“So what do Independent Bottlers do, exactly?”
Not an uncommon question for an independent bottler, and to be honest our answer to some degree is “not a lot…”.
Our philosophy goes beyond just choosing what we believe is the best cask from any given selection; it includes preserving the natural character of that whisky as closely as possible. This is rather different to the usual objective when producing single malt on a much larger scale, at which point the key is to preserve consistency.
Take the cask samples I was sent this morning, for example. Two are from Royal Brackla; they were distilled on the same day and both have been maturing in the same type of cask. It’s pretty easy to spot some differences, however. One is slightly lighter than the other, having taken on less colour from the cask. They’re also slightly different strengths, with one having been subject to a little more evaporation.
So already I expect them to be pretty different, before we even get on to the various subtleties in taste and texture that each will possess. If my job were to produce a single malt expression of Royal Brackla that had exactly the same properties as the one we bottled previously, out of not just these two casks but thousands, I’d have a significant challenge on my hands.
How can consistency and quality be maintained in a product that is inherently so variable?
This is why we hear about colouring, dilution, chill filtration and so on (we'll discuss these in more depth in future posts), and these are all effective means to an end. At The Single Cask, however, we’re not concerned with consistency. We’ve bottled single malt whisky from Ben Nevis a few times in the last couple of years, each one from a single unique cask and each one being a little different. I know which one I prefer, which is by no means the favourite among all my colleagues.
That individuality is exactly what we celebrate.
It’s true that this lends a certain bittersweet aspect to the whole affair. One of my favourite bottlings so far has been our eighteen-year-old Linkwood, which was finally finished off at a whisky festival this year. I know I’ll never be able to try it again, but there are other casks waiting to be bottled. We never know what’s just around the corner – and that’s all part of the fun.
We believe the best way to discover these surprises is to let the spirit speak for itself. Of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t add a splash of water now and then (in fact we probably recommend it in a dram that’s still something like 56% ABV!), but when you first swirl that whisky around in your glass you’ll be discovering exactly what we did when we first drew it from the cask; unique whisky a little unlike any other...