I spent a great Sunday evening with 500 close friends and more than a dozen tables of fine booze, plus some awesome kosher barbecue beef ribs, fried chicken and sausage.
It was Guys Night Out at Beth Sholom Congregation and Talmud Torah in Potomac. In the name of full disclosure, I organized all the booze for this event — dozens of great whiskies and some high-quality kosher wine. (See more about the event on page 6.)
Although all the whiskies were solid, the real standouts were the offerings from Alexander Murray & Co., an award-winning, family-run independent bottler of Scotch whisky.
An independent bottler is a company that purchases casks of whisky to bottle under the name of the producer. So, for example, an independent bottling of, say, Macallan 18 will indeed be a cask of whisky, or marriage of casks, produced at the Macallan Distillery. But because it was bottled independently of that distillery, the packaging and branding will necessarily be very different.
Most independent bottlers will also bottle or blend whiskies for newly created brands, both for other companies and for their own portfolio. So if a company wishes to release its own line of Scotch whiskies without investing in its own distillery, or contracting directly with distilleries, it’ll instead contract through a company like Alexander Murray to do it all for them.
Consequently, the name of the whisky producer often won’t even appear on the final product, either because the company for whom the new brand was created doesn’t want the association, or the distilleries selling the constituent whiskies wish it to remain a trade secret so as not to potentially confuse consumers about their own brand. So a company like Alexander Murray steps in to make it all work.
Alexander Murray president and CEO Steven Lipp, a native Scotsman from Banff, Aberdeenshire (in the northeast of Scotland), founded the company in California 2004. He named it for a great uncle on whose farm he used to spend his summers, and sampled his first whiskies as a young lad.
Not only does Alexander Murray and Company select rare and quality casks of fine hooch for limited, high-end releases, like so many other independent bottlers, but it also focuses on providing for volume players, like Costco and Trader Joe’s, among others.
Indeed, Lipp’s company spearheaded the Trader Joe’s private label Scotch program in 2004, and in 2007 began supplying Scotch for Costco’s Kirkland brand. This is massive volume. Costco sells an estimated 100,000 cases annually of its blended Scotch.
Since both the Trader Joe’s and Costco brands of Scotch aren’t available in liquor control areas like Virginia or Montgomery County, it is Alexander Murray’s own portfolio of independently labeled gems, a handful of which were on offer at Guys Night
Out, that deserves our immediate attention. My own favorite of the night:
Alexander Murray & Co., Bunnahabhain, 28 Year Old, distilled in 1988 Cask Strength ($288): This is a stunning, complex, rich and somewhat spicy dram that begins sweet, and slowly envelops the palate with a tingly, drying maltiness, playing out with nutty and almost salt-like notes on the wonderfully absorbing finish. L’chaim! n