So what is it like being an Independent Bottler of Whisky? Founders Greg & Kirsty Dillon tell all.

We get asked all the time about our lives as Independent whisky bottlers, or Indie bottlers to those in the industry, so we thought we would have a go at explaining what we get up to selecting casks and bottling awesome Scotch whisky for our equally awesome customers.

Let’s start with a bit of an update, to date we have released six whiskies under the GreatDrams brand, and have had a return of five award wins already. These sorts of results back up all the hard work that has gone on behind the creation of our Independent Bottling programme, the sourcing of casks and the HRMC licenses and interviews that has all all happened in the background of the other work we do in the whisky industry in order for us to launch our own independent whisky brand.

It feels like the right time to explain to you what we do, what we have been up to and what it takes to become an independent bottler of whisky – which is probably why not that many of us exist!

Greg harboured the idea of creating our own whisky for a while, but had not spent much time working it out, especially the logistics until we collaborated with Douglas Laing in 2017 to release our long-sold out special edition Single Cask Single Malt Ardmore release to celebrate the launch of my book, The GreatDrams of Scotland.

It was supposed to be a one off, it really was. We didn’t expect to be bottling the Invergordon 11 Year Old, nevermind winning awards for it!

But this, our first bottle, was so well received, tasted amazing, and we enjoyed the process of choosing the cask so much that we – that’s Greg and Kirsty Dillon, the husband and wife team behind GreatDrams Independent Bottlers – decided to see about doing more independently bottled whisky releases, which meant acquiring casks and creating a brand.
 
Now, Greg had been buying casks as a personal investment for a while so there was stock readily available if we wanted it, but we needed the appropriate licenses to make that happen and make it all work commercially.
 

Getting HMRC approval to hold duty suspended whisky for commercial bottling and sale was probably the biggest element we had to plan for as it took a while to get the license, involved writing an unbelievably detailed business plan with five-year forecasts and an incredibly in depth interview of both of us to go through the commercials, the funding, the plans for the business, the contingencies and the risk to us and the Treasury if things went wrong or if duty was not paid. Thankfully the person who was dealing with our application was really good at staying in touch, answering our questions and being supportive of the business plan.

And what should the label and bottle look like?

Next came the packaging design, which has been getting lots of attention from buyers we have met as well as online in response to our social media posts. To achieve what will be our design aesthetic for many years to come, we worked with world renowned packaging design agency Stranger & Stranger, who happened to have won the World Whiskies Awards World’s Best Design Agency several times, amongst other awards.

After presenting them with a really ropey attempt at what we wanted the label to look like, one of their awesome designers Mark took it and ran with it, essentially taking our want for lots of detail to be presented in an elegant way and, frankly smashed it out the park – and is now what the website is based on – we could not be happier with how the creative came out and how our brand will look going forward.

Choosing ABVs and bottling our first products

During the cask selection process, we both try many samples from different casks until we fell in love with the products we were to bottle and release – we both believe in only releasing whiskies we genuinely love and want to drink ourselves. Then came the ABV choice; we sampled shortlisted whiskies at different ABVs until we were comfortable with 46.2% ABV for both depth of flavour and mouthfeel for our first few releases, and moving to 48.2% ABV for our latest release.

We are striving to select the most interesting casks we can find, from all sorts of different distilleries with all manner of distillery styles from grain to malt whiskies, from buttery to peaty, from young to old.

Another thing we are looking to do is to bottle them at a price point that is accessible to most whisky drinkers, bearing in mind these are single cask, limited editions which naturally makes them a premium product in their own right.

Taking our limited edition bottles to market

We spotted an opportunity to leverage our passions of marketing and speaking to people about whisky so opted not to follow a tried and tested retail route to market, but instead Kirsty set up a calendar of Artisan Markets and Food & Drink festivals for us to attend, pitch up a table at and pour samples of our releases for hundreds of people per event. Whilst more time-intensive than operating a retail sales model, for us the joy is in every bottle sale, every person who enjoys what we have put together and the strong community and friends we have built with fellow traders who all have a story to tell – especially on those long windy, rainy days with five or more layers on. 

Off to a winning start

Our first bottling, a beautifully creamy and buttery Invergordon 11 Year Old Single Cask Single Grain Scotch Whisky, limited to just 160 bottles, did incredibly well; beating sales forecasts, gaining plaudits from the trade and consumers alike and winning Silver in the Independent Bottlers Challenge 2018. And we genuinely could not believe it! Could not be more chuffed with how it panned out. Our second bottling, a Craigellachie 11 Year Old Single Cask Single Malt Scotch Whisky, limited to just 220 bottles, was distilled at the Craigellachie distillery up in gorgeous Speyside & filled into ex-Bourbon cask #900668/07A in 2007 before being finished in an ex-Oloroso Sherry Cask for six months to amplify the fruity, spicy flavour notes for this release.

Since those first two releases, we have released a series of Single Cask Scotch Whiskies and one Blended Scotch Whisky which is our Christmas special edition and been named Cheshire Drinks Producer of the Year, picking up three Gold Stars at the Great Taste awards too! It was supposed to be a one off, it really was. We didn’t expect to be bottling the Invergordon 11 Year Old, nevermind winning awards for it!

our current range

the brand

OUR TOP SELECTION FOR WHISKY / WHISKEY BEGINNERS

GreatDrams Exclusive Girvan Single Grain Scotch Whisky Single Cask Series

£55

This Single Cask Single Grain Scotch Whisky was distilled at the Girvan Distillery in the Lowlands of Scotland, a distillery that is rarely seen bottled as a whisky in its own right. With sweet, creamy notes of caramel, burnt sugar, hints of fresh fruit and fresh vanilla pods, this single cask Scotch whisky is super-smooth. 

Non-chill filtered
Natural colour

Distillery
Region
Age
Distilled
Girvan
Lowlands
11 Years Old
27th June 2007
Bottled
Cask type
ABV
Limited
27th February 2019
Ex-Bourbon Hogshead
46.2%
273 bottles globally

CHRISTMAS 2019 LIMITED EDITION BLENDED SCOTCH WHISKY

£45

This Blended Cask Series Release is the first Blended Scotch Whisky that we have released. Only one single malt and two single grain whiskies went into the final blend giving classic notes of Christmas; a strong fruity sherry note accompanied by the marzipan, zesty fruitcake notes you expect to be surrounded by during a homely Christmas Day around friends and family.

Non-chill filtered
Natural colour

Distillery
Region
Age
Bottled
N/A
Speyside, Highlands, Lowlands
11 Years Old
1st Oct 2019
Cask type
ABV
Limited
A mixture of First Fill Oloroso Sherry, First Fill Bourbon and Second Fill Bourbon casks
46.2% ABV
150

GreatDrams Exclusive BenRiach Single Malt Scotch Whisky Single Cask Series

£55

This Single Cask Single Malt Scotch Whisky was distilled at the BenRiach Distillery up in picturesque Speyside. It is the first peated single cask whisky we have released and wow is it a special one, having been matured in a 2nd-fill Oloroso Sherry Barrel for a unique, fruity, spicy flavour surrounded by peat smoke notes.

Non-chill filtered
Natural colour

Distillery
Region
Age
Distilled
BenRiach
Speyside
5 Years Old
7th Nov 2013
Bottled
Cask type
ABV
Limited
February 28th 2019
Second-fill Sherry Cask
46.2%
213 bottles globally

There are many more whiskies in the pipeline, and we are even creating bottlings for specific retailers and private cask owners. So much fun. 

Thank you all for your incredible support so far, this is only the beginning!

What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below and let’s have a chat!

Tags: bottlingGreatDramsIndependent whisky bottlersScotch Whiskyselecting casks
Greg

Greg

My name is Greg, and I’m a brand strategy consultant, writer, speaker, host and judge specialising in premium spirits. My mission is to experience, share and inspire with everything great about whisky, whiskey, gin, beer and fine dining through my writing, my brand building and my whisky tastings.

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