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All the latest Independent Bottlers that you are going to love

independent bottlers | rarewhisky

April 28, 2023

Introducing the rising stars of the independent bottlers world that will win your heart.

In the world of whisky, modern independent bottlers are gaining more and more attention as they offer unique and often rare single-cask whiskies that are not available from the distilleries themselves. 

We have previously discussed independent bottlers on this blog, delving into their history and highlighting some of the most iconic names in the industry, including Italian independent bottlers who have made a name for themselves.

Now, it’s time to explore the independent bottlers that have been around for a few decades but are already beloved by whisky enthusiasts. Additionally, we will also introduce some of the newest and smaller independent bottlers in the market that you may not be familiar with yet but are likely to become popular in the coming years.

Are you ready for this journey? Here we go!

Why are modern independent bottlers different?

Modern independent bottlers have emerged as a response to the growing demand for unique, rare and high-quality whisky. They often focus on small-batch releases, single-cask bottlings and other limited-edition releases that appeal to whisky enthusiasts and collectors alike. These bottlers have built a reputation for selecting only the finest whiskies, and their releases are often highly sought after.

Additionally, many of these independent bottlers have adopted digital marketing strategies, leveraging social media, online shops, and other digital platforms to promote their products and vision. They offer educational resources, host tasting events, and collaborate with other industry experts to create a community around their brand, making whisky more accessible and enjoyable.

So, who are the labels that are shaking up the traditional whisky industry? Let’s explore them together.

Elixir distillers

This is a company that has made a name for itself in the creation, blending, and bottling of premium spirits. Elixir Distillers is known for its ability to develop unique and delicious spirits, combining beautiful aesthetics with characterful flavours. While their expertise lies in Scotch whisky, they also craft Irish, Japanese, and American whiskies, as well as rum and Tequila.

The Origins of Elixir Distillery

Before talking about what kind of whisky they bottle, let’s see how Elixir Distillers came into being.

The story of Elixir Distillery begins long before the label foundation. It begins with the parents of co-founders Sukhinder Singh and Rajbir Singh, who became the first Asians in the UK to be granted a liquor license in 1971. The Singh family went on to open an award-winning off-license in north-west London, where the brothers grew up surrounded by the world of drinks.

Sukhinder’s passion for whisky began in the mid-1980s when he started collecting miniatures. By the mid-1990s, he had become one of the largest collectors of whisky in the world. Along with his brother Rajbir, Sukhinder went on to establish The Whisky Exchange in 1999, which quickly became one of the world’s most important online whisky retailers.

Driven by their passion for whisky and a desire to create something of their own, in 2017 the independent bottling arm of the business, previously known as Speciality Drinks, was renamed Elixir Distillers.

With exports to more than 20 international markets, Elixir Distillers is experiencing significant growth. 

Elixir Distillers Bottlings

The company’s three core whisky brands are Elements of Islay, Port Askaig and The Single Malts of Scotland, while it also bottles navy rum under the Black Tot brand.

  • The Single Malts of Scotland series includes aged independent bottlings of single malt Scotch from various distilleries.
  • The Elements of Islay is a collection dedicated to Islay’s malt whiskies. The peculiar design of the bottles is inspired by traditional medical laboratory labels and packaging. The whiskeys are packaged in small batches of casks, and each label bears the distillery’s “Element” symbol along with a batch number, such as Lp1 for Laphroaig. 
  • Port Askaig, named after a port on Islay’s east coast, includes the no-age-statement Cask Strength expressions and a range of limited edition aged expressions.

Iconic Bottles

Milroy’s of Soho

This label has been a fixture in the London wine and spirits scene for over half a century. Milroy’s was among the first independent London bottlers and has released many casks under their brand since the 1960s, including Springbank, Ben Nevis, Highland Park, Macallan, and numerous others.

The Origins of Milroy’s of Soho

The company was founded by John Milroy, affectionately known as Jack, and his brother Wallace in 1964. Jack’s career began at Kettners Wine Shop, but he left to pursue his dream of owning his own wine shop. With support from his brother Wallace, a gold miner in South Africa, Jack opened Milroy’s Soho Wine Market at 3 Greek Street, where it remains to this day.

During the 1960s and 70s, the first single malts began to emerge onto the market, challenging the dominance of blended whisky. Milroy’s quickly established itself as a top purveyor of high-quality single malts, and by 1993, when Jack sold the business, Milroy’s stocked nearly 600 single malts, and the shop’s fame was global.

Following the sale of the company, both brothers remained in the whisky industry, Wallace hosting lectures and tastings, Jack bottling whiskies under the ‘John Milroy’ name, and latterly with Berry Bros & Rudd.

Unfortunately, Wallace died in 2016, while Jack lives on the Suffolk coast with his first wife.

Milroy’s of Soho today

After 1993, the company underwent some changes in leadership. It was subsequently managed by La Reserve, led by Mark Reynier. Reynier, known for his successful re-opening of the Bruichladdich Distillery in Islay and more recently, the Waterford Distillery in Ireland, provided guidance during his tenure. Eventually, in 2014 Milroy’s of Soho became independent once again.

Milroy’s of Soho Bottlings

After establishing themselves as London’s Original Whisky Specialists, Jack and Wallace Milroy began selling hand-picked single casks. Initially, they released distillery exclusives bottled specifically for their shop, but soon, the Milroys established single-cask releases under their own name. Today, some of these bottles can be found in rare whisky auctions. 

In 2021, Milroy’s re-launched the Vintage Reserve series, presenting exceptional and mature single-cask malts from Scotland’s most renowned distilleries. Bottled under the same iconic Milroy’s logo in which Jack and Wallace released their original single casks, the inaugural release of the collection included a 28-Year-Old Springbank, a 25-Year-Old Ben Nevis and a 23-Year-Old Clynelish.

Iconic Bottles

Kingsbury

With a commitment to quality and authenticity, Kingsbury has become known for its excellent bottlings of rare and unique whiskies from Scotland and beyond. With a focus on authenticity and terroir, they sought the very best expressions of Scottish heritage and tradition.

The Origins of Kingsbury

When it comes to the origin story of independent bottlers, Kingsbury Wine & Spirits Co. – or simply Kingsbury – stands out from the rest. Founded in Aberdeen in 1989 by Katsuhiko Tanaka, the president of Japan Import System Co. Ltd., Kingsbury has a unique background that sets it apart.

Japan Import System Co. Ltd. is a well-established, family-run liquor store located in Tsukiji, which opened its doors in 1956 under Katsuhiko’s grandmother’s ownership. Over the years, the store evolved to become a purveyor of the finest spirits. They were not just interested in high mark-ups and margins, but instead, they wanted to source spirits that were a genuine representation of their origin. This dedication led to the creation of Kingsbury, dedicated to sourcing, bottling, and supplying the very best whisky to Japan Import System Co. Ltd.

But why Kingsbury whiskies are so sought-after by whisky enthusiasts?

Kingsbury Bottlings

Kingsbury whisky is predominantly sold in Japan, with only a select few sold outside the country. This certainly adds to the allure of Kingsbury bottlings. However, it’s not just a matter of limited availability.

Indeed, Kingsbury has been devoted to bottling their whiskies without chill-filtration and, in most cases, at cask strength, demonstrating their commitment to preserving the natural qualities and flavours of the whisky.

Moreover, each whisky is meticulously hand-selected by Katsuhiko Tanaka and Gordon Wright from Springbank, providing a seal of quality and indicating that the whiskies are exceptional.

During its initial years, Kingsbury released its whiskies with a diverse range of label designs. Some of these labels showcased the name Eaglesome, which was a subsidiary of Springbank’s owner J&A Mitchell.

Today, Kingsbury has adopted a new uniform label design for its three core series:

  • Cask Strength (also known as Kingsbury Gold),
  • Limited Edition (also known as Kingsbury Silver),
  • The Selection

Iconic Bottles

Signatory

If you’re a whisky lover, you must have heard of Signatory, an independent bottler with a special release policy. The company typically bottles one cask at a time, each of them with unique colour and flavour characteristics. Moreover, this label is famous for offering bottlings from mothballed and closed distilleries.

Apparently at the origin of the name was the idea of having every bottle signed by a celebrity. The idea was never turned into reality. Nevertheless, the name has remained and has become a favourite among whisky fans.

The Origins of Signatory 

The Signatory Vintage Scotch Whisky Co Ltd was founded in 1988 by Andrew and Brian Symington, 

Signatory was initially located in the Newhaven area of Edinburgh, where a bottling plant was built. However, in 2002, the company acquired Edradour distillery from Pernod Ricard and subsequently relocated to the charming Perthshire location. 

Signatory Bottlings

The first cask ever bottled by Signatory was a 1968 Sherry-cask-matured Glenlivet. if you’re lucky enough you’ll be able to find a few miniatures of this iconic bottling. If you’re really REALLY lucky… well, what are you waiting for to get that bottle?

From this bottle, Signatory has certainly come a long way and won the hearts of all whisky fans.

Signatory’s whiskies come from a variety of ranges, including the Un-chill Filtered Collection, the Cask Strength Collection, and the Single Grain Collection.

Signatory’s Cask Strength Collection is their top-performing range, featuring unadulterated whiskies up to 35 years of age with their natural strength intact.

Moreover, as already mentioned, they’ve released whiskies from mothballed distilleries. In short, certain Signatory bottlings are your last chance to have a taste of the whiskies from distilleries that are no longer operating (and probably will never operate again).

For the most exceptional and exclusive casks in their stocks, Signatory offers the Rare Reserve series.

Iconic Bottles

Hunter Laing & Co

Hunter Laing & Co has a variety of whisky collections in its portfolio, offering rare and old malts and a selection of high-quality younger single malts. In short, the whiskies of this brand are exceptional from first to last. After all, you could not expect otherwise from a member of the Laing family.

The Origins of Hunter Laing & Co

In 2013, Hunter Laing & Co was born when brothers Fred and Stewart of Douglas Laing & Co decided to part ways and pursue their own independent bottling operations. Fred was joined by his daughter Cara, while Stewart brought on board his two sons, Andrew and Scott.

Stewart’s early experiences in the whisky industry were gained at Bruichladdich distillery on Islay, which was then owned by A&B Grant & Co. He went on to work for Stevenson Taylor & Co, a wine and spirits company, where he gained invaluable experience in the Scotch whisky industry. Eventually, he joined the family company of Douglas Laing & Co, initially working on the bottling side of the business. He later accompanied his father on sales trips to key blended Scotch markets in Asia and South America, and together they led the company until 2013, focusing on specialized single malt bottlings.

Following the shift in direction towards single malt bottlings, Hunter Laing & Co built its own single malt distillery on Islay: Ardnahoe Distillery. The distillery is located on the island’s east coast and opened its doors to the public in 2019.

Hunter Laing & Co Bottlings

As the Laing family have been in the Scotch Whisky business for more than three generations, the company can count on vast knowledge and experience acquired over the past years, but also on stocks of some of the most sought-after whiskies in Scotland.  

Today, Hunter Laing has a portfolio of over 200 different whiskies, including single malt, blended, and grains. The company also produces a range of other spirits, including gin, vodka, and rum.

The label’s core collections include:

  • Old Malt Cask, rare and old malts bottled at 50% abv unchill filtered. Over the years, the range has featured some exceptional whiskies, such as the 1952 Glenlochy, 1960 Bunnahabhains, and later bottlings of the 1971 Clynelish and 1969 Port Ellen at advanced ages, which are not easy to come by now.
  • Old & Rare, cask strength bottlings of vintage malts are delivered in a precious wooden box, unchill filtered and naturally coloured.
  • Hepburn’s Choice, a range of younger single malts
  • House of Peers, the Hunter Laing & Co flagship whisky inspired by  the British Parliament’s Upper Chamber
  • Highland Journey, a blended single malt collection

Iconic Bottles

Scotch Malt Whisky Society

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) is a private members’ club and independent bottler of whiskies and spirits. The primary philosophy behind the establishment of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society was to facilitate the discovery and indulgence of novel and exceptional whiskies. 

The Origins of Scotch Malt Whisky Society

It was 1983 when the Scotch Malt Whisky Society was born. Since then, their mission has been to share the world’s best whiskies and bring them to life. The Society’s started when the founders, Pip Hills and his friends, including actor Russel Hunter, contractor David Alison, writer W Gordon Smith and architect Ben Tindall, discovered the delights of whisky drawn straight from the cask.

SMWS is a private members’ club and independent bottler. Its whiskies are notable for their uniform presentation and the coding system by which the different bottlings are denoted.

SMWS have over 25,000 members globally. The membership gives you access to their private member bars around the world as well as limited edition bottlings exclusive to the club. 

Scotch Malt Whisky Society Bottlings

The bottlings from SMWS have a unique coding system. To enhance the experience, they decided to remove the brand identity from their bottles and instead utilize numerical codes for distilleries and releases, which adds an element of mystery to the experience. In this way, whisky drinkers can taste a high-quality spirit without bias towards a certain distillery.

What sets SMWS apart from others is its practice of assigning a unique name to each release and providing vivid tasting notes that evoke a sense of being transported to a different location.

Iconic Bottlings

Murray McDavid

Murray McDavid was among the first independent bottlers to commit to bottling their products at a minimum strength of 46% and reject the use of colouring or chill filtration. Under the label, Murray McDavid there are not only big distilleries names with a few rare expressions, but also quite interesting bottlings of lesser-known distilleries such as Glendullan, or Royal Brackla. All the bottlings are not chill-filtered and not coloured. 

The Origins of Murray McDavid

Murray McDavid was established by London wine merchants Mark Reynier, Simon Coughlin and Springbank Distillery’s Gordon Wright in 1994. The company became well-known for its unique approach to ageing whisky, which involved the use of exquisite wine casks.

The year 2000 marked the Murray McDavid team’s initiative to revive Bruichladdich Distillery located in Islay. In 2012, Bruichladdich Distillery and Murray McDavid were acquired by the spirits giant, Remy Cointreau. Subsequently, Murray McDavid was sold to Aceo Ltd., a leading Scotch whisky broker who currently owns it.

Today, Murray McDavid’s headquarters is located at Coleburn Distillery in Speyside, where the tradition of bottling skillfully-aged Scotch whisky is still being upheld.

Murray McDavid Bottlings

Some of Murray’s bottlings are quite legendary among whisky connoisseurs, and certainly, the 1987 Laphroaig with its unique blend has reached a cult following. Back in the day, Murray McDavid faced a ban from the distillery’s owner when trying to sell barrels under the Laphroaig label. Despite the setback, the label made a joke out of the situation. Hence, the bottle’s label humorously recounted the dispute, provided a detailed description of the distillery, and even named the owner. Ultimately, the whiskey was sold under the name “Leapfrog”. Today, this special edition is highly sought-after by collectors.

Over the years, Murray McDavid has been using the finest oak casks, crafting thousands of unique drams.

Their current whisky portfolio includes:

  • Mission Gold, a collection dedicated to vintage, rare and exceptional single malts, grains and blended whiskies.
  • The Benchmark, a collection offering outstanding, mature single malts, showcasing the art of maturation.
  • Select Grain, a selection of lighter grain whiskies
  • The Vatting, single malts whiskies married together to produce well-balanced expressions

Iconic Bottlings

Hidden spirits

Founded by Andrea Ferrari in 2013, Hidden Spirits is a young Italian independent bottler with a particular focus on single-cask whiskies.

The Origins of Hidden Spirits

Andrea Ferrari, the founder of Hidden Spirits, was a passionate whisky collector and blogger long before establishing the company in 2013. During his trip to Scotland, he established valuable connections in the whisky industry, which enabled him to establish Hidden Spirits.

As of today, the company has secured distribution agreements in Germany, Hong Kong, Australia, Bulgaria, and the UK.

Hidden Spirits Bottlings

Hidden Spirits collaborate with diverse Italian artists to create unique bottle labels for their various series, including the Classic Collection with single casks of varying strengths also aged over eight years, the Highproof Collection which features cask-strength single casks aged over eight years, and the Young Rebels Collection which offers single casks under eight years old.

Iconic Bottlings 

Watt Whisky

We know. Kate and Mark Watt don’t need any introduction, counting that if you add up the experience in the whisky world of both of them it goes beyond 40 years.

In 2019 they finally launched their own independent bottling brand: Watt Whisky. Despite initial difficulties due to the timing of the brand’s creation with the global health emergency, Watt Whisky has continued to grow, delighting us with wonderful editions.

Watt Whisky Bottlings

The philosophy behind the brand is simple but significant: it’s all about the taste. Watt Whisky bottles only the whisky that both the founders would like to taste. 

Moreover, anyone that has been to one of Mark’s tastings will have heard him say ‘Chill filtering is evil’. Hence, they obviously bottle only non-chill filtered whisky with no caramel colouring additives.

Another peculiarity of Watt Whisky is its unique method of bottle categorisation. Apparently, Mark has a very mild form of Synaesthesia, which basically means that when he smells things, he sees colours. Hence, they decided to group their whiskies by colour: 27 high-quality and delicious colours to choose from! 

Iconic Bottlings

Small Independent Bottlers

We have just met the modern independent bottlers: the labels that have recently appeared but already enjoy wide popularity in the whisky world. Now, it’s time to discover some new hidden gems. These small bottlers have a particular and entirely new approach to the bottler’s craft. Just when you thought you had seen it all, especially in the area of Scotch whisky, along come some bright young minds to change the rules of the game. Pay close attention to these names. In a few years, their bottles could become iconic.

Artful Dodger Whisky

Founded by Seb Woolf in 2012, Artful Dodger brings you rare limited-edition single-cask whiskies. This brand’s philosophy revolves around acquiring the most distinctive and tasteful barrels of whisky and providing access to those who intend to enjoy them, rather than hoarding them as collectors’ or investors’ items. Indeed, they call themselves a collective of professional whisky thieves, dedicated to liberating the world’s rarest whiskies, freeing them from their casks and releasing them to the appreciative.

Their collection boasts a variety of exquisite drinks, including the recent Springbank 18yo.

Chapter 7 

In 2014, Selim Evin established the independent bottling brand Chapter 7, drawing inspiration from his Scottish grandfather’s love for whisky. Initially, the brand focused on bottling obscure single-malt Scotch whiskies but has since diversified its offerings to encompass Irish whiskeys and grain whiskies from Scotland.

The brand Chapter 7 derived its name from Shakespeare’s As You Like It, where the renowned “All the World’s a Stage” monologue outlines the seven stages of human life. Drawing parallels to the way in which wood influences whisky’s character over time, Chapter 7 associates each of these stages with the various transformations that whisky undergoes.

The label has a great range of small-batch blends and single-cask releases, arranged into four series:

  •  Monologue, which encapsulates whiskies from a Single Cask that embodies the essence of each distillery. 
  • Anecdote, composed of an unexpected blend of several barrels that creates unique whiskies in the world.
  • Chronicle, a series of very limited edition and unique whiskies.
  • Prologue, a series of Single Malts from the Highlands and Speyside regions. Around 6,000 bottles are produced for each edition.

Their selection includes Single Malts bottled at cask strength, as well as Blended Malt, Single Grain, and Blended Scotch Whiskies. Their objective is to celebrate the diversity of Scottish whiskies by highlighting their complexity, originality, and richness. 

Although it’s a young entity, Chapter 7 has already gained recognition through multiple awards. Notably, it earned four medals during the 2020 Independent Bottlers Challenge, which was organized by Whisky Magazine and World Drinks Awards.

Great Drams

GreatDrams is an independent bottler that is run by a family. The company was founded by a husband and wife duo, Greg and Kirsty Dillon, who have successfully introduced an impressive range of single-cask whiskies and a few artisan blends that have received numerous awards. All of their whiskies are of exceptional quality, and highly enjoyable.

Great Drams offer both small batch blends and single cask releases and even have tasting packs if you’d like to sample a few different whiskies. What can be extra special is to join one of Greg’s virtual tastings, a live event where he’ll do a guided tasting of the whiskies.

Moreover, if you want to deepen your knowledge of the whisky world, they also offer amazing free content on their blog!

Na Bràithrean

If you’re a fan of Single Malt Scotch Whisky, then you shouldn’t miss Na Bràithrean, an independent bottler label founded by Andy and Brendan Clark. Their company, which translates as “The Brothers” in Scottish Gaelic, is all about creating unique, high-quality whiskies that showcase the influence of the cask.

Andy and Brendan’s journey began in 2017 when their love for whisky led them to explore the world of distilleries and tastings. As they learned more about the complex flavours of Scotch whisky, they became fascinated with the role of the cask in shaping its taste.

After conducting extensive research on the topic, they discovered that cask size, type, and time are the key factors that influence the flavour profile of whisky. They were particularly intrigued by the idea of creating two whiskies that could be compared side-by-side to demonstrate the impact of these factors on the final product.

This idea inspired the creation of Na Bràithrean in 2019. They start by selecting a single cask and splitting the liquid inside into two equal parts. These two halves are then finished separately in different casks for varying lengths of time. The first half that is bottled is known as the Wee Brother, and the second, aged slightly longer, is the Big Brother.  The end product is two bottles of the same spirit with different personalities and characteristics.

When tasted together, the two whiskies create a complex flavour profile that is greater than the sum of its parts. This allows drinkers of all levels to appreciate the nuances of Scotch whisky and learn more about how the cask plays a critical role in shaping its taste.

In conclusion

We have talked about independent whisky bottlers in the past and will probably do so again. As we have seen, independent bottlers are the backbone of the whisky industry, constantly innovating its tradition and pioneering new ways of conceiving this distillate. 

If you too are a fan of independent bottlers, share this article on your socials and tag us by commenting on who your three favourite independent bottlers are.

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