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"It's A Vicious Cycle" Scotch Indie Bottlers Panel Recap [Sydney Whisky Forum 2020]

"It's A Vicious Cycle" Scotch Indie Bottlers Panel Recap [Sydney Whisky Forum 2020]

25th Aug 2020
- Scott Fitzsimons -

The opening night started with four international guests from some of Scotland’s best independent bottlers: North Star, Rest & Be Thankful , That Boutique-y Whisky Co and Infrequent Flyers. A wide-raging conversation about the art of indie bottling and the challenges facing their business.

We’ve picked out some talking points from the panel, plus you can jump on the alert list for new releases arriving in the next few months. Details at the bottom.

Eamonn Jones (RBT) on 2020's impact: “[They’re] gonna be discounting and they’re gonna be pushing stock out there”

7 minutes: “Everything has been flown into flux. In terms of engagement with consumers, we’re at unprecedented high levels because people have got time like they’ve never had before. The engagement is there, people are spending a lot less going out to restaurants and bars so people are prepared to pay a bit more… going forward is going to be interesting. If you look at Diageo, their share price is down, their earnings are half, these boys are going to be discounting and pushing stock out there – probably at levels that we’ve not seen for a while. The implications going forward are all to be seen, but it’s all pretty unprecedented. The other thing is, accessing stock is pretty hard at the best of times, what value will the big boys put on the stock now? Will any stock be released into the market? It’s all crazy days.”

Ciara Hepburn (North Star) on house styles and choosing casks: “Most of his ideas are wacky”

24 minutes: “If you know Ian [Croucher, founder] you’ll know most of his ideas a wacky, but most of his ideas work out for us so it’s good… we’re trying to reach each consumer and probably our pricing structure reflects that as well so within each [batch] there is something for every tastebud and something for every budget. With the way with we decide what we’re going to bottle we do both taste everything and even if I turned ‘round and said ‘That’s going to be an absolute disaster don’t do it, I’m not sure that Ian would pull the whole thing’.

Eamonn Jones (RBT) on discovery: “That has to be the opportunity for us”

35 minutes: “A big thing of nominator for change in the industry will be education… there’s a younger consumer base coming through that can see through a distillery name or can see beyond the brand and want to be the discovery themselves. That has to be the opportunity for us, and Boutique-y are absolute masters at this because they’re always offering them something different, always trying to be ahead of that curve. The big boys are almost like your dad in the industry, a brand might be hot [but] if you see your dad start wearing it you move on.”

Dave Worthington (TBWC) on the relationship with distilleries: “The Scotch whisky industry was built upon independent bottlers”

38 minutes: “We’re a great brand ambassador for different distilleries, although they’ve done all the marketing for us, we’re a great ambassador for distilleries. The Scotch whisky industry was built upon independent bottlers, it was independent bottlers and blenders that brought the distillery to the market. In lean times, independent bottlers take the stock. I don’t think we’re looked at as the parasites of the industry, there certainly was a time when Scotch was on its knees at the end of the ‘90s, the ‘80s, Scotch was pretty cheap. Distilleries were still closing and Scotch was pretty worthless, there were a number of independent bottlers that didn’t do the industry any favours, which is why people like Diageo shut the doors, tea spooning came into effect… I think today the people behind independent bottlers are passionate about whisky, that’s why we’re here.”

Alistair Walker (Infrequent Flyers) on building lesser-known distilleries: “It’s a bit of a vicious cycle”

43 minutes: “Where you do see something similar to that happen in distillery [new] makes. Mortlach and Clynelish are good examples whereby ten years ago they were quite readily available and their parent company didn’t really do much with them as an official bottling, but through the work of independents people have been saying, ‘Mortlach’s a great whisky, let’s go try a Mortlach from Douglas Laing or wherever,’ so over a period a time this cult following was growing for these makes. It’s a bit of a vicious cycle because two or three years ago Diageo say, ‘Wait a minute, we’re gonna do our own official Mortlach range and sorry guys we’re not gonna sell our casks to you anymore.’ It becomes this self-fulfilling prophecy, independents can really build a make up, but then they don’t get access to it.”

Dave Worthington (TBWC) on what to look out for in the near future:

45 minutes: “I’m looking forward to a lot of the new English distilleries, they’re making some great new make spirit. Superb new make spirit, the English Whisky Company will be 14 years old this year. The new Irish distilleries coming through, they’re doing some really interesting stuff down at Blackwater, they’ve been doing some green malt which is pretty damn cool stuff. And a lot of these new Scottish distilleries… they’re trying to do something slightly different.”

UPCOMING WHISKIES

That Boutique-y Whisky Company

Available all year round, search Boutique-y here .

North Star

Released in batches, Batch 10 expected to arrive late September/early October.

Batch 10 whiskies:

Blair Athol 9-Year-Old
Bowmore 18-Year-Old
English Whisky Co 11-Year-Old
Glenlivet 38-Year-Old
Imperial 30-Year-Old
Longmorn 15-Year-Old
Orkney 13-Year-Old
Chaos (Islay) 10-Year-Old
Spica 40-Year-Old

Email scott@oakbarrel.com.au to be notified when these arrive. Please note allocations will be limited and we may not be able to secure everything, these are expressions of interest only.

Infrequent Flyers

Released in batches, Batch 3 expected to arrive late-October.

Batch 3 whiskies:

Bowmore 22-Year-Old
Dumbarton 22-Year-Old
Allt-A-Bhainne 14-Year-Old
Gley Spey 13-Year-Old
Miltonduff 10-Year-Old

Email scott@oakbarrel.com.au to be notified when these arrive. Please note allocations will be limited and we may not be able to secure everything, these are expressions of interest only.

Rest & Be Thankful

Released in batches, new bottles expected before the end of 2020.

Releases to be announced.