This wholly inadequate term refers to a very few companies which do much more than just bottle and sell their whisky. One or two of them are recently formed and go back to pre-hi tech methods of preparing their products; others are long-established companies which buy small and large quantities of whisky in cask, often at the earliest fillings stage, and age them the way they see fit in their own warehouses. Unremarkable as these functions may at first seem, their real value is that they make available, in bottle, whiskies in styles and at ages and vintages never offered by the distilleries themselves because they run counter to the main brands marketed by them or because they are too precious to lose from stocks of old whisky.
The range these companies offer is vast, both in depth and breadth. Prices seem high when compared with High Street whiskies but consider what the accumulated costs of a 30-year-old will be, plus the fact that two-thirds of the original quantity will have evaporated over the period that the cask(s) have been warehoused. Moreover, small sizes - including miniatures - are becoming increasingly available so that for a small outlay anyone can now taste, say, 1955 Talisker or even - for a bit more - 1936 Mortlach.
The following specialist companies export all over the world.
Gordon & Macphail
(The) Keepers of the Quaich
Master of Malt
Praban Na Linne
(The) Scotch Malt Whisky Society
(The) Vintage Malt Whisky Co.
Gordon & Macphail may well have the world's largest selection of malt whiskies behind the doors of their deceptively compact shop in Elgin. 'Through the back,' as they say in Scotland, opens out a vast storage, receiving and despatch area where, you suddenly realise, both casks and cases of bottled whisky are on the move. The darkened warehouses look and smell just like those at the distilleries except that no distillery has anything like the range of names that pass before you as you walk the rows of barrels. The company's beginnings in 1895 were a part of the great whisky boom at that time and today just about anything that can be done with whisky is done by them. The Connoisseurs' Choice range features both well-known and rare distilleries - including many now defunct - at non-mainstream ages and vintages; they also produce a number of other ranges under their own name which are a world away in quality from the customary High Street 'own brands. From time to time they also experiment using different sorts of casks, e.g. port and brandy casks, to mature their whisky - very unusual and, by all accounts, very interesting.
|Gordon & Macphail|
Boroughbriggs Road, Elgin IV30 1JY, Scotland.
Hart Brothers is an independent family owned company. The two brothers, Alistair and Donald, have a lifetime's experience in the Scotch Whisky industry.
The Hart Brothers have used their expert knowledge to produce a wide range of products.
Connoisseurs world wide are delighted by their Finest Collection. This is a specially selected range of rare old single malts. The bottlings are small and therefore the stock available is limited.
The Keepers of the Quaich is an exclusive, non-profit making and international Society founded by the leading Scotch whisky distillers to honour those around the world who recognise the nobility of Scotch whisky by working, writing or speaking on its behalf.
The organisation includes as members leading representatives of the Scotch whisky industry and those who have contributed to the succesful marketing of Scotch whisky in fifty-eight countries across the world, together with noted Scotch whisky connoisseurs and characters. All have one fundamental link in common - a love of Scotland and Scotch whisky.
The Quaich, the symbol of the society, derives from the Gaelic 'cuach', a drinking bowl.
|Keepers of the Quaich|
Burke Lodge, 20 London End, Beaconsfield, Bucks. HP9 2JH.
Master of Malt one of Britain's leading mail order suppliers of Single Malt Whiskies, operates The Malt Whisky Association, a subscription society, founded to promote the appreciation of malt whisky. Master of Malt's Specialist Malt Whisky shop and mail-order service is based in Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent and both members and non-members are most welcome.
|Master of Malt, The Corn Exchange, The Pantiles, Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent, TN2 5TE.|
Tel: 01892 513295
Fax: 01892 750487
The Malt Whisky Association, The Membership Secretary, Largs, Ayrshire, Scotland KA30 8BR. Tel: 01475-676376.
Murray McDavid draws on a total of nine generations of expertise in the Single Malt Scotch business. Owned and run by Gordon Wright, Mark Merrier and Simon Coughlin, all of whose ancestors have been involved in the venerable trade, their aim is to carry on this tradition.
Murray McDavid are Independent Bottlers with a difference. The tradition of independent bottling goes back 150 years and was, until fairly recently, the only source for many of Scotland's finest malts. The practice of distilleries bottling their own malts started in the 60s, but only became a major event in the last few years. Independent bottlers offer the consumer many things. They offer the opportunity to taste some of the more esoteric malts not bottled by their owners. They offer the chance to try well known and widely available brands at a different age, a different strength, possibly even a different type of barrel than the distillery bottled product.
Many independent bottling companies bottle a huge variety of malts just because they exist and are available for bottling. Murray McDavid has a different policy. The selection of casks is of prime importance and great care is taken to find the finest available. Murray McDavid only selects for bottling those casks that they feel represent the best the distillery can produce.
All the Single Malt Scotches are bottled without chill filtering, which removes many of the oils that carry the flavour and complexity of the malt. They are not coloured with caramel like many other bottlings which gives the drinker the chance to sample the Scotch in its most natural form. The bottling strength is 46% Alco/Vol (92 proof) which is an ideal drinking strength, no complicated mathematical calculations to work out how much water to add!
The generic style. of packaging allows the colour of the whisky to be clearly seen while emphasising the Murray McDavid identity. The range of bottlings represents different regions of production. The range will change as time progresses but the quality will always remain superlative.
Since launching this range in the Autumn of 1996 Murray McDavid have gained the reputation of being the, highest in consistency in quality, range and supply.
56 Walton Street, Knightsbridge, London SW31RB.
Tel: 171 823 7717.
Fax: 171 581 0250
Praban Na Linne conducts its business, labels its bottles and prints its letterheads in Gaelic. It prepares 'fior uisge beatha nan Gaidheal' - whisky fit for Highlanders which features old-fashioned flavours by being unchilled and unaltered. The business is run at Isleornsay on Skye and you pass their door if you are driving south to Armadale Castle. Their brands are Te Bheag, blended for the Hebrides, and three versions of Poit Dubh, a 12-year-old vatted malt named after the famed sooty 'black pots' in which illicit whisky used to be made, a 12-year-old 46% unchilfiltered version and a 21-year-old at 43%. They also produce a lighter blend called Macnamara.
When Te Bheag was exported to Nova Scotia, where Canadian law requires that all products be labelled bilingually (normally English and French), the Liquor Commission accepted its Gaelic and French combination as appropriate to the product. Praban Na Linne is not a large operation and there is little advertising, word-of-mouth recommendation alone bringing in 50 per cent annual growth over the past three years.
|Praban na Linne|
Eilean Iarmain, An t-Eilean Sgitheanach (Skye) IV43 8QR, Scotland.
Signatory is an Edinburgh firm which bottles and markets a range of whiskies in small and large quantities, in cask and bottle, to trade.
7-8 Eliza Field, Newhaven Rd, Edinburgh EH6 5PY
Tel: 0131-555 4988.
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society bottles cask-strength single malts for selling to their 14,000-strong membership around the world. It is based at an old wine warehouse in Leith, the old port of Edinburgh, where there are comfortable club premises for the members and their guests to use. The germ of the idea to form the society was sown in 1983 when a syndicate of friends contributed money totalling £2,500 and set off driving to Glenfarclas distillery to buy a small cask of mature malt whisky which they shared. Now regular bottlings are announced using the society's number system - they are not allowed to use distillery names for copyright reasons. Only single casks are bottled with no averaging out. The society bottles from every distillery in Scotland and offers whiskies that have never been available in single-malt form before. Tastings are held around the UK for members and their guests on a regular basis, private tastings are also catered for.
|The Scotch Malt Whisky Society|
The Vaults, 87 Giles Street, Leith, Edinburgh EH6 6BZ, Scotland.
Tel: 0131-554 3451.
The Vintage Malt Whisky Co. was established in 1992 and its five brands, Finlaggan Single Islay Malt, Tantallan Single Highland Malt, Glenandrew Single Highland Malt and Glenalmond and Tambowie vatted malts, are now exported worldwide, with appointed distributors in 12 principal markets. Their range of single cask bottlings is produced under The Coopers Choice label and extends to over 20 different malts.
|Vintage Malt Whisky Co.|
192 Drymen Road, Bearsden, Glasgow G61 3RW.
Tel/Fax: 0141-942 9581.
William Cadenhead was founded in 1842 and specialised not only in malt whisky but in old oak-matured Demerara rum. They must have large telephone bills since the registered office is in Aberdeen, the warehousing in Campbeltown and the main shop in Edinburgh, with a branch in London's Covent Garden. Cadenhead make a point of bottling single casks, preferring to let each display its individuality instead of 'averaging out' over several. It means that no two bottlings, even of identical distillations, are the same. Cadenhead bottle a range of ages from Scotland's malt distilleries past and present not normally available at source and they avoid any filtering or treatments that might remove or alter the whiskies' flavours.
32 Union Street, Campbeltown, Argyll PA28 6HY, Scotland.