Independent Whisky Bottlers and Distillery Brands – What are the Differences?

As a treat for a special occasion, or simply as a way of relaxing on a Friday night after a long week at work, there’s nothing better than grabbing a glass and pouring yourself a wee dram of your favourite single malt Scotch.

We all know how easy it is to head to the supermarket, bypass the fresh veg section, pretend that they haven’t hiked their prices again for the 10th time this year, and make your way over to the booze section to see what’s on the shelf, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all. We also know roughly what whisky/whiskey brands are going to be available before we even get there.

While it’s all well and good playing it safe and going with a supermarket favourite, there’s a whole other world of whisky out there just begging to be explored. Smaller, independent bottlers are now finally starting to get the recognition they deserve, and we think it’s about time too.

But what is the difference between single malt distillery brands that dominate the market and independent bottlers just starting to break through? Keep reading for the answer.

Single malt and Scotland – The Perfect Combo

There’s a reason why Scotch whisky cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world. Regardless of the quality of your water, the profile of your barrels, or the grains that you use, single malt Scotch just cannot be beaten and cannot be replicated.

Decades ago, single malts were rarer than Unicorn tears, but equally as magical. Today however, they’re just as magical, but they certainly aren’t as rare.

Virtually every distillery in Scotland produces its own unique single-malt, and because of the fact that the demand for single malt is greater than ever, there’s now all manner of different Scotch whiskies to choose from, with each one offering its own distinctive notes and flavour profiles.

As a result of this, single malts from across Scotland are now in huge demand, particularly expressions which have been aged and bottled by the distilleries themselves. Those in the know will know that the term for this is ‘own bottling’.

While own bottlings from the distilleries themselves are hugely popular, lately we’ve seen a sharp increase in the amount of independent whisky bottlers, but how do they differ?

What’s the difference between whisky distillery brands and independent whisky bottlers?

As mentioned, when whisky distilleries create, mature, and bottle their own whisky for sale, they do so by marketing it as ‘own bottling’. In contrast, independent bottlers offer small batches, or one offs.

Whisky distillery brands have huge distilleries, expensive equipment, a plentiful supply of fresh water, employees, and other materials and equipment needed to distil the fabulous beverage we all know and love today. Independent bottlers however, cannot do that.

Independent bottlers don’t have huge facilities or equipment for distilling their own whisky, instead, they operate differently. Independent bottlers will source small batches of Scotch, or one-off casks from the distilleries, to bottle, and often age themselves.

Whereas the huge distillery companies have their own brand, marketing, advertising, supermarket deals, endorsements, and all of the other fancy things needed to market and sell a product, the independent bottlers are interested in just the whisky.

Independent bottlers will source just one cask, or a small amount of whisky from the large distilleries, and will then either bottle it themselves, age it for longer, move it into a new barrel (hogshead), or even blend it with other whisky, or other spirits, to create their own unique take on the whisky being sold by the distilleries.

Once they are happy with the final product, they then bottle it under their own labelling and branding, and offer their customers something different from a generic whisky found on supermarket shelves and off-licences up and down the country.

Why independent bottlers are so popular

Single malt whisky is arguably now more popular than ever, and as younger people also begin showing an interest in whisky, that trend only looks set to continue for the foreseeable future. Because of this, independent whisky bottlers are taking single malts to heights never seen before.

To the untrained eye, all these companies are doing is buying a small amount of whisky made by somebody else, slapping a different label on it, and selling it as their own. In reality, this could not be further from the truth.

Yes, the base nectar spirit is the same, but the magic happens next. These independent bottlers typically eat, sleep, live, and breathe whisky. What they don’t know about whisky isn’t worth knowing. They know what makes a great single malt, and they go ahead and make an already great single malt into something truly spectacular.

The base may be the same but how the whisky is matured, aged, blended, and bottled, is what creates a completely different product and is where the magic happens.

Decanting the Scotch into a new barrel, such as an ex-Oloroso sherry cask for example, and aging it for longer, means that the whisky will take on characteristics from its new hogshead. Suddenly it takes on characteristics from the sherry and its flavour profile has changed completely. Other independent bottlers may blend one single malt with another from a different distillery to create a new tipple. They may blend them and then age them for several years in different barrels. The possibilities are endless.

Independent bottlings are typically limited in number because they have been made from just one cask. This makes them limited editions and unique in their own rights. They offer single malt lovers the chance to enjoy something different and unique compared with that offered by the large distilleries.

The great thing about buying from independent whisky bottlers is the fact that you never know what you’re going to get. A single malt that, from the distillery, provided notes of peppercorns and grapefruit, could be transformed into a sweeter tipple with notes of sticky toffee pudding, dates, and toffee apples, just by aging it for longer in a different cask.

If you like to think outside the box and want to try something new and unique, head on over to Great Drams  and check out the huge selection of whiskies they have available.

Run by husband and wife duo Greg and Kirsty Dillon, Great Drams is one of the fastest growing independent bottling companies in the whole of the UK. With whiskies to suit all palates, and everything you need to know about whisky/whiskey, it’s easy to see why they, along with many other independent whisky bottling companies, are currently more popular than ever.

Tags: DifferencesDistillery BrandsIndependent whisky bottlers
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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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