In this past weekend's Wall Street Journal, Eric Felten discussed independent bottlings of scotch whisky. I always thought independent bottlings were confusing to the consumer (and me), but it makes sense when he put it into historical context:
Scotch distilleries traditionally did not themselves bottle or market their whiskies. They sold it by the barrel to brokers and blenders who mixed them to create blended whiskies such as Chivas Regal, Johnnie Walker and Dewar's. For decades, just about the only way to get a bottle containing whisky from an individual distillery -- that is, a single malt -- was from an independent bottler. Many of these, such as William Cadenhead, were liquor and wine merchants who bought barrels of whisky for their shops and offered them, unblended, to their customers. Savvy Scotch drinkers learned to look for these single malts because they had quirky and compelling character lacking in even the best blends. Were it not for independent bottlers, there might never have been a single-malt revolution. Thanks to the success of the independents, the distillers realized they should start bottling their malts and create marketable brands of their own. "Independents molded the industry," says Euan Shand, managing director of one such firm, Duncan Taylor & Co Ltd. "Multinationals who bought into it are reaping that benefit."When I saw independent bottlings at whisky festivals I used to skip the table, as they are limited quantity bottlings and I didn't want to try something I could only get once. I wanted a bottling I could find year after year, and you can only ensure that by purchasing it from the brand directly. Now that I've tried so many whiskies, I can skip the tables of the brands I've had several times in the past and see what the independent bottlers are offering. I can see where there is room for both the independents and the brands, but this article shows that during the whisky boom, the independents are getting squeezed out of the business.