In our previous article, we already talked about who the independent bottlers are and why you should choose one of their labels. Now, it is time for us to get to know them a little better.
Certain independent bottlers have made whisky history. And we really mean it. Some of the most iconic expressions and most sought-after collector’s bottles are actually independent bottlers’ whisky!
Independent bottlers can offer a fantastic range of Scotch whiskies, sometimes from distilleries that are currently mothballed or dismantled. It is thanks to their work that whisky connoisseurs can have the opportunity to taste particularly rare or fine whiskies, or perhaps a particular year’ of their favourite distillery. In short, independent bottlers are the part of the whisky world that always surprises us with their originality.
In this article, we are going to introduce you to the independent bottlers that have been around the longest, pointing out some of their most iconic whiskies (try looking for them on some auctions. Good luck!).
Scotch whisky’s oldest independent bottler Cadenhead has quite a tale to tell.
William Cadenhead Limited, Wine and Spirit Merchants, was founded in 1842 at 47 Netherkirkgate in Aberdeen, a site the company traded from for more than 130 years. Today, the business is owned by J. & A. Mitchell and Co., owner of Springbank distillery in Campbeltown. This label specialises in single-cask malt whiskies that are no chill-filtered and no artificially coloured, though it also trades in rum and gin as well.
But how everything started?
It was 1842 when George Duncan founded a vintner and distilling agency in Aberdeen. The business flourished and a decade later, he invited his brother-in-law, William Cadenhead, to join him.
In 1858, Duncan suffered an illness and suddenly passed away. The business was now owned solely by Cadenhead, and he swiftly changed the company name into his own.
In truth, William Cadenhead was not a great expert on spirit trade. He was known as a quite good poet that greatly supported his local community. And yet, he continued the business successfully until 1904, when he died. He was succeeded by his nephew Robert W. Duthie.
The establishment of the whisky business
Robert W. Duthie was the one who developed the company into the independent whisky bottling business known today. He cleverly advertised his products on the back of buses, theatre curtains, concert programmes and in much else using the slogan, “By test the Best.” In doing so, he expanded the range to include brands such as The Heilanman and the deluxe Putachieside.
Everything was going very well…when Duthie died in 1931, knocked down by a tram car. He had no children, so the company passed on to his two sisters. Although they had no knowledge of the trade, the two sisters were well-determined to keep the company running. Hence, they handed over the daily operation of the business to a long-term employee, Ann Oliver.
How J. & A. Mitchell and Co. acquired the company
Oliver proved to be quite an eccentric choice. The result of this was a warehouse full of bottles of whisky, rum and gin… and no one knew their value! Eventually, Miss Oliver retired and the business was sold.
What about the warehouse full of unknown stuff? Well, they had a two-day sale in London of the entire stock. At the end of the sale, the company six-figure surplus over liabilities for the firm. They were hiding all the good stuff in that warehouse, indeed!
The company was sold to J. & A. Mitchell and Co. After 130 years of trading in Netherkirkgate, the company moved to Campbeltown and has been developed under the new owner management.
What about Cadenhead’s Whisky?
Cadenhead’s scotch whisky range is really interesting.
They use a small number of casks per bottling so they never mass produce. Meaning, you can only purchase original limited edition bottling from them!
It’s really difficult for us to choose what are Cadenhead’s most iconic bottlings, as all of them are one of a kind. However, the 1960s bottles have a special place in our hearts. These bottles are hardly seen on the secondary market today and they are a great chapter in whisky history!
Here is a small selection:
- Talisker, non-age-statement, 100 proof.
- Old Pulteney, non-age statement, 85 proof.
- Miltonduff non-age statement, 85 proof
- Laphroaig Over 12-Year-Old
This is one of the most seek-after by collectors and nearly impossible to find. Bottled at 80 proof, this Laphroaig remains one of the finest examples of old-style, tropical fruit-dominated whisky of this distillery.
Gordon & MacPhail
Gordon & MacPhail has a legendary status in the world of Scotch whisky.
Founded in 1895 in the heart of Scotland’s Speyside region by James Gordon and John Alexander MacPhail, the company initially offered all kinds of products such as tea, coffee, wine and whisky. Within a year of the firm’s establishment, John Urquhart joined the company.
Urquhart became a senior partner in 1915 and began to develop the firm’s whisky business. Additionally, he had casks of new-make spirit laid down at some of the Speyside distilleries, with the intention of using them for blending or for bottling as single malts. Quickly, he developed his skills as a master of malt whisky, building an impressive portfolio.
During the year, the label surprisingly remained within the family of its founders, and in 1993, eventually, the company managed to purchase a distillery: Benromach in Forres.
Gordon & MacPhail Iconic Whiskies
Gordon & MacPhail offers several ranges of whiskies, with the best-known Connoisseurs’ Choice label, The Private Collection, Cask Strength, Rare Old, The MacPhail’s Collection, and, the most exclusive of all, Generations.
Of all the bottles offered by Gordon & MacPhail, these are a small selection of the ones that impressed us the most:
- Mortlach 70-year-old
Distilled in 1938
ABV: 46.1 %
It is probably the world’s oldest single malt. It was let to mature it Spanish Oak, ex-Bodega Sherry Hogshead. And the craziest thing is..there are only 54 bottles in the entire world!
- Glenlivet 70-year-old
Distilled in 1940
ABV: 45.9 %
This incredible Glenlivet was matured in the First fill Sherry Butt and there are only 100 bottles.
Berry Brothers & Rudd
The company is Britain’s oldest wine and spirit merchant, established in the 17th century. Berry Brothers & Rudd was actually founded by a woman. She was a widow and a mother, with at least two daughters, but only her last name is known: Bourne.
Passing from one generation to the next, the shop was named after the two Berry brothers only in the early 1800s.
During the years, the company continued to trade wine, spirits and coffee and, as one may expect, the history of this label is quite exciting. Apparently, they supplied smugglers with alcohol during the Prohibition era in America, placed wines on board the Titanic, and rumour has it they even sheltered Napoleon III in cellars beneath the shop!
But what about the whisky? Berry Brothers & Rudd started to gain popularity in the world of whisky when in 1923 they created the Cutty Sark blended whisky and pioneered the vintage concept for the Glenrothes single malt.
Berry Bros & Rudd iconic whiskies
Today, Berry Bros & Rudd stocks more than 4,000 wines and spirits. It is impossible to choose among all of them the most iconic whiskies. However, if you carefully search the market, you could find this incredible gem:
- Talisker 1937
Distilled in 1937
Bottled in the 1960’s
Ian Macleod & Company Ltd was established in 1933. A blender and bottler, Ian Macleod’s chief product was the well-known blend Isle of Skye. In 1963, Ian Macleod & Co was acquired by the Russell family. Peter J Russell & Company Limited was a whisky broker, and the acquisition made a company that combined whisky blending, bottling, and brokerage. From this amazing combination, one can only imagine that the years after were one success after another. And so it actually was. Five decades later, the company acquired other whisky brands, and also other spirits.
Ian MacLeod today
In 2003, the company achieved the long-held ambition of becoming a distiller when it purchased Glengoyne from The Edrington Group. Then, the name changed to Ian MacLeod Distillery. Eight years later, they also acquired a second distillery, Tamdhu, and they reopened it in 2012, having been mothballed since 2009.
Today, Ian Macleod Distillers Ltd is the brand owner of Glengoyne Highland single malt, The Chieftain’s, Isle of Skye blended Scotch whisky, Hedges & Butler, King Robert II, Lang’s blended Scotch whisky, Dun Bheagan Ranges, Smokehead Islay single malt, Six Isles Island blended malt and Macleod’s single malt Whiskies. They currently produce and sell over 15 million bottles of spirits per year.
Ian MacLeod whiskies
Although Ian MacLeod owns some distilleries, it is still an independent bottler label at its core. Indeed, its Chieftain series is an award-winning collection of rare malts, some of which are from closed or mothballed distilleries. To this very series belongs a particularly famous bottling among collectors: Springbank 1969.
You read it right, a Springbank single malt distilled in 1969 and bottled in 2008: 39 years of pure deliciousness. And there are only 150 bottles out there.
If you want to discover some more goodies within this series, you can always check out their website. However, as you can imagine, these bottles are hard to find. Probably in this case whisky auction could be a good place to look for this series.
Douglas Laing & Co.
Douglas Laing & Co. is a family-owned, Glasgow-based independent bottler, established in 1948. Their assets include the Remarkable Regional Malts brand, which includes The Epicurean (Lowland), Timorous Beastie (Highland), Scallywag (Speyside), The Gauldrons (Campbeltown), Rock Island (Islands), as well as Big Peat from Islay, a popular brand originally introduced in 2009.
The company however also bottles and markets an Exceptional Single Casks range, which includes Provenance and Premier Barrel Single Malts, as well Old Particular and Xtra Old Particular brands.
As for many other independent bottlers before, Douglas Laing acquired a distillery in 2019: Strathearn. What the future of Douglas Laing & Co. will be? We can only wait and see. In the meantime…we could always enjoy their whiskies!
Douglas Laing & Co. Whiskies
Douglas Laing has a remarkable range of whiskies, as you can see from the brief description above. And although these bottles are almost endless, we still have a few favourites.
- XOP Auchentoshan 30 Years Old
This XOP Single Cask Single Malt from Auchentoshan Distillery has spent 30 long years maturing in a Refill Hogshead. Distilled in November 1990 and bottled in December 2020 at a Cask Strength of 56.2%, there are only 298 bottles existing globally.
- Old Particular Highland Park 21 Years Old
Distilled at Highland Park Distillery in 1999, this single-cask Scotch Whisky spent 21 years maturing in a Refill Barrel, imparting rich flavours of cocoa powder and red fruits. This bottle is a limited edition as well, and only 218 bottles exist out there in the world.
Hart Brothers can trace their origins to the late 19th century. However, it was not until 1964 that brothers Iain & Donald Hart incorporated the company as Wine & Spirit Wholesalers and Scotch Whisky Blenders.
In 1975, Alistair joined the company as chief blender, starting to source vintage casks of single malt whisky. These rare malt whiskies are then further matured and selected for single-cask bottling.
Today, they offer some of the finest single-malt scotch whisky available. If you are looking for some rare expressions, you are in the right place.
Hart Brothers whiskies
As we were saying, Hart Brothers offer a good range of rare whiskies. Believe me, you will want to have some of their bottles on your collection’s shelf.
- Macallan 1979 16 Year Old
This limited-release 16-year-old Speyside single malt was laid down at The Macallan distillery in 1979 and bottled for Hart Brothers in the mid-1990s under their Rare Vintage label. A highly desirable Sherried malt!
- Laphroaig 1968 26-Year-Old, Hart Brothers Rare Vintage
This 1968 Laphroaig single malt is quite rare. Aged for 26 years and bottled in the mid-1990s at 43% abv. If you find it on some auction, don’t think twice: BID ON IT!
In this article, we looked at some of the independent bottlers who have made history. If you don’t see your favourite among these, don’t worry. You will probably see it in the second part of this article.
And by the way. Which is your favourite independent bottler? Share the article, tag us and let us know!
Enjoyed the article?
Subscribe to our newsletter, and don’t miss out on any news about the Whisky World.
*The cover photo of this article is from www.cadenhead.scot