Friday, December 18, 2015

Lassie's top 10 memorable drams for 2015 - #6 Raise a dram to independent bottlings!

Looking back through my log book and photos for 2015 I quickly realized something about the 406 new drams I tried. Almost 1/3 of those were from independent bottlers. 105 drams to be precise. So how can you overlook that as a whisky enthusiast? I also concluded something else. In North America, Canada, specifically, independent bottlers seem to be as complicated and misunderstood as a Dali

Even more so on the east coast, unfortunately... Here is a typical conversation either at a whisky show or in my own home:

Me: "You love Islay whiskies right, have you ever tried this one before?", I say as I point to a Gordon & MacPhail bottling of Caol Ila. The person looks confusingly at the bottle. 

Them: "What distillery is that from?", they say even more baffled as I hand them the bottle.

So then I start to explain what Gordon & MacPhail is in the simplest way I can: "It's not a distillery, it's an independent company that has really great and long standing relationships with many of the distilleries. They buy it from them directly and then age it in their own warehouses until they see fit to bottle it and then put it out on the market under their own brand name".

They frown and stare at the bottle. "Doesn't look like a bottle of Caol Ila to me?". And... back and forth it goes until finally I simply pour them a dram and say: "Just trust me on this one..." You can almost see the trepidation in the way they try to taste the whisky but then after they are done that first sip you see the light bulb go off. "Wow, this is some pretty good stuff!, they say as they pick up the bottle again for closer and more curious inspection. "Bet it is super expensive though?", they chuckle clinging to the last hope that this is just too good to be true and that's when I turn them into converts. On average, independent bottler's versions of some and yes I say SOME (don't send me nasty comments, hehe) are cheaper than if you buy a DB (Distillery bottling). 

1. G&M Mortlach 21, £57 vs Diageo Mortlach 18, £150.

2. Wemyss Malts Blowing on a Sea Breeze (Bunnahabhain 25), £95 vs Bunnahabhain 25, £195

3. Douglas Laing Laphroaig 25 Cask Strength, £299 vs Laphroaig 25 Cask Strength, £355

There were so many amazing drams for me this year, some of the most memorable were indeed from independent bottlers. I struggled as I went through them all and I thought several times it truly seemed so unfair to just pick one... so I picked 10... I had to... I want people to understand what is out there. What you have the chance to try because not only do independent bottlers have access to many distilleries they also have access to whisky from many closed/mothballed ones as well. Some of which for me this year were truly stunning drams! And here's another thing, if we as Canadians don't start buying these, they can be pulled out of the market all together (has already happened with Compass Box in my own province, sad to say...)

Top 10 Independent Bottler drams, listed in chronological order for 2015:

10. SMWS 25.63 Poire et poivre. Rosebank 21, 59.8% ABV. Tasted at Annabel Meikle's masterclass Jan/15. 

9. Wemyss Malts Waves of Pepper, Clynelish 1997 Kingsbarn Exclusive, 46% ABV. Tasted, purchased and finished in Scotland before we came home! Apr/15.

8. SMWS 3.243 Dark, smouldering Flamenco gypsy, Bowmore 17, 57.1% ABV. Tasted at SMWS event on Islay (And purchased to bring back to Canada) Apr/15.

7. Old Malt Cask (Douglas Laing) Port Ellen 1982, 19 years old, 50% ABV. Opened with pizza on Islay, courtesy of "Johnnie" May/15.

6. SMWS 119.14 Raspberry Imperial Stout. Yamazaki 11 year old, 53.9% ABV. Sent as sample from Dave Alcock (@whiskyrepublic) June/15.

5. Berry Bros & Rudd Ltd. Glen Grant 1940 (YES YOU READ CORRECTLY) No ABV listed and suspected it was bottled sometime in the 50's. Shared at the Lunar Rogue courtesy of Frank Scott. Jul/15.

4. XOP Douglas Laing Port Dundas 36 year old, 59.3% ABV. Private whisky tasting Toronto. Sept/15.

3. Signatory Vintage Dallas Dhu 1978, 19 years old, bottled for World of Whiskies, 43% ABV. Davin de Kergommeaux Master Class Fredericton Nov/15. 

2. Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseur's Choice, Convalmore 1981, 17 years old, 40% ABV. Frank Scott's Chairman's Dram Masterclass, Fredericton Nov/15.

And last... but not least...  

1. Cadenhead's Glen Mhor 32 years old, 53.2% ABV. Opened for SJWTS December tasting - Silent distilleries. Dec/15. 

So here is the thing whisky peeps... Those of us who have either been introduced or discovered independent bottlings are quite often true fanatics. Don't get me wrong, it doesn't mean you won't find a few duds from time to time but on average I can truly say I am rarely disappointed with these lovely discoveries. Do yourself a very large favour: Go to whisky shows, walk up to the tables where the independent bottlers are and TRY their products. Go to their masterclasses because sometimes it's the absolute BEST bang for your buck. 

If you are still skeptic... send me an email and I'll send you a special sample based on what you like. 


Because sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone and not judge what's written on the bottle before you try what is inside. 

Get out there and try Independent bottlings. You'll thank me for it. 

Cheers and on to number 5!



  1. Independent bottling is something that I've had a great deal of interest in however sourcing bottles in NS is nigh impossible except for in Halifax, and in truth, they only have perhaps a handful of choices (I saw a Gordon/McPhail Mortlach, Bladnoch and a Linkwood (which was one I tried, it was very good, not amazing). Outside of Halifax, impossible. What a shame!

    1. If there is anything in particular you are interested in trying please let me know, don't be shy!