Bot­tled Ex­cite­ment

Your whisky ex­pert steps into the lit­tle-known, un­pre­dictable yet cre­ative world of in­de­pen­dent bot­tling

The Scots Magazine - - Slàinte Mhath - By EUAN DUGUID

WHILE dis­tillers may make all the na­tion’s whisky, they’re not re­spon­si­ble for ev­ery bot­tle on the shelf. A world away from the cor­po­rate fan­fare of the big boys, there is a growing number of small com­pa­nies who qui­etly, and ex­pertly, se­lect casks and bot­tle whiskies. Wel­come to the world of the in­de­pen­dent bot­tler.

From casks that the dis­til­leries can’t re­lease into the main­stream to those that they won’t, the indies are well-con­nected, they know their onions and, most im­por­tantly, they of­fer an al­ter­na­tive take on whisky.

I was for­tu­nate enough to bump into Iain Croucher, boss of North Star Spir­its Ltd, who pro­vided a pas­sion­ate in­sight into this hid­den but vi­brant in­dus­try.

“In­de­pen­dent whisky bot­tling is be­yond ex­cit­ing,” ex­claimed Iain. “It mostly flies be­neath the radar of main­stream con­sumers, how­ever.

“Main­stream brands are mostly about con­sis­tency. Nose, taste, ABV and some­times colour have to be the same. North Star fo­cuses its en­er­gies on the cu­riosi­ties, pe­cu­liar odd­i­ties and ob­scu­ri­ties – whisky as it comes, straight from the cask and into a bot­tle.”

The take-life-as-you-find-it sen­ti­ment ex­tends be­yond uisge beatha for this wee Glas­gow-based com­pany. “I work at least nine to five ev­ery day… from a shed at the bot­tom of our gar­den,” re­veals Iain, a for­mer sales and brand am­bas­sador who set up North Star in 2016.

“When my guests from ex­port mar­kets visit Scot­land, they squeeze into the shed, look through some dodgy ’90s vinyl and dram away un­til their heart’s con­tent with some of my mum’s fa­mous tablet.

“When I had my first visit from HMRC it was a good ice-breaker, pulling up the deck chairs and us­ing plant pots as a cof­fee ta­ble!”

Iain’s busi­ness model has a whiff of nae-non­sense about it too.

“I try to bot­tle be­tween six to nine North Star casks ev­ery quar­ter. Once I have cho­sen what casks to bot­tle, I will draw sam­ples and send one of each to my 12 ex­port mar­kets. The im­porter of each coun­try then tastes and de­cides how many cases to or­der from each cask.

“Then I set about al­lo­cat­ing – ide­ally you have a cou­ple more or­ders than you do whisky.”

Those com­mer­cial in­stincts are un­der­pinned by a pas­sion – and nose – for good whisky.

“I’m look­ing for whiskies that act as a time ma­chine,

Iain Croucher has a real pas­sion…

…for the in­dus­try and his prod­ucts

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