Often on that other website I used to write for the Independent bottler was eschewed as the place to look for whisky that was uncomplicated and would let you see the character of a distillery before those dreaded blenders got their hands on things and started adding weird and wonderful cask finishes.
The thing is that many indie bottlers are now going down the finishing route too. And as with official bottlings, indies can be of varying quality too. Knackered casks and funky finishes are not the preserve of the brand names we know and sometimes love.
So here's a rather long list of indie bottlings that may or may not prove my point.
Carn Mor Ardmore 2011 9 year old
Distilled 2011, bottled 2020. Matured in a combination of PX & oloroso sherry casks with an outturn of 1272 bottles. Natural colour, non chill filtered and bottled at 47.5% abv. Cost £45.
Nose: Autumn bonfire peat smoke greats you first. A little iodine note and sawn wood. Strawberry, raisins and almonds. Treacle, bacon fat, clove and cinnamon.
Palate: Quite thin body wise. A sweet arrival of spun sugar, California raisin and caramel with some chilli heat and clove before wave upon wave of dense peat takes over proceedings.
Finish: Very, very short with only the peat smoke leaving a lasting impression.
Carn Mor Mortlach 2007 12 year old
Sourced for me by the lovely lad Stuart Allison aka Whisky Whims. Distilled 2007, bottled 2020. Matured in sherry hogsheads with an outturn of 708 bottles from two casks. Natural colour, non chill filtered and bottled at 47.5% abv. Cost £68.
Colour: Deep copper
Nose: Very fruit forward on the nose - peach, strawberry and rhubarb. Orange peel, raisins, sultanas, new leather and milky coffee. Light clove notes with a hint of rubber in the background and a meaty note too.
Palate: Good mouthfeel and body to this expression. Creamy with a sweet arrival - demerara sugar and butterscotch sauce, chocolate orange cremes, apricot and dried red berries. Mild spice builds with sour cherry menthol, clove and cappuccino.
Finish: Medium length with oak tannins present alongside sharp cranberry and stewed strawberries.
House of MacDuff Golden Casks Tormore 27 year old
Distilled 1988, bottled 2015. Matured in ex-bourbon casks with an outturn of 226 bottles. Natural colour, non chill filtered and bottled at 50% abv. Cost £135.
Nose: Alcohol and nail varnish remover. Dusty. Spirit driven barley & draff. Hay, ginger & cinnamon. Eventually apples come through and lemon scented cleansing wipes. Water brings more lemon balm with some thyme.
Palate: Very tart - acidic, granny smith apple peel. Raw ginger & alcohol. Too spirit driven even after 27 years. Grapefruit pith and some cardboard. Water actually seems to make it more bitter.
Finish: Mercifully short with raw alcohol heat lingering.
SMWS 44.112 Craigellachie 15 year old
Distilled June 2003. Matured in ex-bourbon casks for 13 years before another two years maturation in a heavily charred new oak hogshead with an outturn of 294 bottles. Natural colour, non chill filtered and bottled at 59.9% abv. Cost £95.
Colour: Dark amber
Nose: The new oak hogshead makes it's presence felt. Strong wood notes - cask char, fresh oak, beeswax, pepper and clove rock. Stewed spiced apples, balsamic, vanilla and caramel. Biscuity with a hint of glace cherry. Water highlights tropical fruit - pineapple, mango and more brown sugar.
Palate: A nice oily texture on arrival with a burst of spun sugar, toffee sauce and tarte tartin. Cask char appears mid palate with fresh black pepper. Towards the end pineapple cubes and a hint of cocoa. Water cranks up the sweetness - brown sugar, apple crumble and danish pastry.
Finish: Medium length with baked apples, cinnamon and a lingering peppery note.
SMWS 37.126 Cragganmore 17 year old
Distilled 2001. Matured for 16 years in ex-bourbon casks before a finish in 1st fill Red Wine Barriques with an outturn of 248 bottles. Natural colour, non chill filtered and bottled at 54.7% abv. Cost £115.
Colour: Pink blush
Nose: Strong note of polished wood on this. New leather & fresh tobacco. Dried moss too. Orange peel, menthol. Underneath the wood comes ground ginger with orchard fruit, red berries and a load of sweet malt. Water brings fresh pastries with raspberry conserve and fresh cream.
Palate: Very malty & creamy with bitter cocoa apparent too. Dark dried fruit - fig, raisins and a top layer of cranberry and raspberry. Cinnamon & ginger combine along with earthy tobacco notes and espresso. Water reduces the impact somewhat with only lemon rind and the red berry notes enhanced.
Finish: Long with chocolate, fresh oak and spun sugar.
Whisky Broker Speyside 1995 24 year old
Filled 04/12/1995, bottled 02/07/2020. Matured in ex-bourbon casks for 24 years with an outturn of 314 bottles. Natural colour, non chill filtered and bottled at 60.2% abv. Cost £58.
Nose: Quite floral - some vanilla & honey. A hint of pineapple cubes but definite notes of apples and pears. Water just deadens the alcohol a little but no aroma development.
Palate: A fleeting burst of white sugar sweetness before a crescendo of alcohol heat takes over and burns the tongue. If you really, really try you can just about find those pineapple cubes from the nose. Water brings little to proceedings bar extra woody bitterness.
Finish: Thankfully yes it did finish.
Whisky Broker Tormore 2008 12 year old
Filled 16/09/2008, bottled 28/10/2020. Matured in ex-bourbon casks for 12 years with an outturn of 224 bottles. Natural colour, non chill filtered and bottled at 52.1% abv. Cost £42.
Colour: Pale gold
Nose: Buttercream, icing sugar, wet hay. Some wood spice. Stewed apples and pears, honey, vanilla and cinnamon. Water brings some cask char and polish.
Palate: Quite fruity - apples, pears and a little pineapple. A prominent cereal note along with vanilla, caramel and cinnamon. Water highlights a rocket leaf level of pepper and some lemon zest.
Finish: Decent length with a touch of milk chocolate and grapefruit flesh.
Whisky Broker Glenrothes 1997 23 year old
Filled 08/10/1997, re-casked 27/09/2017, bottled 28/10/2020. Matured in a sherry butt for just under 19 years, re-casked into a fresh oloroso sherry butt for just over 3 years with an outturn of 393 bottles. Natural colour, non chill filtered and bottled at 54.8%.Cost £77.
Colour: dull bronze
Nose: Sweet sherry, cola cubes, menthol and fresh oak. Black tea & marzipan. Wood polish & leather. Now it gets fruity - black cherry, mixed peel, fig rolls and red wine gums. Allspice too. Water brings lots of fudge, praline and digestive biscuits.
Palate: Mouthfeel is nice an oily. A mild spice attack at first - ginger & clove. Not as sweet as the nose suggests. Espresso, bitter cocoa powder initially then fig, raisins and toasted hazelnuts. Light vanilla notes too. Underneath all this is some tinned pineapple and fresh peach. Water brings black licorice, more nuttiness and warming cinnamon.
Finish: Medium to long finish with warming spice and mocha notes to the fore.
Overall: Well much like buying official bottlings, there is an element of running the gauntlet with going indie....or as the wise man Forrest Gump said 'Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get'. And so it transpires with this collection of drams, it's a very mixed bag.
Starting with the Carn Mor's. The Ardmore was a real let down. A promising nose that just didn't translate in the palate. It was drinkable but offered no real interest. The Mortlach on the other hand was great stuff. A good balance between the nose and palate with plenty of depth. I should have tried to get another bottle in hindsight.
Next up is the House of MacDuff Tormore 27 year old. This proves the point that age does not maketh a dram. It was pretty obvious that this Tormore had resided in a knackered cask. Little or no flavour never mind the idea of flavour development. £135 very poorly spent. Thankfully the cost was shared by our bottle club but to a man we were massively disappointed.
Now onto the SMWS offerings. Both of these were pretty solid drams. Well enough constructed and very drinkable with the Cragganmore just edging in front as the more entertaining of the two. Would I buy them again if I had the chance....well no but I can't say I was disappointed in either.
Finally its the Whisky Broker Trio. The Speyside was a disaster.....there was no joy to be had in sampling this dram. Again thankfully this was another bottle split so the agony was shared. Knackered cask central. Even at 24 years old it was like drinking young, raw spirit.
The Tormore here was much more successful that the House of MacDuff offering. A simple, well constructed dram that was solid for the asking price. An easy sipper.
Last of the trio then was the Glenrothes which for the price was a great buy. A savoury dram rather than a sweet sherry bomb that the nose was suggesting but plenty of layers to consider and a dram that warranted time and attention. I wish I'd bought another couple of bottles of this!