16 Aug What are independent whisky bottlers? 5 things you should know
If you’ve been to whisky events or hung around whisky enthusiasts enough, you might have heard them referring to certain whiskies as ‘OB’ or ‘IB’. What do those terms mean?
Well, simply put, they mean ‘Official Bottling’ and ‘Independent Bottling’. OB is easy to explain – they are bottles and expressions that are officially released by a particular distillery under its own name or brand.
Independent bottlings, on the other hand, are whiskies that have been purchased from a distillery by a third party, then bottled or sold under that third party’s brand or name.
The oldest independent bottler is Cadenhead, which was founded 177 years ago in 1842, and since then, there have been countless independent bottlers in the market, ranging from the major ones like The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) Douglas Laing and to those done by smaller companies like That Boutique-y Whisky Company, or even individuals like Malaysia’s very own Eiling Lim.
Heck, even Wholly Spirits is an independent bottler – we already have one release of our Tears Of The Still series, and plan to have more in the future.
The world of independent bottlings can be confusing at times, but some of the liquid that’s out there are not only exceptional whiskies, but many also contain a slice of whisky history.
Here are a few things you should know about independent bottlers.
1) They don’t make their own whisky
Simply put, an independent bottler is a company that buys casks of whisky from different distilleries, most of the time mature whiskies that are already of a proper age, and bottle them using their own designed bottles and labels.
Some major bottlers, for instance Gordon & MacPhail (Benromach) do own distilleries though. Douglas Laing has also recently built a new distillery near Glasgow.
2) Every release is unique and different
Unlike official bottlings, which tend be a vatting of malts that results in a whisky that matches a specific flavour profile the distillery wants, independent bottlings are unique and individual expressions of a particular distillery.
If you tried whisky from two casks from the same distillery that were filled on the same date, in the same type of wood and maybe even bottled at the same age, chances are they would be quite different from each other, because the wood ensures that every single cask of whisky is unique.
For example, Eiling Lim, That Boutique-y Whisky Company and SMWS have all bottled Bowmore whiskies before. But each and every one of these Bowmores are different in terms of year, cask, age, and flavour.
3) Some distilleries don’t allow their brands on independent bottlings
Ever wondered why sometimes you see labels like ‘Orkney Malt’ or ‘Speyside Malt’ on an IB label instead the distillery name? Well, while many distilleries don’t mind their brands on IB bottles, there are some distilleries that prohibit the use of their brand name on any independent bottling labels.
That’s why you hardly ever see an IB bottling of Glenfiddich, Balvenie or Glenfarclas – these distilleries just won’t allow their whiskies to be bottled under any other name besides their own.
That’s not to say there aren’t whiskies from these distilleries out there. The Scotch Malt Whisky Company is famous for releasing whiskies without mentioning the name of the distillery on their labels, instead labelling them with a specific code instead.
The code that consists of two numbers, the first indicating the distillery’s name, and the number of the casks from that distillery that have been bottled. For instance, Cask 7.164 – the number 7 represents the Longmorn distillery, and this would be the 164th cask from that distillery that has been acquired by SMWS.
4) Some distilleries ‘teaspoon’ their whiskies
One of the ways some distilleries prevent independent bottlers from naming their whiskies on the labels is by ‘teaspooning’ their casks before selling them to independent bottlers. This involves adding just a teaspoon of another single malt or grain whisky into the cask just so the independent bottlers can’t legally call it a single malt from that particular distillery.
5) Some IB whiskies are a slice of whisky history
Independent bottlings are also one of the few ways you can try whiskies that just aren’t made anymore, especially from distilleries that no longer exist, like Port Ellen, Brora, Littlemill, Rosebank and so on. There may be plans to revive some of these closed distilleries, but chances are the whisky these new distilleries produce will not be the same as they used to be.
Wholly Spirits Retail carries several ranges of whiskies from independent bottlers, including The Scotch Malt Whisky Society, Douglas Laing, Eiling Lim and That Boutique-y Whisky Company. For inquiries, Whatsapp us at 012-5805813. Our opening hours are 12pm-9pm daily, except Sundays (12pm-6pm).