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