Independent Whisky Bottlers
Independent whisky bottlers have played a vital part in the history of whisky and were crucial to the development of single malt whisky as a category. The early independent bottlers such as Cadenhead’s and Gordon & MacPhail were pioneers of taste, promoting single malt whisky at a time when blends accounted for a much greater percentage of the overall whisky market than they do today.
The selection skill and foresight of the early independent whisky companies - particularly the Italian bottlers such as Samaroli, Intertrade, Moon Import and Sestante, who also set the trend for bottling natural cask strength whiskies - put them so far ahead of the curve that even today the greatest ever bottlings from most distilleries have been from independent companies rather than official distillery bottlings.
It could also be argued that without independent bottlers many of Scotland’s distilleries might no longer exist as the interest in single malt whiskies they generated and the demand they created has sustained and given impetus to the whisky industry as a whole.
In the dark days of the late 1970s and 1980s the Scotch whisky industry suffered terrible consequences from the enormous surplus of single malt whisky resulting from wildly over-optimistic growth forecasts of the 1970s and the subsequent drop in demand as whisky fell out of fashion. When production was cut back to allow the existing stocks to be sold, dozens of distilleries were forced to close - most never to reopen.
During this crisis, the independent bottlers played a vital role in the survival of the scotch whisky industry, with independent blenders and bottlers like Douglas Laing, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society and Berry Bros & Rudd buying surplus stock from struggling companies and signing agreements for future supply.
The ready availability of casks of unwanted whisky also led to a new generation of independent bottlers such as Signatory and Adelphi, who then continued selecting and bottling the best of these casks as single malt whiskies, fostering interest in obscure distilleries and cultivating the market for older single malts.
It was the runaway success of these older cask strength single malt whiskies from little-known distilleries that led to official bottlers getting on board with the creation of Diageo’s Rare Malts Selection in the mid 1990s. This series in turn spawned the annual Special Releases and fuelled the rapid growth of the prestige whisky phenomenon which has shaped the whisky market as we know it today, as well as leading to the revival of classic lost distilleries including Port Ellen, Rosebank and Brora.
Even if you’ve never bought a bottle of independently-bottled whisky, if you’re a whisky fan you have a lot to thank them for. We can’t know what the whisky world would look like if independent bottlers didn’t exist, but we can be sure that it wouldn't be as interesting as it is today.