This really was unexpected; a Silver Medal with our first single cask release as Independent Bottlers in the Independent Bottlers Challenge 2018 for our Invergordon 11 Year Old Single Cask Single Grain Scotch Whisky.
Genuinely this is a humbling moment, and an amazing result to back up all the hard work that has gone on behind the creation of our Independent Bottling programme, the sourcing of casks and the HRMC licenses and interviews that has all been happening in the background this year in order for us to launch our own independent whisky brand.
It feels like the right time to explain to you what we are up to, what we have been up to and what it takes to become an independent bottler of whisky – which is probably why not that many of us exist!
I’ve harboured the idea of having our own whisky for a while, but had not spent much time working it out, especially the logistics until we collaborated with Douglas Laing in 2017 to release our special edition Single Cask Single Malt Ardmore release to celebrate the launch of my book, The GreatDrams of Scotland.
It was supposed to be a one off, it really was.
But the bottle was so well received, tasted amazing, and we enjoyed the process of choosing the cask so much that my wife Kirsty and I decided to see about doing more independently bottled whisky releases, which meant acquiring casks and creating a brand.
Now, I had been buying casks as a personal investment for a while so there was stock readily available if we wanted it, but we needed the appropriate licenses to make that happen and make it all work commercially.
Getting HMRC approval to hold dusty suspended whisky for commercial bottling and sale was probably the biggest element we had to plan for as it took a while to get the license, involved writing an unbelievably detailed business plan with five-year forecasts and an incredibly in depth interview of both of us to go through the commercials, the funding, the plans for the business, the contingencies and the risk to us and the Treasury if things went wrong or if duty was not paid. Thankfully the person who was dealing with our application was really good at staying in touch, answering my questions and being supportive of the business plan.
And what should the label and bottle look like?
Next came the packaging design, which has been getting lots of attention from buyers we have met as well as online in response to our social media posts. To achieve what will be our design aesthetic for many years to come, we worked with world renowned packaging design agency Stranger & Stranger, who happened to have won the World Whiskies Awards World’s Best Design Agency several times, amongst other awards.
After presenting them with a really ropey attempt at what I wanted the label to look like, one of their awesome designers Mark took it and ran with it, essentially taking my want for lots of detail to be presented in an elegant way and, frankly smashed it out the park – I could not be happier with how the creative came out and how our brand will look going forward.
Choosing ABVs and bottling our first products
During the cask selection process, Kirsty and I tried many samples from different casks until we fell in love with the products we were to bottle and release – we both believe in only releasing whiskies we genuinely love and want to drink ourselves. Then came the ABV choice; we sampled shortlisted whiskies at different ABVs until we were comfortable with 46.2% ABV for both depth of flavour and mouthfeel.
We are striving to select the most interesting casks we can find, from all sorts of different distilleries with all manner of distillery styles from grain to malt whiskies, from buttery to peaty, from young to old.
Another thing we are looking to do is to bottle them at a price point that is accessible to most whisky drinkers, bearing in mind these are single cask, limited editions which naturally makes them a premium product in their own right.
Our first bottling, a beautifully creamy and buttery Invergordon 11 Year Old Single Cask Single Grain Scotch Whisky, limited to just 160 bottles, that I describe to everyone as like drinking boozy butter, has done incredibly well; beating sales forecasts, gaining plaudits from the trade and consumers alike and now winning Silver in the Independent Bottlers Challenge 2018. And we genuinely cannot believe it! Could not be more chuffed with how it has panned out.
Our second bottling, a Craigellachie 11 Year Old Single Cask Single Malt Scotch Whisky, limited to just 220 bottles, was bottled just a couple of days too late to enter the Independent Bottlers Challenge 2018, and was distilled at the Craigellachie distillery up in gorgeous Speyside & filled into ex-Bourbon cask #900668/07A in 2007 before being finished in an ex-Oloroso Sherry Cask for six months to amplify the fruity, spicy flavour notes for this release.
Thank you all for your incredible support, this is only the beginning!
The first two releases are selling really well – which is also a lovely endorsement of how things are going and of our cask and ABV selection within the bottling process – and there are lots of plans for future releases and a number of casks already maturing up in Scotland so look out for our next limited edition single casks that will be released regularly from early-2019.