Behind the scenes of an independent whisky bottler with Boutique-y Whisky
We covered what it means to be an independent whisky bottler here on P&S Digest, but now we’re delving into the behind the scenes of a very exciting indie bottler, That Boutique-y Whisky Company! We chatted with head of whisky Sam Simmons about how whiskies and casks are chosen, and what the benefits are of being a bottler, rather than a distillery.
This month we’ve been enjoying a single malt from a rather niche distillery that we wouldn’t blame you if you hadn’t heard of, Teerenpeli. It’s based in Lahti, Finland, and although it’s the country’s largest whisky-producing distillery, it’s hardly a household name.
For many drinkers (and many distilleries for that matter), it’s through independent bottlers that discoveries are made. This month’s Teerenpeli 5 Year Old wasn’t bottled by the Finnish distillery, but by That Boutique-y Whisky Company (TBWC). But I wanted to know what an independent whisky bottler’s process is like. Seeing as TBWC is celebrating its tenth year in 2022, who better to ask about the inner workings of independent bottlers?
“That Boutique-y Whisky Company was never only about Scotch,” head of whisky Sam Simmons tells me. It’s always been about spotlighting whiskies, whether that be single malt, single cask, or beyond, from around the world. “We’re trying to chase the whisky that you want to share – that particular Teerenpeli cask was just stunning.”
It’s also about trying to challenge drinkers’ perceptions of whisky. “I had just tasted these 18-year-old to 30-year-old classic Scotch whiskies, and these three- to five-year-old Australian whiskies – some of them were better,” Simmons recalls. “At Boutique-y, we have a format where we can celebrate that. we don’t care where the whisky is from, we just care that it’s interesting. The clue is in the name – it’s pretty esoteric.”
But it’s also interesting to know what the actual process is behind finding these whiskies. Is it the bottler that selects the casks, or does the distillery present a few chosen ones to the bottler? Simmons tells me that the main contact is TBWC cask buyer Felix Dear, who spends his time building and maintaining relationships with distilleries around the world (which is no mean feat during Covid times, he adds). Then, in the case of Teerenpeli, the distillery sent him six samples and he chose his favourite. “We’re always fishing around for fun and interesting whiskies, and then we find a way to fit them into a theme.” In this case, the Wine Cask Series.
There’s not a whole lot of method to the madness that TBWC comes up with. There are plans, of course. But what started off originally as a Scandinavia Series morphed into the recently-released Norwest Series. “We ended up getting further and further from Scandinavia, so we had to change the series. Sometimes it’s by design, but mostly it’s happy accidents. That’s what makes it really fun,” Simmons says. Clearly TBWC is not afraid to adapt to where the wind takes it. Next on the horizon is another(!) Australia Series, but not until later this year – though it sounds like that theme is here to stay.
Simmons believes that TBWC has a better track record than the distilleries themselves of getting new drinkers to try certain whiskies, stating that “Boutique-y has a better opportunity to open people’s eyes.” This is because, just like some drinkers trust a distillery, many trust an independent bottler like TBWC
The perk of the bottler is that it’s able to show that one drinker a plethora of different whiskies and distilleries. This is something Simmons and the team are learning more, and revelling in their unique position. “We’re not making a load of money trading off a distillery’s name, we’re trying to bring more people to that distillery.”
But if there’s one thing to take away from That Boutique-y Whisky Company and its indie bottlings, it’s that wherever the distillery and whatever the whisky, its main mission is to bring more people into the fold, and delight those that are already in it. As Simmons summarises: “It’s about trying to expose people to something new.”