August 2018 brought a small shock in the world of independent bottlers. The news was announced that David Stirk had sold The Creative Whisky Company. Such a shame that this highly respected bottler will no longer release new bottles of great whisky. I have enjoyed some very nice CWC bottlings in the past and I still have some nice ones in my collection. That’s why I wanted to ask David Stirk some questions about his former company. Not about why he has sold it though. I’m no journalist, I’m a hobbyist. I would like to know more about the hobbyist that started the company.
Jeroen: Hi David, thank you very much for taking part in this interview. In the information I gathered I’ve found out that your career in whisky started with a job as a writer for Whisky Magazine. During that period you wrote The Malt Whisky Guide in 2002. After that you started to work for Cadenhead’s. Was it there and then when you decided to become an independent bottler yourself?
David: No, although I enjoyed independent bottlers/bottling from day one in the industry. I loved the way information was so freely given and eployees/owners were so approachable. One of my first ever whisky purchases was a Cadenhead’s Laphroaig. Not only was it head and shoulders above anything I had ever tasted before but the company was so open with the information about the whisky. My decision to become my own independent bottler was more about personal survival in the industry.
Jeroen: The name “The Creative Whisky Company”, how did you come up with that? Was it a way to say others weren’t thát creative in their bottlings or is that just my cynical imagination?
David: To be honest I had to register a name and was so reluctant to use my own name. I also wanted to steer clear of a made-up or adopted Scottish names that some companies were using. Whisky has enough provenance without faking a Scottish name. Creative Whisky was just the first thing I could think of.
Jeroen: I’ve found a number of different series of bottlings you did. I’ve had a few in my own collection as well and I still have some nice ones at the moment. What were the different views behind the ranges?
David: The idea of splitting up ranges was mainly driven by changes in the market place and/or supply chain. The Exclusive Malts were the staple, my favorites from everything we got and no messing about with casks or ABV’s etc. The Creative Casks was created as an attempt to be as open as possible about when we finished a cask. This range essentially said ‘if you have a problem with finished whiskies, don’t buy it’. Some of my favorite bottlings are from this range. Consumers began to have less and less problems with finished whiskies so we phased it out as it didn’t seem necessary anymore.
The Exclusive Range was due to a sudden explosion in the availability of youger whiskies (8 – 10yo) and allowed us to drop the strength and really offer up value to the customer. When supply dried up and/or prices shot up the range disappeared. It re-appeared as The Single Cask Exclusives which was born out of again great young whiskies but a growing trend of whiskies being offered without a distillery name. You move with the times…
Jeroen: What were your favorites in the different ranges?
David: Gosh, there are so many to choose from. The first cask was special. A 1969 Strathisla first fill ex-sherry butt. There was a 1978 Tomatin, a 1973 Macduff, a 1968 Ben Nevis and many others. One I am especially proud of is a 4yo peated Bunnahabhainthat turned out to be stunning. It sold out so much faster then expected.
Jeroen: In 2015 the 10th Anniversary bottlings were released. I guess you must have been thinking about a 15th anniversary in 2020 back then as well?
David: No, both anniversary ranges (there was a 5th Anniversary range too) were simply chance and time. I just happened to have one of the best line-ups for bottlings in 2015 and it just happened to be the 10th Anniversary. I have always ried to move with the times and being an independent bottler is a very strange business. I hope to write much more about it in the future and really let people know the ins and outs but for the time being I am very grateful for the 14 years I had and I am happy to still have my passion and love for whisky and so many friends in the industry.
Thanks again David! Thank you for your time and your open answers. Also, and I think I can speak on behalf of a lot of whisky enthusiasts, thanks for all the fine bottles you’ve put on the market. Some of them are still out there and I’ll be on the lookout to put one or more in my collection before it’s too late…