Port Ellen, Springbank, Ardbeg, Bowmore .. since 1994 a lot of the well known and most appreciated distilleries have been included. Although some of these are no longer available for future bottlings, we still succeed to find interesting and foremost very tasteful casks. Some old, some younger but always worth every amount of money spend. Discover the past by downloading the PDF and feel free to check for updates. We will add new bottlings as soon as they appear on the market.
An interview with Ultimate owner Maurice van Wees
Q: Could you please introduce yourself explaining your role at The Ultimate Whisky Company and share your story of how you first fell in love with whisky?
A: I am Maurice van Wees, owner and director of The Ultimate Whisky Company, founded in 1994. I started working in the whisky business in 1987, following my father Han van Wees who was the first to import Scotch Single Malt in the 60s. Before this time the Van Wees company was trading tobacco and was founded in 1921.
Q: Your father, Han Van Wees, is said to have ‘taught the Netherlands how to drink whisky’ and was appointed with the Master of the Quaich in 2018. Can you tell us more about the history of the Van Wees family business and the pivotal MS Hornland opportunity?
A: Back in the sixties only Scotch Blended Whisky was imported in The Netherlands and when the MS Hornland was damaged on her way to Rotterdam, friends bought the whole contents of the ship and my father bought the consignment of whisky and champagne in the ship. It appeared this whisky was of much better quality than the normal imported product in NL and when he started selling he was contacted by many Scottish companies to buy back their stocks. The clientele for this whisky also started asking for Single Malts, so Han contacted the Scottish companies again and asked for Single Malt Whisky. By this time one of the few companies selling Single Malts were G&M and Cadenhead. The last made special bottlings of young Ardbeg and Laphroaig for Van Wees which were pure unique at that point and people were amazed by the peaty taste. Han even got Ardbeg Distillery to bottle 5 years old Ardbeg specially for The Netherlands.
Q: How was the whisky scene in the Netherlands evolved since you started? And would you say there is a difference in consumer palates in the Netherlands vs. the rest of Europe?
A: When I started in the business the consumption of Blended Scotch was already going down in favour of the Single Malts. Of course the knowledge and palate of the consumer was not up to the level of today but the first whisky clubs were coming together. I remember we promoted Islay Malt and people thought the whisky had gone bad ! Festivals were still quite small and Single Malt had a dedicated following which grew by the day. Nowadays the number of clubs is uncountable and items of which we had hundreds of bottles in the past are sold on auction for unbelievable prices. The Dutch Single Malt consumer is very knowledgeable, so our efforts of educating them have succeeded !
Q: What led to you first taking the bold decision to select and independently bottle Scotch whisky in 1994?
A: By this time we had some very nice bottlings made for us by companies like Bowmore ( Single Islay Malt 5y. ) and Signatory Vintage Scotch Whisky. The latter was owned by our good friend Andrew Symington who offered to bottle casks for us. Andrew had a small bottling line in Leith and was building up his company by working hard and selecting wonderful casks to bottle Single Cask. As you know he is now the very successful owner of Edradour Distillery, creating his own great whisky. Like Andrew we were only interested in great quality for a reasonable price, which is still the key to our mutual success in the business !
Q: With so many independent bottlers in Scotland and across Europe at the moment, how do you make an impression?
A: Through the years we have only been bottling whisky we like ourselves. The quality must be outstanding and the consumer must be 100% satisfied at a very reasonable price. We never spent money on advertising and The Ultimate became popular by word of mouth.
Q: How do you source casks that you select for bottling? How do you assess their quality? Do you usually work with brokers, distilleries or private owners (or a mix of all three!)?
A: We select casks from our own stock bought straight from the distillers and the huge cask inventory of Signatory.
Q: What characteristics do you look for when reviewing casks to be bottled under ‘The Ultimate’? How would you describe your philosophy as an independent bottler?
A: We look for the specific n&t of the distillery and for some bottlings the cask influence must not be overpowering. For example , we have bottled many casks of Rosebank from straight bourbon barrels, the vanilla only complemented the Rosebank character. Others like our Longmorn bottlings from oloroso sherry butt stood out for their complexity and dark sherry influences.
Q: Between yourself and your father, is there much difference in terms of personal preferences?
A: We nearly always agree on what cask to bottle at a certain time and these days the 4th generation decides too, since my daughter Julie and son Joël have joined the business.
Q: Why is it important to you that your whiskies are non-chill filtered?
A: Chill filtration takes away a lot of taste. This is something that defines a whisky and you can never put it back, so our whiskies are bottled at room temperature and slightly filtered.
Q: Do you have any favourites from The Ultimate releases, either current or past?
A: We have bottled over a thousand casks now and all of them are my babies. Bottled for enjoying life and bringing pleasure to people all over the globe.
Q: Can you tell us about your ‘Rare Reserve’ series, what sets these apart and makes them so special?
A: The Rare's are bottlings which are often hard to find at a higher price level. Distilleries close and leave a heritage behind which we try to bottle under this Rare label. You could call them drinkable collectables...
Q: How do you ensure that the whiskies you feature in the shop and select for independent bottlings stay relevant and appeal to whisky consumers' changing palates?
A: The consumer is very knowledgeable these days and easily bored. Since we are consumers too we know how to appeal to the palate of the connoisseur. Moreover we always listen to our Ultimate drinkers and try to bring whiskies to the market to their needs and interests.
Q: Which are your favourite Scotch distilleries? And do you have a favourite distillery you believe is under-rated but produce great spirit?
A: I believe every distillery can make great whisky as long as it is matured in a good cask. Too many bottlers rely on a distillery name to raise interest but we believe only a good cask can bring you good single malt which in it’s turn will make people notice it. Lately I was personally amazed again by the taste of one of our Glen Spey bottlings. Around the same time I was offered a cask of Ardbeg which I declined because the spirit was not good enough. So it differs every time but bottom line is that an independent bottling should bring you that bit extra.
Q: What would you say are the benefits to choosing a whisky from an independent bottler such as yourself?
A: We started The Ultimate to make the difference in the market. It should bring you a great single malt for a great price, with all the particulars of the cask in which it has been matured, nothing less ! every time different, every time exciting...