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This month we were proud to open our own bottling hall and hopefully you will have tracked our progress through our social media channels, we have posted various videos on Facebook and Instagram that highlight the realities of single cask bottling.
Stepping away from the role as an armchair independent bottler has brought some definite challenges but the rewards we hope will be enjoyed by our customers and distributors.
The last outrun of 2020 has been bottled at the warehouse and we are proud to launch a batch of casks that includes old Jura from 1991, some 1998 vintage fruity and flavoursome hoggies from Glen Grant and Auchenstoshan, a couple of PX sherry hoggies from Auchroisk and Blair Athol and our Islay is another of our signature special Caol ila’s with an Amarone wine finish.
The role of an independent bottler has changed throughout the history of scotch whisky from the humble days of pubs and grocers turning up at distilleries with their own casks or bottles. These early pioneers would then add their own name or brand to the what they sold, sometimes naming the distillery, sometimes not. This was of course, long before the distillers then decided to create their own brands and core ranges from their output thus determining distillery ‘house style’.
These days, independent bottlers are numerous, and their main role is to offer their selection and influence on distillery output perhaps once destined for another purpose. This is particularly important to our Lady of the Glen brand as our focus on bottling single cask whiskies remains our way of highlighting the individual nuances of each individual cask. The cask selection process and whiskies we choose to bottle is essentially our way of differentiating ourselves from other bottlers.
So essentially how are the casks we bottle from particular distilleries better than a sister cask from the same distillery bottled by another independent bottler? The ‘million dollar’ question can only be answered by the personal opinions of both the bottler who selected the cask and the consumers who choose to buy the whisky. This is of course on the assumption that the bottler actually bottled the whisky because they thought it stood out in their opinion and not just ‘making up the numbers’ for a bottling run.
The beauty of working with single cask whisky is than no two casks are exactly the same, even when considering ‘sister casks’ where casks from the same distillery, filled on the same day and matured for the same amount of time can produce different results. It’s these differences that we look for where these casks stand out amongst others and in our opinion are worthy of bottling in single cask format.
Many consumers now determine whisky style and character based on brand name rather than regional variances or production style. This is understandable due to the marketing efforts of some of the major brands who are keen to establish brand identity and loyalty so often attach a sensory impression when advertising.
This way of thinking is challenged when you consider that many distilleries now produce more than one style of spirit and that in many cases, spirit character can be changed by the touch of a button, even on an iPad these days.
There are many ‘household’ distillery brands who have defined a house style based on branding and image of their core releases, many of these production sites can and do output numerous different styles of new-make spirit. Mainly to service the various blends produced by the owners, these different styles supplement what can be traded with other producers to provide the spirit character required as part of the recipe for the master blender when creating the final product.
So, what is the ‘house style’ of Lady of the Glen and what sensory experience can you expect from our whiskies? The simple answer is that there isn’t one particular house style in terms of the liquid itself and that every bottling will be different due to the fact we don’t have our own distillery or commission distilling for ourselves.
We carefully purchase stock to mature in our own way and it’s this aspect of whisky production that we can control, and endeavour to make sure we get right. Regular sampling of casks ensures we can build a picture of the maturation profile of each contender and make the decision as to what happens next with the cask.
The options considered are;
It’s these decisions that will determine our success or otherwise.
The joy and benefit of being an independent bottler is that we get to work with many different distillery makes and impart our influence on the whisky maturation. Very often the casks we bottle have a different flavour profile from that of the expected distillery character, sometimes due to the complex characteristics of individual casks and occasionally due to our influence by re-racking into other casks for secondary maturation.
One such example of this is our recent single cask bottling distilled at Tomintoul distillery at 15 years old from an ex-Amontillado sherry cask. This particular distillery has a high reputation amongst blenders and the wider whisky industry for having a very fruity, malty and floral character due mainly to using un-peated malt, long fermentation times and slow distillation during production.
The vast majority of this spirit finds its way into blends more than single malt bottlings and this remains the priority for the owners due to the fact that blended scotch whisky continues to account for the vast majority of all scotch sales globally, making single casks releases such as our 15-year-old even more and interesting in their own right.
Generally, the ‘house style’ of Tomintoul will be completed by full maturation in ex-bourbon American oak casks, either first fill or refill casks adding to the light, fruity and creamy spirit. In fact, the Lady of the Glen single cask Amontillado 15-year-old started its life in exactly this way – distilled in 2005 in the classic distillery style mentioned above and originally matured in a refill bourbon hogshead. Upon acquiring this cask, we assessed the spirit, considered our options and decided to move the whisky from its original cask into an ex-Amontillado cask produced for us by Josafer Tanoaria near Porto in Portugal. This decision was made not because there was anything wrong with the original spirit in the cask as in fact it was a perfect example of this distillery make but, we thought the fruity style could be enhanced by the influence of the honey and citrus character offered by this particular type of lesser known sherry cask.
This end product is very much our own and not typical of the distillery’s own output. Would another independent bottler opt for the same path for this cask? Perhaps, but they could also choose many other options too and produce a completely different product.
It is ultimately down to the cask owner how they choose to mature and eventually bottle their whisky therefore, adding their input to produce their own ‘house style’ if such a thing exists amongst independent bottlers.
Owning your own cask of Whisky as an investment or for a hobby has been a tradition undertaken by both enthusiasts and shrewd investors for decades but as an independent bottler I have always viewed it has a huge risk to anyone new to the trade. With that in mind I’ve compiled a six tips for those wishing to purchase casks of Scotch.
Please note I am an independent bottler is my points are very bias.
1. Owning your own Whisky cask is only a good idea if you have a clear idea of why you are owning a cask and how you will end the relationship with the cask.
How you will end the relationship with the cask?
When it comes to finally bottling the cask you will need to be aware of the additional fees that lie therein, such as the VAT and duty payable per bottle, the bottling fee charged by the bottling agent and the cost of delivery to you. You might also have to consider your own label and a host of other legal issues to do with branding and meeting the SWA guidelines.
Suppose I bought a young cask for £3,000.00, which is perfectly reasonable depending on the quality of spirit; for £3k you are very limited in what you can get, more than likely it will be Speyside under 6 years old and the likely abv 58?V or higher
With the above assumption, my yield could be 300 bottles at cask strength
This would work at £10.00, which looks a bargain right…Well no.
That £10.00 bottle of single cask, single malt. Needs duty (hence the desire for a UK duty freeze/lowering) - @ 58% this would work at £11.67. But then you need to add VAT to your duty – so £14.00. Now my £10.00 Whisky is costing me £24.00. So my cask will actually cost me an additional £4,200.00, £7,200.00 based just on liquid.
2. Yes, you could reduce the strength to reduce the duty and increase the yield but then you have the other problem with owning a cask – literally what are you going to do with over 300 bottles of Whisky…? Some would argue that this is a nice problem but for a private fan this could be a case of the cat that got the cream…
On top of the price you need to consider the delivery of the 300 bottles, how much you are being charged for the glass bottles, the printed labels and the label application so you can see how these things spiral.
So the cost of glass, corks, seals and delivery for my 300 bottles will be around £1,000.00 at least. So my 300 bottles of Whisky is now costing me £8,200.00.
Making it £27.00 for my under 6 year old Single Malt, Single cask Speyside Bourbon Hogshead.
3. What happens if your cask leaks or pops? Unfortunately, casks leak and you can sometimes be unfortunate enough to only find this out years later and worse still with a bad leak the abv plummets too and if the abv goes below 40% you can no longer call the Spirit Whisky. There are over 20 million casks of Scotch maturing in Scotland and your little Hogshead is not going to get special treatment unless you have paid for that in which case even the warehouse might not accept liability for a bad leak so your 20 year old Macallan Butt has leaked there is very little you can do accept try and bottle what is left.
4. Who is selling the cask and when was it last checked? HMRC manages the ownership of warehouses and cask owners but if you are buying the cask from a private seller or other party have you done the relevant due diligence, can they prove that they own the cask that you are buying and if so how? You could check with the warehouse where the cask is stored and check the sellers track history but you should definitely check when the cask was last re-gauaged, which is a measure of what is in the cask at a specific date. Re-gauges are vital reports that reveal a cask’s content and warehouses have various methods of carrying them out. Cask’s lose about 2% through evaporation each year so checking their content is extremely important because anything could impact this from a leaky cask, to a cask not being fully filled or a cask filled at higher ABV which may not lose alcohol strength as quick as a lower abv filled cask.
5. Who owns the casks? Will you own the cask and carry the responsibility for it or is someone else in fact in ownership of the cask and they manage the ownership for you. This is an important consideration as someone that manages ownership is not necessarily accepting liability for leaks but instead charging a management fee for carrying out your requests to the warehouse such as requesting a regauge, re-racking or if the warehouse is charging rent are the owners then charging you an additional fee on top of this?
6. Is the spirit in good condition? Buying a cask without sampling it can a tricky proposition especially if it is a rare cask with multiple interested buyers. I would always recommend sampling Whisky before you buy it as you may stumble upon the reason it's being sold is because its not very good. Alternatively, you may find the cask has been really inactive because it's been used multiple times, as is common, so in order to nurture the spirit you need to rerack into a fresh cask which will have an additional cost.
Alternatively, you may think it wiser never to go through the bottling stage and instead sell it to a company that will continue to manage its maturation or sell it to a company that is aware of the costs and will be bottle under their ownership. In which case, this tends to be the easiest way to resolve your relationship with the cask but the issue with this approach is that you need to identify a suitable buyer and your spirit has to be of good enough quality that someone would want to buy it!
Unfortunately, and I take no pleasure from this, I have been in the position of having received emails and speaking to people that have over-paid with their Whisky or have been left with an abundance of relatively young spirit which has nothing outstanding to say about it, which is altogether a bit of nightmare scenario.
It is genuinely great when I speak to Whisky clubs and groups of friends that have casks that they bottle together with a view to sharing together as they are well aware of the risks and costs. More so if there are more people involved so the risk is spread if the cask turns out to be poor or mediocre compared to others.
If you are looking to turn your hobby or love of Whisky into a side business you might find our next blog on collecting bottles more helpful than this cautionary tale.
Miniature sets are what I find the most exciting part of auctions and since lock down we have all, to some extent, enjoyed our own little private tastings with miniatures. With the high amount of virtual tastings around its likely your gantry will be filled with lots of little 5cl bottles!
Miniatures are a great chance to try whiskies you wouldn't normally get a chance to try and over the years I've found that bringing miniature sets to the market has been one of the more challenging parts of the Lady of the Glen product offering; with the finite stocks and the requirement for bespoke labelling in addition to the fact it requires you to decant 70cl product that may sell anyway. However, now we are finally producing our own unique miniature so our friends can enjoy a broad range of high quality single cask whisky from home.
The Lady of the Glen Miniature sets were introduced to allow customers to try our range of Whisky. They are ideal as a unique gift experience and offer a rare opportunity try our single cask range. They are not for export and only suitable for the UK market due to the higher delivery cost outside the UK
A set contains 5 bottles of 5cl Whisky so they are bigger than your average tasting dram
Within each set there is a random assortment of Single cask releases that are cask strength, non chill filtered without any colouring. Our straight to bottle Whisky contains all of the beautiful elegance of single cask matured Scotch. The miniatures are taken direct from bottles in our outruns, Lady of the Glen releases between five to nine hand selected casks in each outrun and outruns are four times a year. Our hand selected casks are chosen on taste from our portfolio of casks. Each outrun contains a broad range of casks that include especially sourced ex-sherry matured casks, traditional bourbon matured casks, well matured Scotch with over 15 years maturation to younger more direct flavoured drams!
Free UK delivery
Yes, delivery is free in the UK and each set comes with a complimentary dram.
We’re delighted to present the newest outrun from Lady of the Glen. Featuring a variety of finishes, a well-aged Isle of Jura, and a 22-year-old single malt from the now-demolished Caperdonich Distillery; this release has proven incredibly popular with our customers and has something to suit any whisky lover.Dailuaine 2008 with First-Fill Pedro Ximenez Sherry Finish
Our Dailuaine was matured in an ex-Bourbon cask, with a final finish in a Pedro Ximenez Sherry Hogshead for over 18 months. Distilled on the 24th of January 2008 and bottled at cask strength on the 29th of May 2020; we are very proud of this delicately balanced, sherry-finished dram, which is priced at £90 including free UK Delivery.
On the Nose
Full and intense with notes of strawberries and cream, pork pies and new oak furniture.
On the Palate
Creamy and luscious with notes of candied fruits and chocolate raisins soaked in sherry.
Long and lingering sweetness with a sugar-coated pecan nut character.
Isle of Jura 1992
We were incredibly fortunate to acquire a rare 28-year-old Bourbon matured cask in April of this year, just in the nick of time considering its lower ABV. Distilled on the 20th of March 1992 and bottled at cask strength on the 23rd of April; this amber coloured dram is a wonderful alternative west coast island style whisky and is priced at £170 including free UK delivery.
On the Nose
Spring gorse bushes, Madeira cake and fresh cut grass
On the Palate
Poached pears and apple turnover. Yoghurt coated raisins and a chocolate biscuit character
Medium and warming with notes of tobacco, developing to mint.
Our bottling of this rare single malt from the demolished Caperdonich distillery, fully matured in a Bourbon barrel, is the jewel in the crown of this outrun. Distilled on the 27th of August 1997 and bottled at cask strength on the 24th of July 2020; this amber hued dram is a piece of whisky history that would grace the shelves of any collector; and is priced at £400 including free UK delivery.
On the Nose
Rum raisin fudge, stewed apricot and a honey on toast character.
On the Palate
Griddled pineapple and oranges dipped in chocolate. Honeycomb and salted butter.
Clean and crisp with notes of creamy vanilla, allspice and walnut loaf.
Tomintoul 2005 with First-Fill Amontillado Sherry Finish
Our Tomintoul was matured in an ex-Bourbon cask, with a final 13-month finish in an Amontillado barrel from Josafer Tanoaria. Distilled on the 17th of May 2005 and bottled at cask strength on the 3rd of June 2020; this copper hued dram is a perfect choice for lovers of a sherry-influenced whisky and is priced at £140 including free UK delivery.
On the Nose
Deep and rich with notes of leather armchair, autumnal fruit, amaretto and brewing coffee.
On the Palate
Maraschino cherries and chocolate caramels with an orange bitters and honey character.
Apple sauce developing into orange peel with oak tannins and treacle toffee.
The following releases proved so popular that we were unable to keep them on the shelves.Auchroisk 2011 with Pedro Ximenez Octave Finish
Our Auchroisk was an immediate hit; selling out entirely through pre-orders. Our release was matured in a Bourbon cask for over seven years, with 50 litres drawn off and finished in a Pedro Ximenez Octave for Josafer Tanoaria. This bronze coloured whisky was distilled on the 14th of April 2011 and bottled at cask strength on the 29th of May 2020.
On the Nose
Dense and fragrant with fresh sawn pine, coffee cream chocolates, leather and tobacco.
On the Palate
Plum jam and blackcurrant lozenges. Wood spices, walnuts and honey coated dried banana chips.
Long and dry with charred oak, liquorice and a whiff of smoke.
Tullibardine 2006 with Rum Cask Finish
It was a wrench to say goodbye to this delicious, rum-finished malt, now sadly sold out. Initially matured in a traditional bourbon cask; we moved this spirit to an ex-rum cask for an extended finish. Seven years on, we were incredibly happy with the resulting whisky, which was bottled at cask strength on the 29th of May 2020.
On the Nose
Dessert notes of pineapple tart, custard creams and brown sugar sweetness. Floral notes of lilac and rose.
On the Palate
Soft and gentle at first with developing sweet and spicy notes of white chocolate and cinnamon.
Long and satisfying with a walnut whip and brandy cream character, with developing buttery toast.