Crowdfunders of David Stirk’s book Independent Scotch will recognise this bottling. It was part of the book’s successful crowdfunding push late last year, but leftover bottles of the North British 1996 26 Years have now found their way to several Dutch shops. It’s part of The Electric Coo Series, a project that also involves David’s good friend Mark Watt.
Before I delve into the whisky itself, I would finally like to spend some column inches on Independent Scotch – The History of Independent Bottlers. Right, the book, not independently bottled Scotch as a whole, although I suppose that’s what David’s book is about.
Independent Scotch is basically divided into three sections. The first two are intertwined: chapters on the rise of the independent bottler after the Second World War alternate with David’s story of his own career – from his early beginnings at Whisky Magazine to starting and selling The Creative Whisky Company. The third section is an extensive (but not exhaustive) history of dozens of major independent bottlers, which is where I contributed some entries.
My involvement started when David was researching his book and happened upon an article I had written some years ago. He liked it, and asked if maybe I could write some for his book on other independent bottlers as well. I didn’t have to think long. When all was said and done, David was kind enough to feature me prominently on the authors’ page in the book, but I’d like to reiterate this is 99% percent his book. It is his concept, his research, and most importantly, his story.
As far as the book goes, I think anyone who’s just a little like me (obsessed with whisky but not exactly working in the industry) will love this book. It documents David’s firsthand experience as an independent bottler, and in doing so somewhat lifts the veil on how the sausage is made. While I’ve talked to and interviewed many people involved with independent bottling, the only way to truly understand the inner workings is by being directly involved. This book will make you feel like you have been.
The chapters on the history and rise of independent bottlers from the 1940s onwards are fascinating, not the least David’s research on the Whisky Loch. Or I should say, Whisky Lochs, because he describes several in the book. These chapters may have less entertainment value than the ones outlining David’s own exploits (no stories of food poisoning and plane rides) but are equally important reading. If not more so.
If it hasn’t been clear yet, I think you should buy the book (which you can do here). I can’t imagine you’d be disappointed with its contents. And finally, I’d like to thank David for letting me contribute to Independent Scotch. Had anyone told me a year ago that people would be asking me to sign a book, I wouldn’t have believed you.
And now, let’s finally move on to the whisky. A 26-year-old North British from a refill ex-sherry hogshead. Here we go…
North British 1996 26 Years (50%, The Electric Coo Series)
Nose: The obligatory ethyl acetate, glue-y arrival that’s common in almost every grain whisky. Then lemon sherbet, shortbread, sweet butter, and a touch of tinned pineapple and vanilla custard. After a little while a whiff of sultanas, honey and Demerara sugar too. Taste: Creamy mouthfeel, a touch of wood glue, gentle cereals, buttered popcorn, and also fruit sweets, tobacco and pencil shavings. Maybe some rum raisins too. Finish: Subtle lingering spices like cloves, ginger and cracked black peppercorns. Some brown sugar too, but ending on a surprising grassy, note.
This 26-year-old North British needs time, but so does every grain whisky. Thankfully, patience is rewarded, as it should be. A decent metaphor for the whisky industry as a whole, and independent bottlers specifically. Also, don't forget to buy the book!