To put it simply, an independent bottling of Scotch whisky is one produced from a cask or casks acquired by a private party and bottled extraneous to the official brand of the distillery which produced it. In recent years the popularity of these has exploded, not least on the European continent where they present the opportunity for people who do not live in Scotland to engage with the production and distribution of a product that they love.
Scotch Whisky Association rules are very strict, and two of its crucial laws state that Scotch (single malt, grain, or blended) must be distilled and bottled in Scotland in order to be considered as such. This means that the majority of the global whisky audience cannot ever dream of making their own, but they are able to procure casks from those who can. The bottling of these can then be contracted to one of the now numerous Scottish companies who deal with this, and the whisky can be presented (in accordance with SWA guidelines), however the cask owner sees fit.
Scotland’s European neighbours are ideally situated to operate within this framework, and have done so with increasing fervour over the last forty years. They owe much to the trail blazed by Italian connoisseurs such as Silvano Samaroli and Pepi Mongiardino. Both men started out as importers, but quickly began to buy up their own casks which they increasingly had bottled using their own branding. Samaroli was the first to take this leap of faith, buying a selection of Wm. Cadenhead’s famous “dumpy” bottlings and having them relabelled to his own specifications in 1979. Mongiardino’s Moon Import and Intertade co-founder, Nadi Fiori, quickly followed suit in the early 1980s, while in Germany a company called Scoma charted a similar journey to that of Samaroli, receiving its own specially labelled Cadenhead single malts later that decade.
The legacy of these bottlings can never be underplayed. Not only did they introduce incredible whiskies to a new generation of enthusiasts on the continent, but they presented them in unique and vibrant ways, the enduring influence of which is apparent to this very day.
What has always and will always make independent bottlings so attractive is that they are made for whisky fans, by whisky fans, and with the freedom to interpret what is such a beautifully subjective spirit in their own way. As such, we get Dalmore without the hallmarked silver ornaments, Macallan without the Lalique decanters, and in the cases of distilleries like Strathmill, Dailuaine and Linkwood, the opportunity simply to experience the nuance and variance of their unblended single malts.
This freedom of expression allows independent bottlers to make whisky something for everyone. They can collaborate with each other, with local artists, events and customs. Crucially, despite the geographic limitations on its production, independent labels can connect Scotch whisky with any culture that welcomes it. Pat’s Whisk(e)y presents an incredible opportunity to chart the development of this through the end of the 20th century and into the 21st. It is a liquid timeline of how whisky won the hearts of Europe, and became something that is just as much theirs as it is Scotland’s, a story that today is repeating itself all across the globe.