Working with Independent Bottlers and Blending Houses

For craft-whiskey distilleries, independent bottlers and blenders offer unique opportunities for collaboration and raising brand awareness.

Devin Ershow Jan 23, 2024 - 10 min read

Working with Independent Bottlers and Blending Houses Primary Image

Nora Ganley-Roper and Adam Polonski of Lost Lantern Whiskey. Photo: Courtesy Lost Lantern Whiskey.

To some distillers, the terms “independent bottler” and “blending house” evoke negative connotations. That’s largely due to the vast number of “white label” products that have hit the shelves in recent years. Some of those products are shrouded in a lack of transparency that leaves both producers and consumers feeling bitter, misled, and bamboozled.

However, a new generation of independent bottlers and blending houses has begun to emerge. (A disclosure up front: I’m a cofounder of one of those blending houses—more on that below.) Many of these firms have a mission and ethos that not only might serve to help the craft-whiskey community, but also may help to reshape what American whiskey is and could become.

The Background

Let’s start by defining these terms:

  • An independent bottler is a company that sources and buys whiskey from a distillery and bottles it under their own label or brand—also known as “white labeling.”
  • A blending house is a company that sources and buys whiskey from multiple distilleries and then blends those whiskeys together, bottling them under their own label or brand.

This is common practice in Scotland. In fact, independent bottlers and blenders such as Johnnie Walker and Dewars helped share scotch with the world. However, for a handful of reasons, in the United States, drinkers and producers have mostly looked down on the practice.


Dating all the way back to the 1800s, the United States has had to deal with people producing “blended whiskey” that couldn’t be further from the real thing. Often such blended whiskey was neutral grain spirit that had been rectified with artificial coloring and flavorings to mimic the look, smell, and taste of real whiskey. Sometimes, it contained harmful ingredients such as gasoline, turpentine, or and other chemicals. This practice continued and thrived during Prohibition when access to legitimate alcohol was scarce. Since then, the government has passed several laws to help eliminate such chicanery—but that was not the end of American skepticism about blended whiskey.

In the 1960s and ’70s, palates began to shift. While members of the Silent Generation had skewed more toward dark liquor, baby boomers wanted something lighter, and that led to a rise in consumption of beer, vodka, and gin. To try to meet palates where they were, producers made their blended whiskies lighter—often by blending it with neutral grain spirit and proofing it down as far as legally possible. This contributed to a perception of American blended whiskey as cheaply made and less flavorful—and this persists in the minds of American consumers today.

A More Transparent, Flavorful Approach

That said, a new wave of independent bottlers and blenders is trying to change that perception.

Perhaps the most well-known and successful of these pioneers is Barrell Craft Spirits. Established in 2013, Barrell Craft Spirits describes itself as “the original, preeminent, independent blender of unique, aged, cask-strength whiskey and rum.” They’ve won many awards and recognition for their blends, including twice winning Best Bourbon at the San Francisco Spirits Competition, in 2017 and 2020. They often work with larger industrial distilleries located in Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee, but they’ve also worked with smaller producers on some limited releases. They often do not release the names of the distilleries with whom they work, but they have on occasion.

Newer to the block are companies such as Pursuit Spirits, Lost Lantern, and American Mash & Grain.


Pursuit Spirits—born out of the immensely popular podcast Bourbon Pursuit, hosted by Kenny Coleman and Ryan Cecil—produces whiskeys by sourcing barrels from distilleries both large and small.

Lost Lantern Whiskey, started by married couple Adam Polonski and Nora Ganley-Roper, operates mostly as an independent bottler working exclusively with small brands. They buy barrels from distilleries across the country, only working with those they’re able to visit in person. They then bottle them as single-barrel offerings, proudly displaying the names of the distilleries on the label. More recently, they’ve also started offering blended whiskies.

The one at which I’m a cofounder is American Mash & Grain—I’ll briefly explain what we do, and that will be the end of the shameless plug. Our company is dedicated to raising the profile of the American craft-whiskey movement. Besides featuring a new craft distillery on our website every month, we also started the Borrowed Page series. These are serialized, limited-release, American blended whiskeys, and for these we work with distilleries featured on our website. We blend multiple styles of whiskey together—bourbon, rye, single-malt, etc.—to create whiskies aimed at pushing the envelope and expanding the concept of what American whiskey can be. Each label includes the logos of all the distilleries featured in the blend.

What’s in It for Distillers?

So, why would a distillery consider partnering with an independent bottler or blending house? There are a few possible reasons.

Perhaps you are sitting on a surplus of inventory. That’s a nice problem to have—and one I’m sure most of us would kill for—but if you do happen to find yourself sitting on more whiskey than you can bottle or sell, you might be looking for other revenue streams. Partnering with an independent bottler could be a great way to move that inventory and get some money in the bank.


Wider distribution of your whiskey is another possible reason. We know the challenges that come with the three-tier system. Many small producers don’t have the funds or inventory to get distribution into every state—and even if they tried, they don’t have the budget to pay for ambassadors to support those states. In fact, many producers are restricted to their home market—in and of itself, not a bad thing. There is nothing wrong with owning your own backyard, and in fact I’d encourage any new startup distillery to focus on that goal.

However, working with either an independent bottler or blending house could be a good way to widen the reach of your brand and your products at minimal or no cost. Many of these companies work with online retail solutions such as Seelbach’s and Mash Networks, which can deliver to most states around the country. That gets your products to more palates without the red tape and hoops of the traditional distribution network—and without having to supply online retailers with a steady stream of inventory. Companies such as Lost Lantern and American Mash & Grain are also doing much of the marketing and promotion of these releases, so you don’t need people out in the field selling it.

In a similar vein, you may want to collaborate with other producers—not only to create a unique blend, but also to use each other’s networks to expand everyone’s brand awareness. Working with a blending house is the perfect way to facilitate this. If there is a blend made of whiskies from Arizona, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, chances are that the fans of each of those distilleries are not aware of the other ones. Depending on the success of the blend, the prominence of the distilleries involved, and the trust and confidence built up by the blending house, it may encourage consumers to seek out bottles from the other producers.

Choosing a Partner

That all leads me to an important question: What should you look for in an independent bottler or blending house?

First and foremost, find one aligned with your goals, whether that’s selling off inventory, expanding brand awareness, or something else. There’s a big difference between selling to a larger independent bottler/blender looking to purchase whiskey by the pallet and selling to a company such as Lost Lantern, which might be looking for only one barrel at a time.

Transparency is another thing to consider—and this can work both ways, depending on what you need. Some producers are not looking for “credit” with the whiskey they are selling. They have no interest in being included on a label or marketing campaign. For others, brand awareness is the whole point. So, make sure you know how an independent bottling or blending company operates, what their motives are, and how they are going to support your brand.

As this practice becomes more prevalent in American whiskey, it should only help promote craft-whiskey producers and the larger craft-whiskey movement. Trends come and go in the spirits community—especially when it comes to whiskey—but independent bottling and blending is an institution that has been around for hundreds of years and will undoubtedly continue. It hasn’t been in vogue in the United States for some time, but that is starting to change.

American blended whiskies could be the next big thing, and as awareness grows about this new generation of independent bottlers and blenders and how they work, we could see a variety of incredible and diverse American whiskeys. It’s a win-win-win for the independent bottlers/blenders, the distilleries, and the consumers.

Devin Ershow is the cofounder of American Mash & Grain, a whiskey blog/blending house that endeavors to elevate the profile of the American Craft Whiskey Movement. He is also the head mixologist for Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey. He is an Executive Bourbon Steward through the Stave and Thief Society and a Level 2 Award Recipient with Distinction from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET).