The “Health” Of Independent Bottlings Per Distillery

by Oliver Klimek on September 22, 2012

The future of independent bottlers has been a topic of debate for a while. On one hand there are the reports that distilleries and conglomerates have been trying to keep their whisky under their own control as much as possible, on the other hand we see more and more small independent ‘armchair’ bottlers entering the whisky trade.

I have done some number crunching with the bottle data in the Whisky Monitor to see if there is a noticeable trend how independent bottlings do for a specific distillery. I have recorded the number of independent bottlings, the number of independent bottlers and the bottling year of the youngest entry. Of course this is not a complete catagogue of bottlings, but the amount of data still allows to draw conclusions.

It turns out that there are independent bottlings for virtually all 124 working and closed Scottish malt whisky distilleries present in the Whisky Monitor. But when looking a bit closer, things do not look quite as bright.

I grouped the distilleries into six categories representing different ‘health’ states.

  1. Healthy – 17
  2. Weak – 19
  3. Endangered – 44
  4. Hopeless – 17
  5. Running out – 23
  6. Gone – 4

1. Healthy

Distillery Bottlings Bottlers Youngest
Caol Ila 517 92 2012
Highland Park 364 75 2012
Bowmore 351 80 2012
Laphroaig 334 71 2012
Clynelish 265 67 2012
Macallan 253 50 2011
Longmorn 236 56 2011
Glen Grant 235 48 2012
Bunnahabhain 203 58 2011
Mortlach 200 49 2011
Glenlivet 193 48 2012
Linkwood 155 50 2011
Glenrothes 130 42 2012
Tomatin 101 48 2011
Ben Nevis 91 36 2011
Tobermory 84 42 2012
Glen Scotia 66 28 2011

 

Currently there are 17 distilleries of which there has been a steady and substantial flow of independent bottlings. Caol Ila is the undisputed leader, Highland Park, Bowmore and Laphroaig are behind with a noticeable gap. It is interesting to note that three of the top four and four of the top ten distilleries are located on Islay.

2. Weak

Distillery Bottlings Bottlers Youngest
Imperial 85 27 2011
Banff 74 24 2012
Tamdhu 68 26 2011
Glen Deveron 59 26 2011
Macduff 59 27 2011
Littlemill 59 24 2012
Glen Keith 57 23 2011
Glen Elgin 57 31 2011
Milltonduff 56 25 2011
Inchgower 53 29 2011
Glentauchers 42 15 2011
Aberlour 41 21 2011
Tomintoul 37 20 2012
Allt-a-Bhainne 37 16 2011
Arran 31 14 2011
Glen Spey 31 18 2011
Tormore 30 17 2011
Glen Moray 27 12 2011

 

These 19 distilleries also constantly supply us with independent bottlings, but on a significantly lower scale. It is interesting to note that the closed distilleries Imperial, Banff, Littlemill and Glen Keith can still supply a steady trickle of bottlings without visible sign of diminuishing stock.

3. Endangered

Ardbeg 350 45 2011
Springbank 209 48 2010
Bruichladdich 140 51 2011
Strathisla 137 30 2011
Ardmore 91 22 2012
Talisker 88 17 2009
Glenfarclas 73 21 2009
Glen Garioch 66 30 2012
Benriach 65 17 2012
Benrinnes 65 23 2010
Craigellachie 62 26 2011
Pulteney 61 18 2011
Scapa 61 16 2010
Glencadam 59 24 2010
Aultmore 57 29 2011
Dalmore 57 26 2011
Brackla 57 23 2012
Dailuaine 55 29 2012
Glenburgie 54 19 2011
Cragganmore 54 17 2012
Dufftown 53 20 2008
Teaninich 52 25 2011
Blair Athol 52 20 2012
Balmenach 50 23 2010
Auchentoshan 46 23 2011
Glenturret 43 18 2010
Braeval 43 19 2011
Balblair 41 13 2012
Lochnagar 41 14 2010
Mannochmore 38 14 2010
Glendullan 36 14 2010
Aberfeldy 35 19 2010
Glendronach 34 16 2010
Glengoyne 33 13 2010
Strathmill 33 18 2011
Glen Ord 33 15 2010
Jura 31 16 2010
Bladnoch 29 27 2011
Auchroisk 28 14 2010
Pittivaich 28 10 2009
Benromach 28 10 2006
Tullibardine 26 13 2008
Glenallachie 24 13 2010
Fettercairn 21 13 2011

 

This is the category that reflects the growing industry trend of sealing the warehouses. Even though the first of these 44 distilleries boast rather impressive figures, they share the fate of a substantial decrease in independent bottling activity in the last few years. The most prominent example is Ardbeg which has enjoyed an immense popularity among independent bottlers until the first half of the 2000s. Since then bottlings have become less and less, 2011 lists only new 6 entries. The same has been happening with Springbank. The Strathisla data includes a significant number of semi-official Gordon & MacPhail bottlings. Other than that, not many casks are bottled by others anymore.

4 . Hopeless

Distillery Bottlings Bottlers Youngest
Edradour 50 4 2008
Lagavulin 27 14 2011
Glenkinchie 19 9 2009
Glenfiddich 17 8 2010
Speyburn 16 7 2007
Deanston 16 6 2007
Loch Lomond 15 8 2010
Balvenie 14 6 2006
Dalwhinnie 8 4 1997
Speyside 8 7 2010
Knockando 7 5 2009
Knockdhu 7 4 2005
Cardhu 7 3 2003
Glenmorangie 5 1 2010
Oban 3 3 1996
Kilchoman 1 1 2011
Kininvie 0 0 n/a

 

17 distilleries have sealed their warehouses so tightly that hardly any cask manages to find its way onto the open market. It is not impossible that a stray cask may show up here or there, but independent bottlings from these distilleires are a rare breed. Edradour is a bit of a special case since Signatory have issued quite a number of bottlings. But as they own the distillery now, it does not make any difference.

5. Running Out

Distillery Bottlings Bottlers Youngest
Port Ellen 337 63 2011
Rosebank 131 38 2011
Brora 127 18 2012
Caperdonich 106 34 2012
Lochside 74 23 2011
Saint Magdalene 68 17 2009
Dallas Dhu 67 14 2010
Glen Mhor 66 23 2010
Glenlossie 62 25 2011
Glenglassaugh 55 26 2010
Glenugie 43 14 2011
Inverleven 40 10 2010
Glenlochy 36 9 2010
North Port 34 10 2008
Glen Albyn 33 14 2010
Glenury 33 12 2011
Convalmore 28 15 2007
Coleburn 24 10 2011
Glenesk 21 10 2009
Mosstowie 20 5 2008
Glencraig 19 5 2010
Tamnavulin 15 9 2010
Ladyburn 8 3 2009

 

23 mostly closed distilleries display visibly decreasing stock in the amount of their recent independent bottlings. The staggering number of 337 bottlings of Port Ellen proves that this whisky has not been particularly rare. But because of the high demand induced by the constantly high quality of this malt, stocks seem to be approaching an end. The Whisky Monitor only lists 8 new entries for 2011 bottlings. I have included Glenglassaugh here because if its shrinking old stock. It is yet unclear how things will look with the new production.

6. Gone

Distillery Bottlings Bottlers Youngest
Millburn 48 15 2006
Kinclaith 10 5 2005
Glen Flagler 5 1 1997
Ben Wyvis 2 1 2000

 

You can never rule out that another cask of one of these 4 malts turn up, but this would be a major surprise.

Conclusion

There will probably be always a place for independent bottlers on the whisky market. In a certain sense they are the by-product of the unique structure of the Scotch whisky business with independent blenders having to source casks from distilleries.

I am aware that the classification as ‘endangered’ is subjective, you may agree with my assessment or not. And it does not necessarily mean that a distillery listed there will be lost for independent bottlings in the future. But the bulk of independent bottlings today is concentrated on rather few distilleries, and it is unlikely that this will change in the future. For bottlers without significant own stock it will be their talent in sourcing casks that will make or break their business.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Tim Read September 23, 2012 at 7:53 pm

Fascinating entry, Oliver, and one I’ve bookmarked… I think it may be interesting to plot releases by quantity in a year to see if any trend can be spotted in release frequency as stock nears exhaustion. Perhaps that may give a better picture of the health of closed distillery stocks. I’d bet there’s a flurry of releases shortly before supplies tighten significantly – basically selling off whisky in its prime and marking a handful of casks for inevitable extra-aged future releases sold at a premium.

You can probably also put Killyloch in your “gone” category – 2 bottlings, one OB and one independent; last one in ’03. I know the Millburn I came up with recently was after extensive searching and had basically been lingering on the shelf for half a decade. Glen Flagler came at a pretty penny, but nothing compared to the asking price of Killyloch.

Many of these will be gone entirely in the next five years aside from the secondary market at premium prices, I would imagine. (There will also doubtless be 35 & 40 y releases of Brora from Diageo, no doubt at heart-stopping prices, a la Glenury Royal).

Reply

Oliver Klimek September 24, 2012 at 12:40 pm

Killyloch was made at Glen Flagler so it is included there. Only the primary distilleries are listed here not their secondary names like Linlithgow, Hazelburn etc.

Reply

Tim Read September 24, 2012 at 7:20 pm

Ahh – I hadn’t looked extremely deeply into Killyloch yet and had filed it in the same category of a Glencraig, Glenisla, etc. Thanks for the clarity as always. :)

Reply

Björn Scholz September 25, 2012 at 3:49 pm

Hi there!
If only the primary distilleries are listed then (maybe) you should scratch Mosstowie from the list. It all comes down to ones opinon on the definition on whats a distillery. In the case of Mosstowie it was made in two Lomond stills that were installed in the still house of Miltonduff between 1964 and 1981. My opinion (like any one would care…) is that a still doesn’t make distillery, it takes a building for that.

//basbear

Reply

Björn Scholz September 25, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Hi again!
Exactly the same could be sayed about Glencraig. The only difference is that the two Lomond stills where installed in the Glenburgie still house between 1958 and 1981. Both were owned by Hiram Walker at the time.

//basbear

Reply

Stacy September 29, 2012 at 1:24 am

As someone who sells Douglas Laing products I am curious, are you for or against the independent bottlers?

Reply

Oliver Klimek September 29, 2012 at 6:31 am

Why should I be against independent bottlers? The whisky of some distilleries is almost only availbale from them. I simply point out that it may get more and more difficult for them to soucce casks from a wide range of distilleries.

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