More often than not, people will walk in to a specialist Whisky Shop to browse the shelves, but will inevitably focus on what in the industry are known as ‘own bottlings’ or ‘distillery bottlings. They will check the prices of their favourite Glenfiddich or Talisker, look to see if there is anything new from Glenmorangie, and then pass right over the independent bottlings. While distillery bottlings are great, and will for the most part are consistent, independent bottlings are a fantastic way of getting whiskies from your favourite distillery that you would not normally have the chance to.
Independent bottling has been around since at least the mid 19th century, often blenders who would buy spirit to hold and mature themselves in order to guarantee a good supply for their blending. This is also great for many distilleries who are going to sell the majority of their spirit for blending, may as well sell it at the start and make a quicker profit. This does answer one of the main questions that is asked... Why would a distillery sell a cask of 15 year old single malt unless there is something wrong with it? While matured casks are sold or exchanged, this is more between the distilleries themselves for their own blends, and the independent bottlers more commonly buy the spirit at day one, or when the spirit is only a year or two old.
So where to start? You can definitely look at distilleries you already know you enjoy, although bear in mind that while you may love Craigellachie 13 year old you may not like it as a 15 year old, or heavily sherried (not in my case, this is one of my favourite drams recently!). It can be equally fun to dive in with something completely new, a lot of the independents have great stocks of the more obscure distilleries. Many won't have tried, or maybe even heard of Miltonduff or Glen Kieith distilleries. You will struggle to find them in a bar, or any official bottlings, but there are some great independent releases. It is admittedly a bit of a risk, splashing cash on a whisky you haven't tried, or from a distillery you may not have heard of but that is where indy bottling's other wonderful attribute comes in. They are very well priced. Because you are not paying for the distillery label, and because a lot of the distillery are not the most famous you can find some excellent drams at what seem like discount prices. Glenlivet Founders Reserve is a great official release but for an extra ten pounds you can turn to Edinburgh Whisky Limited for an 8 year old from a single sherry cask limited to just 755 bottles!
In the end independent bottlers are a fantastic way to try whiskies from you favourite distillery, or maybe something new, that are limited and at a great price.