I first came across the folk from Bartels Whisky, in its former guise, at the Midlands Whisky Festival. Back then they were known as Malts of Scotland and were selling a couple of labels – Malts of Scotland and Highland Laird. At the show I bought a bottle of Highland Laird whisky, wanting to support a small, family run operation, and it was very good indeed.
They’ve recently relaunched as Bartels Whisky. (Speaking of which, to celebrate the relaunch they’re offering 10% off any order on their new site with code “bartels”.) So I thought it’d be good to get to know the people behind the operation, and to find out more about the change – and why the new name. I got in touch with Becki and the Bartels team, who were able to talk more about their new independent bottling whisky brand. Here’s what they had to say:
Bartels: Nothing has changed apart from our name. We originally called ourselves Malt Of Scotland UK as we mainly were selling the Malts of Scotland whisky, but things have developed quite quickly and we bottle and sell a lot of our own whisky now (Highland Laird). We thought a more general name will be less confusing and easier for people to recognize us.
So we are now called Bartels Whisky and currently we mainly sell Highland Laird, Malts of Scotland and His Excellency!
To expand a little on that, what’s the distinction between the three main labels that you sell: Highland Laird, Malts of Scotland and His Excellency?
The Malts of Scotland label is the brand name of the successful European business run by Thomas Ewers. We wanted to bring the products to the UK market and do so as exclusive UK agents. The Highland Laird and His Excellency labels are our own brands. These have been owned and used by Bartels Rawlings International Ltd since the 1960s. We use the Highland Laird brand for our single cask, cask strength, non-chill filtered and non-colored single malt Scotch whisky. These represent 99 per cent of our current products. The His Excellency brand is used for our blended whisky; our only blend currently is a 44 year old Ben Nevis, which is nearly sold out! Watch this space for new releases under the His Excellency brand.
In the last couple of years, Malts of Scotland has established itself and won some good accolades, and there are two other lines that you run – with plenty of whiskies in each. Can you share a little of how your business began?
Malts of Scotland has been established for about 10 years in Germany and across Europe. We have recently been appointed as the only agents to sell this brand here in the UK. We have however been involved with Malts of Scotland for many years selling casks to the company and having some say in what gets bottled. To now see this whisky bottled and be able to sell it as an end product to the customer is a fantastic feeling.
We decided to start bottling our own casks last year and chose the brand name Highland Laird (established since the mid 1960s through the family). With the company director being a whisky broker we have access to a wide range of premium quality single malts and being able to choose what we bottle is just brilliant.
What’s been the highlight so far?
The highlights so far have to be trade shows and events we have presented at. From the Midlands Whisky Festival to Whisky Live London, the opportunity to meet and chat to both industry professionals and whisky drinkers alike has been a real pleasure. The interaction with the buyers and drinkers of our products allows us to learn what works well and to provide the best products and service we can do.
When I saw your stand at the Midlands Whisky festival, I noted that it was a family operation – who’s involved in the business at the moment and can you share some of your backgrounds?
It all began is with Steven Lloyd; he has been trading as a whisky broker for – years now as Bartels Rawlings International Limited. After buying and selling casks for many years he decided it was time to start bottling some of these fantastic whiskies, so that’s where his two daughters came in. Rebecca, with a background in Performing Arts and Georgina who is a Nanny. Rebecca had been working as an accountant for Bartels Rawlings for a couple of years. They both now work part-time running the Bartels Whisky side of the business whilst maintaining their other jobs and interests. Ben Reynolds joined the company soon after and bought some fantastic vision and enthusiasm to the business. Ben has a background in sales and is fast becoming quite the seasoned whisky professional!
Is there a plan to expand even further one day, or do you see it strictly as a boutique family run bottling company?
The plan is really for the company to grow organically. We are very happy with the team currently and believe that the ideas and plans were working on will see sustainable growth. The boutique family run element allows to interact with our clients in quite a unique way, and this was always where we saw ourselves in the market.
Are you able to share about what casks you’ve acquired over the years, and where they’ve come from?
The sources we purchase from are a closely guarded secret I’m afraid. I can tell you though we have some very exciting projects in the pipeline and some extremely rare bottlings coming up so keep checking the website.
Is there a particular whisky philosophy that you stick to? Or rather, what makes you choose one cask over another?
Our philosophy has always been quality over quantity. Most of our product lines are very short run and unusually aged, which allows us to maintain our exclusivity in the UK market. I personally love a ‘story’ so an unusual barrel, a year with significance or anything that sets that barrel apart from the others gets my attention. We frequently though take a sample in-house then send it to some of our bloggers and writers for feedback before we decide to bottle.
What have been some of your biggest learning’s or challenges in the world of independent whisky bottling’s over the past few years?
The biggest challenges are really separating yourself from the crowd. There are a number of well established independent bottlers out there and we have to be doing something different to make people want our products and use us for supply. I believe our ethic of quality, and the fact we are a small, family run enterprise, allows us to constantly be able to change to customers individual requirements and be the best at what we do.
I’m sure there are a few readers who would be considering dabbling in the world of independent bottlers. What advice would you give to someone considering entering the business for the first time?
The only advice we can give really is be persistent. The market both in terms or supply and sales is a really tough one. I believe though if you have a good product and a good idea, you can always make it work.
Finally, what’s your dream dram?
From our current supply I don’t think you can beat the ’92 Auchentoshan, beautifully complex and distinctive without being too overpowering. From the whisky world in general though I am a big Macallan fan. A nice 25 year old, sherry oak Macallan would always be on my dream dram list.
One final message from the Bartels Team was: “Make sure to join our mailing list and become a member for up to date bottlings and maybe even some special offers.”
So there you go. Thanks to Becki and the team for taking some time out to answer all of those questions. Hopefully you’ll see and meet them at a whisky show near you sometime.