With the release of the new Port Askaig Single Malt Whisky range by the Whisky Exchange I became curious about Independent Bottlings, something I knew little about until recently. And let's face it, Port Askaig Single Malt sounds wonderful although there is no, and never was, a (legal) distillery at Port Askaig. Also the bottles and packaging look fabulous, hence my curiosity. The Port Askaig range consists of three expressions, one Cask Strength bottling, a 17 year old one and the 25 Year Old. Intrigued as I was I contacted Tim Forbes from the Whisky Exchange and he was kind enough to share some of his knowledge with us about Independent Bottlings in relation with Islay. I hope you find this just as interesting as I did.
Tim forbes: Independent bottlings are a vital part of the malt whisky industry. They let malt aficionados taste expressions of their favourite whiskies that would never be released by the distilleries themselves. IBs can help reveal previously hidden facets of a distilleryâ€™s profile and, in that sense, they can even end up enhancing your enjoyment of your 'regular' OB.
Islay is a special case when it comes to independent bottling, but it does conform to some more general rules of thumb about IBs. Independent bottlings of big-name distilleries are frequently disappointing, as bottlers know that anything bearing the name Ardbeg or Port Ellen will sell no matter what the quality. Fortunately the reverse applies as well: IBs of less-lauded distilleries are often outstanding â€“ and great value.
Having said all that, when you find a well-priced IB from a top distillery the results can be spectacular. The first independent bottling I ever owned was a Connoisseur's Choice Ardbeg 1974 (23 yo) that was given to me as a leaving gift from a job. That was ten years ago and I still remember it as one of the best whiskies I've ever had. Continue reading.....There is little room for manoeuvre for independent bottlers when it comes to Islay. Some malts are almost impossible to source - Lagavulin is probably the hardest because they need all the stock they have to keep up with demand for the 16 yo. Port Ellen is like hen's teeth because so much of the stock was sold off in the years after the closure and most of that has already been bottled. Even if you can find one available, cask prices for Port Ellen now are unbelievable, even when compared with only a couple of years ago.
Itâ€™s also very important not to upset the distillers themselves. Weâ€™re very careful about what we bottle, whether itâ€™s for our Single Malts of Scotland range, Elements of Islay or Port Askaig. We have to ensure that what we bottle can stand up in quality to the official bottlings. It may vary in character from the OBs, but it should be of at least equivalent quality. If the qualityâ€™s not good enough, we wonâ€™t bottle it - simple as that.
The big companies have spent years and vast sums of money to create their brand equity, and they will go to great lengths to protect their productâ€™s reputation. In the past, some companies have been quite hostile to independent bottlers, like when Allied threatened to sue Murray McDavid if they used the Laphroaig name on their bottlings. This led to the famous 'Leapfrog' bottling which is quite collectable now.
With Port Askaig, what we wanted to do was to get away from the preconceptions that people hold about Islay's distilleries and produce a single Islay malt that could be evaluated on its own merits, without prejudice. Everyone has their own opinion about all the distilleries on Islay and when tasting a new release from any of Islay's distilleries they can't help but be influenced by their previous impressions.
With Port Askaig, it's like forcing people to taste blind. If people aren't sure what it is, they can't pre-judge it - so it has to be tasted and rated on its own merits. By starting from scratch with a totally new brand, we gave our whisky the chance to be judged on what is most important - the contents of the bottle. We've been absolutely delighted so far with people's reactions, which have been overwhelmingly positive.
I'm coming up to Islay for the festival next week, and I'll probably have some Port Askaig with me if anyone wants to try it and make their minds up for themselves. But I won't be revealing the name of the distillery that made it - it's irrelevant to what weâ€™re trying to achieve with Port Askaig, which is to produce a whisky that has a real balance of the flavours that represent Islay whisky, as well as enough complexity to please the connoisseurs. People can taste it and decide for themselves if we've managed to achieve that.
If you are interested in a special Islay whisky you can buy all three expressions online at the Whisky Exchange. Prices start at Â£37.99 for the cask strength, Â£49.99 for the 17 year old and Â£74.99 for the 25 year old.