WHY YOU SHOULD BUY SPIRITS FROM INDEPENDENT BOTTLERS
Industry veteran Sam Filmus, creator of the ImpEx Collection, tells us why.
Compiled by Chloe Gellar
Images courtesy of ImpEx Collection
We asked Sam Filmus, President of ImpEx Beverages, to share what he sees as the evolution of the independent bottler movement and why luxury consumers should start adding independent bottles to their whisky collection. Filmus has his Whisky Certification from the University of the Highlands and Islands Moray College and is a designated Keeper of the Quaich, an exclusive and international society of individuals recognized for their commitment to the Scotch whisky industry.
SL: Let's start with the basics - what is a single cask whisky?
Filmus: A single cask whisky is one in which all the bottles have matured together. So, they stay in the same cask or can be transferred into another for finishing. Some distilleries will use these to create vattings of multiple single casks or to become part of their official bottlings/distillery releases.
SL: What is a distillery release?
Filmus: This is (in most cases) a vatting of a large number of casks that distilleries are aiming to be part of their core offerings. Some examples could include Lagavulin 16 yr, Oban 14 yr, Laphroaig 10 yr, or Glenlivet 12 yr–among many others. Small batches can also apply to this, and there are single casks and limited release offerings that come out from time to time as well.
SL: What are Independent Bottlers?
Filmus: Independent bottlers (IBs) are companies that source casks from various distilleries or via brokers and bottle them (in most cases) as single casks and (in most cases) at a higher ABV under their own label. We are fortunate enough to feature quite a few IBs in our portfolio at ImpEx Beverages—the importation company I run with ImpEx Beverages Vice President, Chris Uhde—such as Single Cask Nation, Single Malts of Scotland, Port Askaig, Adelphi, and now The ImpEx Collection. Chris and I launched the Collection in July after taking three years to hand-select and bottle what we believe to be some of the best spirits in the world.
SL: How do they compare to Original Distillery Bottlings?
Filmus: Since both are produced at the same distilleries, in many cases, they would both carry the signature style and profile of these distilleries. I think the main difference is that while the distillery is working towards being consistent with their original bottlings, there is a bit more flexibility in terms of single cask offerings, such as their wood treatment and desired outcome. The opportunity to find some really unique and special offerings that could have been lost in a vat is really the desired outcome when it comes to single cask expressions as this is a chance to see the casks shine in their true and natural form.
SL: Why don't more consumers know about or purchase from IBs?
Filmus: 90% of what is produced these days in Scotland are blends. From the remaining 10%, you find the more well-known single malt contributors, and then from there, you find some major IBs who have been establishing their names for decades, if not centuries (like Cadenhead's and Gordon & MacPhail).
While people are used to seeing labels from these more well-known brands (OBs), when they see a recognizable name and the label looks different, people automatically suspect that the quality would not be the same. Therefore, more and more people are now gravitating towards what they can expect to find from these lesser-known bottlings coming from IBs and appreciate now that they are both coming from the same distilleries.
SL: I noticed you don't only have whiskies in your collection, can any spirit be independently bottled?
Filmus: Yes, any spirit can be independently bottled, provided the distillery is open to it. We have included World Whisky and Rum in our Edition One bottlings. We are anticipating a Japanese whisky release with Edition Two along with a mezcal.
SL: How has the IB industry changed over the years?
Filmus: I think people are much more receptive to trying independent bottlings now than they were in the past. People have started to see this as an art form and are more willing to try something Independently Bottled than they were in the past.
SL: Where do you see it going?
Filmus: I see the category growing rapidly. When I started representing IBs over 15 years ago, there were only a few of them then, and it was a very tough sale as people didn't understand the concept. Now, we've seen many IBs showing up on the shelf, and the category has grown for all.
SL: Why did you enter the IB business?
Filmus: While consumers have appreciated the distillery releases we are carrying, there is something special and collectible about single cask expressions that are one-time releases.
SL: What gets you excited about this side of the industry?
Filmus: Maybe it's a little ambitious, but I would like to think that these single cask offerings bring a greater appreciation for the distilleries we bottle from, giving a new segment of customers the chance to enjoy these expressions in their truest form. A great example of this is Caol Ila; it is one of the largest portions of what goes into Johnny Walker and gives it the peatiness and smokiness that you find there. When people draw a comparison between the two, they find they grow a fondness for the mainstream release because of what they find unique about the Single Cask.
SL: Can you give our readers some tips for picking IBs?
Filmus: I think that the beauty of IBs is that you can explore individual components of something that may be more familiar. IBs give you the ability to explore the juice in a higher ABV and the truest form. I think you get a chance to really appreciate what you love about a specific expression. When you go with an IB, you can narrow down what is appealing to you as an individual. We try to give as much information as possible on our labels - distillation date, bottling date, number of bottles, cask type, etc. so that the consumer can decide what is most appealing to their senses and palate.