Frequently Asked Questions: What the hell is an independent bottler?
Oct 28, 2022
While independent bottlers have existed for nearly two centuries in Scotland, we are a relatively new development in the US. So, it’s no surprise that our model is a tad confusing to some people, particularly those less familiar with the business end of whiskey production and sales. As such, we have received numerous questions since our launch, most of which focused on clarifying exactly what we do and how we are different from the rest of the brands on the shelf at your local bottle shop.
With a common theme to these questions, we thought it would be helpful to publicly address the most frequently asked questions in this blog and through our social media sites over the next few weeks. We hope this helps answer some of the basic questions you might have about Two Souls Spirits and our products…
- What the hell is an independent bottler anyway?
Good question. Simply stated, an independent bottler is a company that purchases spirits directly from a distillery (typically by the barrel) and then bottles, labels, and sells it themselves. Since the independent bottler owns the entire barrel, they are free to bottle as is, continue aging in their own warehouse, add a barrel finish, or even blend it with other barrels – whatever they feel results in the most interesting expression of the spirit.
- How are your releases different from a “barrel pick” or a standard single barrel release?
Another good question. This requires multiple talking points so for ease of discussion let’s break it down:
- Before the selection process even begins, we meet with our distillery partners and sample their spirits, working with them to identify products that we are both excited to have released under the Two Souls Spirits brand. This is a true collaboration, meaning we do not dictate to our partners what products we want, and they do not inherently limit our options to only those products/barrels normally allocated to single barrel releases. This means that…
- We have access to barrels that would not be made available to stores or whiskey groups. In fact, many of the spirits we release would never have been available at the distillery itself. This can be due to the rare nature of the spirit, unique barrel finishes, cask strength releases (e.g., we release a spirit at cask strength that is normally offered only after being proofed down), experimental barrels, or even new product lines. In short, thanks to the collaborative spirit or our partners, we can find you spirits that no one else can.
- Our barrels are hand-selected by us, not a distillery rep or distributor that sends you a handful of samples. We often taste through numerous barrels (see the Light Whiskey Project blog) before we land on the spirit we decide to purchase. And unlike store picks, which can vary widely in quality due to inconsistencies in the selection process or inexperience of those picking the barrel, our barrels are all vetted in the exact same manner – by us traveling to the distillery and hand-selecting the barrel with our distillery partner.
- Do you do anything to the spirit before releasing it?
As noted in question 1, independent bottlers have the freedom to personalize their releases through additional aging, barrel finishes, blending etc. However, we do not want to alter a spirit just to make it “ours” or to differentiate it from other products. We want to offer you each product in a way that best showcases both the spirit and our distillery partners. Sometimes that means simply bottle the spirit as is, which is what we did with the Watershed bourbon in our inaugural release (fall 2022). That barrel was unlike any Watershed bourbon we had previously sampled (see tasting notes here), so we wanted to preserve that unique quality in our release. In other cases, we may want to give the spirit a bit more barrel time or look to add additional complexity through a barrel finish. We let the spirit dictate our approach.
- Why should I support independent bottlers?
Independent bottlers are an integral, but often overlooked, component of the spirit industry. By curating rare spirits from small producers, we provide a much-needed platform through which our partners can showcase their products. This, of course, also means that you have the opportunity to try exclusive spirits from prized craft distilleries across America, many of which you have likely not tried or heard of. And just as importantly, when you support independent bottlers you also support our partner distilleries and the entire craft community.
- Is this a steppingstone to opening a distillery (i.e., sourcing while product ages)?
The standard MO for new distilleries is to source aged products (usually whiskey) while they produce clear spirits (Vodka and Gin) and wait for their barrel aged products to mature. We’ve all seen this play out with numerous craft distilleries over the last decade (Smooth Ambler immediately comes to mind), so we can see why this would be a common question about our business model. The answer is no – we do not have any plans to start a distillery either now or in the future. We are committed to the mission of independent bottling, which is to provide an additional space for craft producers to thrive and get their products in the hands of customers that would otherwise be unable to obtain their spirits. This is our model, and we are dedicated to assisting the craft community, as both a peer and a partner through our brand.