Spirits & Spice seeks out the best in all it does. That includes bringing only the best whisky into each of our stores. To do that we have built relationships with esteemed distillers and independent bottlers. But what is an independent bottling?
Whisky, as we know it, celebrated its 500th birthday in 1995. Since then the market has ebbed and flowed. Tastes, scarcity, government intervention, and world events have influenced its consumption creating dynamic processes, systems, and staggering variety.
Today in the US, all but a handful of whiskies are owned by giant conglomerates who work with large distribution companies and mammoth industrial distilleries to fill shelves with fast movers of highly branded and well marketed stock. Four huge companies are responsible for ¾ of all sales of scotch.
Today marketing and big money give you the illusion of choice. Surprisingly, many distilleries use the same mash bill or recipe. Many whiskies’ base spirits are produced in huge facilities and aged elsewhere but ignore the former and focus on the latter propagating that craft production mentality illusion. Why? Because it results in sales.
Enter the independent bottler. In Scotland, due to the nature of the pendulum that swings with tastes and availability the market for blends and single malts are up and down. People buy whisky in droves, then they leave for a while and inevitably return. Meanwhile, there are bottlers outside the well-established system who buy up single barrels and age them or fill orders for a whisky thirsty public.
In the 1700’s in Scotland every farmer was trying their hand at distilling. By the 1800’s the government caught on and taxed many of them out of business. By 1825, Gordon MacPhail was buying single casks for his grocery store to fulfill a niche after so many distilleries closed and people had moved to mellow blends. From 1825 to the 1980’s the world got smaller and more marketed and had endured seemingly endless wars. The market began to shift again to single malts and with the onset of the information revolution, the narrative became almost as important as the whisky itself. By the 1990’s in the age of the internet, people wanted to know more and more about distilleries in Scotland and the US and the distilleries became as much of a character as the whisky itself.
An independent bottler will go to the top distilleries and sample individual barrels before the product goes through chill filtering or caramel coloring often used in large production. As an expert, they are able to distinguish and select the best whisky for you to enjoy. This means that you may get to try a Laphroig from a year they don’t release. You may have the opportunity to taste a whisky on its own that goes into your favorite blend.
Spirits & Spice is unbelievably fortunate to work with Hunter Laing & Co. Ltd. as our independent bottler for almost twenty years. The company’s founder, Stewart H. Laing, started as a blender working alongside his father and moved to bottling some of the finest Scotch whiskies. During his nearly fifty years in the industry Stewart has developed a reputation for quality and precision in selecting only premium casks. Today Stewart’s two sons, Scott and Andrew, work alongside him learning the business.