Your eyes fall on a bottle of single malt whisky at the bar, the name on the label is familiar, in fact, it’s one of your favourite brands. But the label itself doesn’t look the same somehow. You wonder why. This could be the moment, TheMaltmanSG believes, a whole new world of whiskies begins to open up before you.
Or perhaps you have already heard of independent bottlers? Or indie bottlers, or simply IB – independent bottling?
Most single malt whiskies that you see in the market are “official” bottlings or OB. That is whiskies that have been distilled, matured, bottled and released by the distilleries themselves. The label carries the name of the distillery. Since the “single” in single malt really pertains to the distillery – only products of one individual distillery are deemed to be single malt whiskies – it’s key to the very identity of the whisky.
Scotland’s Original Independent Bottlers
Yet, right from the early days of the vintage wine and spirits industry, there have been purveyors of aqua vitae who don’t have their own distilleries. Instead, they source select, and bottle whiskies. For instance, in 1895, a grocery business was established in Scotland’s Speyside region by James Gordon and John Alexander Macphail. They stocked a range of groceries from around the world, including teas, coffees, wine and whisky. Struck by the wonderful flavours of Speyside’s single malt Scotches, and recognising these to be fine produce indeed, the grocers decided to present a wide selection to their customers. They would carefully choose, buy, and mature whiskies from local distilleries. The tradition of independent bottlings grew and evolved from endeavours such as these.
Even a century ago, it was a common practice for distilleries to generate additional income by selling barrels of whisky to independent bottlers. Some distilleries didn’t create their own brands, opting to sell all that they produced to independent bottlers and other blenders.
Indie Bottlers’ Labelling
IBs are sold under the bottlers’ own label. Look again at that label which had confused, and perhaps intrigued, you. You’ll notice the distillery’s name features, however, the bottler’s brand name gets prominence. Happily, it’s not only in the label that you see the difference. there’s a sense of independence at the very heart of IBs, and it imbues everything. Especially in the matter of expression. Using their own understanding of the dram of whiskey, their expertise, their sense of flavours and of the market, the bottlers offer an astonishing array of unique expressions.
There are no inflexible guidelines or rules when it comes to selecting and creating their whisky. Experimentation and innovation are key. Some bottlers like to buy whisky that’s already matured and bottled at cask strength. Some choose to have finished. Others might purchase new make spirit and mature their whiskies in wood they select.
Today there are several well-regarded independent bottlers. The MaltmanSG personal favourites are Cadenhead’s, Hunter Laing, Douglas Laing and the aforementioned Gordon and Macphail. There are also IBs from whisky producing countries other than Scotland.
IBs and OBs in Singapore
Independent bottlers have had to work hard for recognition though. For there are hundreds of official bottlings released every year, backed by huge marketing spends often. Single malt drinkers are used to OBs and have found their own favourites in many cases. Yet the indie bottlers have persisted, which is a good thing.
Interest in the indie bottlers experience has grown; a malty quaff, distinctive and with a character all its own beckons the whisky lover. And so, new IBs come about, each with its own take on the water of life. You’ll come across names like North Star, Chapter 7, That Boutique-y Whisky Company, Lady of the Glen and many others. The MaltmanSg wonders whether these will be just fad and fade away, or stay the course, and mature into fine IBs.
At Tipple and Dram, you’ll likely espy a few of these. Perhaps you’ll give them a try and ponder their merits?
In the matter of price too, IBs don’t disappoint. They often give you great value. The casks may have been acquired years back, and the bottler doesn’t mind passing on a price advantage. On the other hand, you may find some of the priciest whiskies here as well, since IBs also bring you truly rare whiskies at times, whiskies not found anywhere else, the casks kept for years and years, sometimes even after the distillery is long gone. Fascinating really, the world of IBs.
When you’re looking for an out of the ordinary experience, you might want to try an IB. If you happen to be at the Tipple and Dram whisky bar on the ever-trendy Ann Siang Road in Singapore. The MaltmanSG suggests comparing two versions of your favourite single malt, an OB and an IB. Enjoy the different notes and tastes, and here’s to the spirit of independence.
Call for an IB and OB tasting at the Tipple and Dram, Singapore.