SpiritsThe Collection

What are Independent Bottlers in Scotch Whisky?

They're an increasingly dynamic part of the whisky world, but what exactly are independent bottlers and what should we expect from the whiskies they create? We profile one fine example

Words by Introduction by Colin Hampden-White, Recommendations by Charles MacLean

pouring whisky into a glass
The Collection

Independent bottlers represent an increasingly dynamic sector of the whisky world. But what exactly are they, and how do they work? In short, independent bottlers seek out the best casks on the market – either from those being brokered or from contacts with distillery owners – which they purchase to then make – and age – their own bottlings. Independent bottlers don’t have the luxury of being able to choose the best casks from thousands in their own inventory. But they do have the advantage of being able to bottle a diverse array of whiskies under their own brand. And, of course, to keep that brand from falling from favour, they need to bottle the best casks they can find, and at the right price, so that discerning whisky lovers will buy them. The most skilled operators do this very well indeed.

One of the best companies in the UK at managing this equation is Elixir Distillers. Based in London under the same ownership as Whisky Exchange, it has a secret weapon by the name of Oliver Chilton. Chilton has many years’ experience in finding and tasting casks from all over the world and, with his exceptional palate, he finds the best ones. We selected six bottles from Elixir’s range and sent them to the renowned whisky taster, Charles MacLean, to see what he thought…

Bottle of Aberlour 93

Aberlour 1993, 25-year-old, Speyside

American oak refill. Very good beading. Bright gold.

Mellow nose, with increasing prickle. Fruity (baked apple, poached pear) on a base of syrup sponge. More estery when reduced. Creamy texture, lightly sweet start, spicy finish. Lively for its age. 54.1% ABV

£199 from Whisky Exchange

bottle of Glentauchers 97

Glentauchers 1997, 21-year-old, Speyside

American oak refill. Good beading. Bright gold.

Mellow nose.  Dusty initially, and lightly oaky, then a note of buttery shortbread and fresh linen. Fresh and clean; innocent. Creamy texture, lightly sweet start, some spice in the finish and milk chocolate on the finish. Pleasant and easy drinking. 54.5% ABV

£135 from Whisky Exchange

bottle of glenburgie 98

Glenburgie 1998, 21-year-old, Speyside

American oak refill. Moderate beading. Pale gold.

Mild nose.  An initial impression of clover flowers (slightly honeyed) on a faintly sandy base, with Camembert cheese. Smooth texture, lightly sweet, then curiously vegetal, even meaty.  Some spice on the finish. Complex and unusual. 55.4% ABV

£120 from Whisky Exchange

Aird Mhor

Aird Mhor 2009, 9-year-old, Highland

American oak refill. Moderate beading. Pale gold.

Mild nose, light prickle. Fresh and clean, with carbolic and charcoal to the fore – but not much else. The surprisingly sweet taste, with dry coal sacks and peaty-smoky finish redeems it. Mature for its age. 58.5% ABV

£55 from Whisky Exchange

bottle of Ledaig 2005

Ledaig 2005, 13-year-old, Island

American oak ex-sherry cask. Moderate beading. Bright orange in hue – think Irn Bru!

Mild nose, light prickle.  A clean, maritime, nose, with a hint of caramel toffee; peat smoke builds. Water enhances it. A sweet start (toffee again), salty middle and lightly smoky finish. An unusually good example of the make. 57.4% ABV

£95 from Whisky Exchange

Bottle of Port Askaig 28

Port Askaig, 28-year-old, Islay

American oak refill. 18CT gold.

Mild nose, reserved.  Reminds me of a farm dairy (cream cheese and carbolic); lightly maritime, then edging towards smoky bacon crisps. Surprisingly sweet start and lightly salty middle, with dry mixed herbs on the finish. Easy drinking. 45.8% ABV

£295 from Whisky Exchange