Samaroli - Whisky Bottled With a True Passion
All photos by Alwynne Gwilt.
The world of whisky is, undoubtedly, a varied one. The number of choices on store shelves – whether supermarket or specialist retailer - is staggering in this day and age. And that's before you get to the duty free shops if you're passing through the world's airports.
When I first got 'into' whisky around six years ago, I started my journey with better known names, ones that were slightly more familiar, even to my new whisky-loving self – think Oban, The Balvenie, Springbank and Dalwhinnie. Recommended to me by the folks at one of my favourite specialist retailers here in London, England, the whiskies weren't the rarest but also not the most common. It was a great middle ground to start on.
But as I've gotten increasingly involved in the world of whisky, it has been independent bottlers that have really started grabbing my attention. Often putting out interesting, single cask, cask strength, one of a kind releases, they offer an alternative to the more readily available set of whiskies.
One of the most interesting companies I've come across this year has been Samaroli, an intriguing independent based out of Italy whose staff members have a huge passion for all things whisky.
I first became aware of them at Whisky Live Paris, an annual whisky show in the City of Lights that happens every September. Running the stand was Francesco Binetti, a partner and sales manager with Samaroli, who got into the business fully in 2009.
“I was 48 years old in 2007 and I was working as a manager in a US IT company. I'd been a fan of the Samaroli products since 1985 and found out that the company's head was 68 years old and had no one in his family who was able to continue his company after he retired. He was asking his best customers if someone was interested in getting involved and by 2009 I had quit my job in IT and gone to 'my love' - whisky,” he told me.
Francesco is just one member of the team, but it is clear he is extremely passionate about the company and what it does, as I discovered during an hour long chat at the show.
Established in 1968 by Silvano Samaroli, the company has put a focus on bottling interesting, single cask whiskies from Scotland. What makes it stand out is the fact that when Silvano (and his team) choose a cask of whisky, they often don't leave it to continue maturing in that same cask until they decide to bottle it. Rather, they often re-cask the whisky into new (or virgin) oak to shift the style of whisky further away from what one might get in a regular single malt bottling. Additionally, the packaging is beautiful, often decorated with lighter, pastel colours and intricate artwork, something far from the 'traditional' end of the whisky market.
According to Francesco, this allows the company to give extra to the consumer.
“Every independent bottler should provide his own added value. So, the usage of these casks is one of our added value components; in our opinion. this is the best way to respect spirit's soul. It is like different singers singing the same song: there may be different interpretations but just one of them is 'the best',” he explained.
Of the whiskies I've tried from the company that really adhere to the idea of 'value adding' through re-casking, the one that stood out most was a stunning 21 year old Highland Park, which had spent five years in an American oak ex-Bourbon cask, before being transferred to a virgin American oak cask for the next 16 years. It was hugely fresh, bursting with bright fruity notes and loads of vanilla that melded seamlessly with the slightly peaty element of a more traditional Highland Park.
For Francesco, choosing a favourite is naturally more difficult, but one that stands out is a 30 year old Linkwood, which has recently been bottled.
“The beauty of it was like the most beautiful painting I've ever seen and gave me the strongest emotion I ever had to a whisky. In just one word: 'perfect!'” he said.
While it may be nearing time for company founder Silvano to retire, it is clear that the business will be in good hands. The bottles are limited, but the company has a wide footprint, selling globally with Japan and Switzerland, the two markets with the highest consumption by market value.
Now that I have discovered them, I will certainly be paying attention to what they are up to. Which is one of the great things about the world of whisky – even if you think you know about all the products out there, you never know what will be around the corner. Independent bottlers – and certainly Samaroli – are a perfect example of how one can continue exploring on the whisky journey.