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18.05.21

What is an Independent Bottler and How do They Buy Casks?

Who are independent bottlers and how does this process work? This may be a question you have often wondered about, so with this in mind, let’s explore the role of an independent bottler in the whisky investment process.

What is an Independent Bottler?

It might seem curious in a world where branding and marketing and copyrights are so prevalent, but whisky distilleries have a long-standing history of selling their produce to independent merchants who bottle that whisky for themselves and sell it as their own brand with its own packaging that may or may not refer to the distillery it came from.

They buy casks either direct from distilleries or – increasingly – from investors, and their bottlings can sell for much less than ‘official’ bottles of that brand’s whiskies, or sometimes for more. They purchase casks of either New Make Spirit and lay them down in their own warehouse to mature, or they buy already matured casks to bottle and label under their own brands.

Some of these independent companies have been around longer than many famous distilleries, like Gordon & MacPhail, which has been selling independently-bottled whiskies for more than 120 years. The growth in this market has been so rapid recently that there are now over 70 independent bottlers listed on The Whisky Exchange website.

What’s the Difference Between an Independent Bottler and an Official Bottler?

An obvious question about independently bottled whisky is whether there’s a difference between that and an officially bottled version of the same whisky. The answer can vary. Sometimes distilleries will sell casks to independent bottlers if the quality or flavours aren’t quite right to be sold by themselves.

This means that the independent bottle of that Scotch may be on sale for a lower price than the official product, but the end customer may not even notice the difference, apart from in their bank balance.

This isn’t always the case though and you can often find independently bottled whiskies going on sale at a higher value than the regular varieties. One reason for this is that independent bottlers sometimes bottle their whisky at cask strength rather than diluting it, resulting in amore full flavoured Scotch and the little differences in how they prepare the drink for sale can make a big impact on the final whisky.

How Does this Work as an Exit Strategy?

As new brands emerge to try and attract different audiences that simply don’t have the cash flow requirements to own their own distillery or have big enough cash reserves to hold onto stock whilst it’s maturing, they purchase the casks when they meet their recipe requirements for blends or single malts.

Whisky Investment Partners has relationships in place with a number of independent bottlers. We can assist you with this exit strategy and will charge a fee of 5%.

Famous Independent Bottlers

Here are some of the big names in the indie bottling industry:

Gordon & MacPhail – Started well over a century ago in an Elgin grocers’ shop, Gordon & MacPhail has become one of the biggest names in Scotch Whisky. It’s still family-owned and independent and while it owns the Benromach Distillery in Morayshire, it’s best known for its bottlings of very old single malts. Gordon & MacPhail bottles over 350 different expressions from around 70 distilleries.

Elixir Distillers – Founded in its current form in only 2017, Elixir Distillers dates back to the turn of the Century when brothers Sukhinder Singh and Rajbir Singh began selling bottles of whisky after buying their first cask in 2002. Today their main brands include Port Askaig, Elements of Islay, Single Malts of Scotland and Black Tot. They have just received approval to build their own distillery on the island of Islay, with work due to begin later on in 2021.

Signatory Vintage – Founded in 1988 by Andrew and Brian Symington, Signatory Vintage is best known for their Cask Strength and Un-Chill Filtered collections. In 2002 they purchased Edradour distillery from Pernod Ricard but are renowned for their carefully curated collection of independently bottled single malts.