bottlings that you have tried.  Here we go ...


A. D. Rattray -

A. D. Rattray was originally an importing company for wine, olive oil and continental spirits and aperitifs. It was founded by Andrew Dewar and William Rattray in 1868 and was known as Dewar Rattray until recently.  The company soon became involved in the bottling and blending of whisky from the local distilleries. Nowadays, the company is run by Tim Morrison, who is a fourth generation descendent of Andrew Dewar. He took control in 2004 and independently sources top quality whiskies from all over Scotland, with the aim to bring unusual and different single cask whiskies to the consumer.

Douglas Laing -

Douglas Laing and Co. are a Glasgow based company that was founded by Frederick Douglas Laing in 1948. They are one of Scotland's largest independent bottlers. Until recently the company was run by Frederick's two sons, Fred and Stewart.  Earlier this year the brothers decided to go their separate ways with Fred continuing with Douglas Laing and Stewart starting a new company called Hunter Laing (see below).  Douglas Laing release a number of ranges of single malt and single grain whiskies, some of which are single cask such as their new Old Particular range, as well as the highly popular Big Peat blended malt and the King of Scots blend.

Duncan Taylor -

The company of Duncan Taylor was set up in Glasgow in 1938 with the plan to bottle and blend whisky for export to the USA following the lifting of Prohibition. They are now based in the town of Huntly, close to the famous Speyside whisky region. Duncan Taylor are reported to have one of the largest privately held collections of rare whisky casks in the world and bottle approximately 200 different whiskies a year. Their range is extensive and has numerous branches to it including younger whiskies, rare and old bottlings, cask strength single cask single malts and single grains, plus the award winning Big Smoke blend.

Gordon & MacPhail -

Gordon and MacPhail still operate from their original premises that were constructed when the company was set up by James Gordon and John Alexander Macphail in 1895. They are located in Elgin and started off bottling whisky for the numerous local distilleries. The business grew rapidly and they were soon joined by John Urquhart, whose family still own and manage the company today. Gordon and Macphail are one of the largest independent bottlers in Scotland with over 300 own bottlings in their catalogue at any one time. They also own the Benromach distillery in nearby Forres, which was taken over in 1993, renovated and then reopened in 1998.

Hunter Laing -

Hunter Laing & Co are the newest indie bottler on our list - the company was only formed in May of this year after the two brothers behind Douglas Laing (see above) decided to go their separate ways.  Stewart Laing has formed this new company (his middle name is Hunter) and has taken a number of well established ranges as part of the agreement.  This includes Old Malt Cask and Old & Rare. Stewart has been joined in the new venture by his two sons Andrew and Scott. The early signs are promising as their first batch of releases contains some superb whiskies, such as the recently reviewed Imperial 18 years old Old Malt Cask.


OK - this one is a bit of a cheat, but many of the specialist whisky retailers are now releasing their own bottlings.  Key players include The Whisky Exchange (popular ranges include the Single Malts of Scotland and Elements of Islay), Master of Malt (they do a series of single cask bottlings, plus the That Boutique-y Whisky Company range) and Berry Brothers & Rudd (including the Berry's Own Selection range and the popular Blue Hanger blend). Others include Royal Mile Whiskies, The Whisky Shop and their ever expanding Glenkeir Treasures range, Maison du Whisky and Milroy's of Soho with their single cask range.  Naturally, there are many more that can be found with a bit of searching online ...

Scotch Malt Whisky Society -

Established in 1983, The Scotch Malt Whisky Society is a whisky club that bottles whiskies exclusively for its members. These are often single cask bottlings and at natural cask strength. The society bottle roughly 150-200 casks a year and is based in Edinburgh. They use a unique numbering system to label their bottles, with the first number identifying the distillery and the second the cask number from that distillery.  The SMWS have members rooms in Edinburgh and London and are expanding all the time. Current branches for members can be also be found dotted around the world including in Asia, Australia, across mainland Europe and the USA.

Signatory Vintage -

Andrew and Brian Symington started Signatory Vintage in 1988. However, they were only granted a licence to bottle whisky in 1992. During the four years in between the company sourced and stored whisky from distilleries all over Scotland. They bottle and hand label everything from their headquarters in Edinburgh and their current stock list includes releases from over 50 distilleries. They have three main ranges - one bottled at 43% ABV, one at cask strength and one as non chill-filtered. Signatory also own the tiny Edradour distillery at Pitlochry in the central Highlands, which they purchased in 2002.

Wemyss Malts -

Wemyss Malts specialises in hand crafted whiskies and forms part of the larger Wemyss brand, which includes Darnley's View gin and the Fonty's Pool (Australia) and Rimauresq (France) wine brands. All are owned by the Wemyss family (pronounced weems) whose base is Wemyss Castle overlooking the Firth of Forth estuary in Fife, which was constructed in 1421 by Sir John Wemyss. The Wemyss family have traditional ties to the whisky industry and these remain, as barley grown on their estate is still used by leading distillery companies. Their single malt collection is innovative and continually growing, gaining high acclaim amongst consumers.

Wm. Cadenhead -
William Cadenhead & Co. (or Cadenhead's as it is affectionately known) is Scotland's oldest independent bottling company and was founded in Aberdeen by George Duncan in 1842. He was joined in 1852 by his brother-in-law William Cadenhead. The business remained in the same family until 1972 when it was taken over by J & A Mitchell, the owners of Springbank distillery in Campbeltown. The company is now based in Campbeltown and they own a number of shops in the UK and Europe. They release cask strength bottlings including non Scottish whiskies, plus some rums, gins and Cognac.


Piet said...

...a list of the Top 10 that we have experience of during our years of writing Whisky For Everyone. It is difficult to say that one is better than the other, so we have simply listed them in alphabetical order.

Well, here is the Top-100 as scored by whisky aficionado's, it is not alphabetical but shows the highest scorers on top! Top-100

ruou hennessy said...

The medium-length finish features vanilla and lingering, spicy Jaffa oranges, drying slowly to oak. The whisky gives a more rounded feel and greater profundity to the single malt.