16th May 2020
Independent bottlers do not distil or make whisky but buy barrels/casks of whisky from distilleries either as new make spirit or already matured whisky. They then bottle them when they think the whisky is at its best. So, when you visit an independent bottler you get a select choice of whiskies from a multitude of different distilleries. And yes, the whisky does taste better when drank in Scotland!
For World Whisky Day we’ve curated a list of independent bottlers in 3 different whisky regions*. These experiences are equally good for people starting their whisky journey and for more experienced whisky enthusiasts. Like most of Scotland, as well as the whisky, these locations have beautiful scenery and at least one great golf course.
There are over 130 active distilleries in Scotland and over 50 of these are in the relatively small area of Speyside. As you travel around this beautiful region, which takes its name from Scotland’s second-longest river, the Spey, you will see a concentration of some of Scotland’s most famous distilleries. Examples here are Macallan, Glenfiddich, Aberlour and Glenfarclas. We’ve experienced private tours of some of these distilleries, including learning how to blend your own whisky or even spending a day making whisky and couldn’t recommend it highly enough.
The pretty Speyside town of Elgin has many attractions and one amazing experience there is the Gordon & MacPhail Vintage and Rare tasting in their boardroom. Gordon & MacPhail are one of Scotland’s most famous independent bottlers and have been in existence for over 120 years. Some of the whiskies that you get to taste in their marvellous boardroom are unforgettable and the tasting has a good mixture of whiskies that you cannot try or even buy anywhere else and some that you can purchase onsite after your tasting.
Campbeltown on the Mull of Kintyre was known as the whisky capital of the world and over 30 distilleries have operated there in the past. By 1891 with a population of just 1,969 Campbeltown was said to be the richest town in Britain per head of capita, and when visiting it today you will see beautiful red sandstone mansions from that era. Today there are only 3 distilleries in operation – but what great whiskies they produce; Springbank, Longrow and Glen Scotia. It is also the closest part of mainland Britain to Ireland and you can easily see Antrim from nearby.
Campbeltown is also the headquarters of Cadenhead’s, the oldest independent bottler in Scotland who’ve been bottling whisky since 1842. Their warehouse tour in Campbeltown is an amazing experience as you get to taste 6 different whiskies from all over Scotland, straight from the cask. Then after the tour, if you want to take your favourite whiskies that you tasted home with you, they will bottle the whisky straight from the cask for you.
The island of Islay is known as the Queen of the Hebrides and was where the powerful lord of the isles chose to have his clan seat. It has stunning scenery, fertile lands, lots of history and 9 distilleries. There is also a theory that the first whisky to be distilled in Scotland was in the Islay parish of Kilchoman. Islay is eponymous with peated or smoky whiskies like Lagavulin, Ardbeg and Laphroaig, although one fantastic distillery there, Bunnahabhain is known for its unpeated whisky.
The newest distillery on the island, Ardnahoe, opened in 2018 and is owned by independent bottlers Hunter Laing. So, while it won’t be possible to taste their whisky for a few years, you can still have a distillery tour and then taste whiskies from the other Islay distilleries or other parts of Scotland in their beautiful new distillery. You will also be privileged to see one of Scotland’s best distillery views!
Read about more Away from the Ordinary whisky experiences in the United Airlines Hemispheres magazine
*There are 6 Scottish whisky regions; Lowland, Highland, Speyside, Campbeltown, Islay and Islands