It's the whisky stalking

It's the whisky stalking

Aberko is a small independent bottler, Ian Buxton investigates...

Production | 14 Apr 2006 | Issue 55 | By Ian Buxton

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The life of the independent bottler seems all but ideal: stroll round a few of the more interesting distilleries tasting their whiskies, select a particularly fine cask, develop your own distinctive packaging, get it bottled, persuade some discerning retailer it’s what they need to grace their shelves and watch the profits roll in.The grass always seems greener, doesn’t it?But perhaps the independent bottling lark is a great deal harder than it looks. After all, the distillers have woken up to the potential value in those great old casks; small runs of packaging and bottling are prohibitively expensive; retailers are notoriously hard boiled and the great buying public is famously fickle. The profits may not be quite as fat as first thought.So when you meet one of these optimists, you have to take the chance to ask him just what he thinks he is doing. So it was with Paul Aston of Aberko, owners of Black Top blended Scotch, the Deerstalker range of single malts and the venerable Hutchisons Spiced Ginger Wine.Paul seemed a nice enough chap, and hard working. After all, as managing director of a small independent bottler you’d better forget the airs and graces of high office and smartly become a jack of all trades.Forget the ranks of assistants, brand managers, sales folk and all the production bods you find in corporate life, if you want a letter posted you do it yourself – after you’ve typed it, put it in the envelope, stuck the stamp on and walked down to the post box.Then you can repeat that process for everything that needs doing in your ‘empire’.So is it worth it?“Absolutely,” is his answer. So, then, what’s Deerstalker all about? Is it a brand or just another single malt speciality bottling?Turns out, it’s both: the range comprises a 10 year old from Braeval and 12 and 18 year old singles from Balmenach so they’re certainly drams that will appeal to the cognoscenti. At the same time, Paul is presenting these so that the Deerstalker brand comes to the fore and you have to look carefully to find the distillery provenance.The label includes an Edwardian gent in stalking gear.“His existence is solitary, his only companions the creatures of the wild places - the golden eagle, mountain hare…his thoughts are elevated and the concerns of the city dweller are not his.” And they wouldn’t be. At 2,000 feet up Ben Doon you tend not to worry about parking wardens and the price of a Starbucks latte. And the average city dweller isn’t often to be seen crawling behind bushes and is not generally in the habit of discharging high velocity hollow points at 10 pointers with the aim of turning them into venison burgers.It’s a moot point as to whether or not such thoughts can be described as ‘elevated’.Paul explains that he’s managed distribution for Deerstalker in Denmark, France, Germany, Austria, Canada and the United Kingdom, which seemed like good going, except that a big order is for a few cases. You can find it in good independents such as Loch Fyne, Royal Mile, Noble Grape, The Whisky Shop, GlobalWhiskies.com and so on.All this started when he left Bass Export and managed to take Deerstalker and Hutchisons with him. After all, these are just the type of products that the giant plcs deem ‘non core’ and ‘not part of the strategic portfolio’ – crumbs off the big boys’ table that provide a challenge for the small operator.It’s not as if they lack heritage – Deerstalker dates back to the 1880s and Hutchisons Ginger Wine dates back 1750 so there’s a legitimate historical connection and they all seem like pretty decent products, with a good provenance.If it matters to you, both Michael Jackson and Jim Murray have been nice about the Deerstalker whiskies.Not conventional, certainly, but worthy of investigation nonetheless. More info at www.aberko.com
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