duncan taylor

What is an independent whisky bottler?

The Fascinating Role of Independent Bottlers in Whisky

Understanding Independent Bottling in Whisky

Have you ever wondered why it’s possible to find two bottles of what is ostensibly the same whisky (same distillery, same age, apparently the same liquid inside), but with different labels? This is a sign that one of those whiskies has been released not by the distillery, but by an independent bottler.

The Long History of Independent Bottling

Independent bottling has a fairly long history. The oldest in Scotland, Cadenhead, began operating in 1842, though much of the popularising of single malt whiskies has been done by independent bottlers set up far more recently.

The Unique Value of Independent Bottlers

Independent bottlers make the whisky world a lot more diverse and interesting. Their basic function is to select particular barrels of whisky from a given distillery and release it under their own label. This opens up a cornucopia of interesting single malts which might otherwise never see the light of day.

This is particularly the case with the 80 or so Scottish distilleries whose output is devoted to commercial blends and where so-called ‘official bottlings’ of single malt are never made. When the independent bottler comes along, it can select barrels it feels are, for one reason or another, exceptional and in doing so give the whisky lover the opportunity build an ever richer picture of the world of single malt whisky.

Independent bottlers offer a niche through which enthusiasts can go deeper into the world of single malt whisky. They are not just a curious add-on to distilleries: they play a crucial role in the whisky world, helping to sustain distilleries, both innovating and inspiring innovation, while also answering the ever-increasingly demand for new whiskies with an impossibly diverse output.

Here are seven of the best:

Douglas Laing

Founded by Fred Douglas Laing in 1948 and based in Glasgow, Douglas Laing offers a broad range of single malt and blended malt whiskies. The company is well-known for its Remarkable Regional Malts series, which includes popular references like Big Peat from Islay, Timorous Beastie from the Highlands and Scallywag from Speyside. Douglas Laing also releases very reputable single-cask bottlings from well-known distilleries under names like the Old Particular and Xtra Old Particular.


Renowned for the discernment and high quality of its single malt bottlings, Signatory is a hugely respected independent bottler famous for its ‘single, single, single malt’ approach – that is, single distillery, single distillation, single cask; in other words, the best distilleries in Scotland, the best single batches and only the finest casks within those batches. As far as standards of selection of whiskies are concerned, this is about as exclusive it get

Whisky Sponge

Launched in 2013 by Angus MacRaild of Decadent Drinks, Whisky Sponge started life as an irreverent, satirical whisky blog and developed into a highly creative independent bottling company which began releasing critically acclaimed single malt whiskies, typically featuring witty and inventive labels, in 2019. Expect a wide diversity of styles and maturity levels.

Duncan Taylor

Based in Huntly in Aberdeenshire, Duncan Taylor started life in 1938 as a cask broker and whisky trader. Over the proceeding decades the company built up an extraordinary collection of casks filled with single malt whiskies from many of Scotland’s most renowned distilleries, a good number of which no longer exist. In 2001 the company was acquired by Euan Shand and became one of the whisky industry’s leading independent bottlers. Duncan Taylor’s impressive portfolio includes Black Bull (classic grain and malt blended whiskies), The Octave (single malts matured in small ‘Octave’ casks) and The Rarest (exceptionally rare releases of very mature, cask-strength single malts for the connoisseur).

Scottish Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) 

The Scottish Malt Whisky Society is one of h the best-loved institutions in the whisky world. Established in 1983 as a members’ club and independent bottler, SMWS has played been hugely influential in popularising single malt whiskies, both in the UK and abroad. Key features of its whisky releases are bottling at cask strength and the idea of single-cask whiskies, along with the user-friendly colour-coded labelling system by which the different bottlings are denoted.


Founded in 1993 by Jamie Walker, Adelphi has earned a reputation for producing whiskies of consistently high quality, ageing its whiskies for longer than most in order to attain that high quality. Some of them have been known to outperform official bottlings. Adelphi’s stock in trade is rare, single-cask and limited-edition single malt whiskies which are among the most sought-after in the whisky world. Each bottle of Adelphi whisky comes with detailed information about the cask and distillery of origin. In 2014 Adelphi launched its own distillery, Ardnamurchan, on the Ardnamurchan peninsula of Lochaber in the Highlands.

Gordon & MacPhail

Based in Elgin and owned by the Urquhart family for four generations, Gordon & MacPhail was one of the first independent bottlers to bottle Scotch whisky in single malt form. The company boasts one of the most enviable collections of mature whisky in the world. Gordon & MacPhail is also an example of an independent bottler that owns a distillery – Benromach in this case. Most representative of the company is the Distillery Labels range, through which it takes advantage of its longstanding relationships with leading distilleries to release single malts from them with a ‘house’ label, unique to each distillery. Look out also for the Private Collection, Connoisseurs Choice and Rare Vintages ranges.

Benrinnes 11 Year Old Adelphi (Exclusive to Hedonism Wines)
HED46670 / 70cl / 54.7%
£58.25 ex VAT
Benrinnes 11 Year Old Adelphi Hedonism Exclusive is a limited-edition cask-strength single malt Scotch whisky from the Benrinnes Distillery in Speyside, bottled by Adelphi. This mature single malt was distilled in 2012 and finished in a single ex-Sherry hogshead before being bottled in 2022 at a cask strength of 54.7% Benrinnes changed from partial triple to double distillation in 2007, so this is technically a newer style of spirit from this Speyside institution.
Port Ellen 39 Year Old Xtra Old Particular Douglas Laing
HED21023 / 70cl / 53.7%
£3,083.33 ex VAT
This is a rare and highly sought-after single malt from the iconic Port Ellen distillery on the Isle of Islay. Distilled in 1982 and matured for nearly four decades, this expression was released in 2021 by independent bottler Douglas Laing & Co. as part of their Xtra Old Particular range. The nose evokes notes of peat, iodine and sea salt, followed by dried fruit and dark chocolate. The palate is full-bodied and complex, combining roasted nuts, black pepper and oak, tempered by a subtle sweetness.
Speyside 18 Year Old (M) Cask Strength Collection Signatory
HED21064 / 70cl / 57.6%
£176.67 ex VAT
A magnificent Speyside whisky, fully matured in sherry casks and presented by Signatory Vintage, hails from a Secret Speyside distillery renowned for its nearly two centuries of crafting exceptional single malt Scotch whisky. Distilled in July 2005, this expression patiently matured for 18 years in a first-fill Oloroso sherry butt, before bottling in August 2023. Only 683 bottles were produced.
Bowmore 18 Year Old Whisky Sponge Edition No. 74
HED21502 / 70cl / 55.3%
£291.67 ex VAT
Bowmore 18 Year Old Whisky Sponge Edition No 74 is a special-edition, age-satement single malt whisky produced at the Bowmore Distillery on the isle of Islay. This single-cask malt was distilled in 2003 and matured in a single refil Sherry cask for 18 years, then in a separate cask for a further two years before being bottled by independent bottler Whisky Sponge at a cask strength of 55.3%. A fruity, gently peated Islay single malt with notes of dried tropical fruit, eucalyptus and peat smoke.
Dalmore 17 Year Old The Octave Duncan Taylor
HED00001 / 70cl / 50.8%
£458.33 ex VAT
Hailing from the Dalmore distillery, this single malt Scotch underwent a 16-year maturation period spanning from 2006 to 2022, which included a finishing stage in a compact octave cask. Part of The Octave collection by independent bottler Duncan Taylor, it is presented in a limited release of only 82 bottles.
Bowmore SMWS L3.27
HED21542 / 70cl / 52.2%
£1,250.00 ex VAT
Bowmore SMWS L3.27 is an age-statement single malt whisky produced at the Bowmore Distillery on the isle of Islay. This rare and highly collectible Bowmore single malt was disilled on Islay in 1976 and after spending 27 years maturing in cask was bottled for the Scottish Malt Whisky Society at a natural cask strength of 52.2%.
Glen Grant Gordon & MacPhail (Bottled 2013)
HED73133 / 70cl / 40%
£2,295.83 ex VAT
An exquisite 2013 G&M bottling from the 1951 vintage. Matured in ex-sherry butts and bearing the traditional old Glen Grant distillery label, this is a Highlander with richness and maturity.