Monday, April 22, 2013

From TIBS/Whisky Live 2013: Spotlight on the Samaroli “Evolution Cask-Strength” for TIBS.

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo

Samaroli is a household name among whisky enthusiasts worldwide. The man behind the company, Silvano Samaroli, started in the 60s when there were only a handful of independent bottlers and none of any significance outside the UK. A true pioneer, Mr Samaroli started in the business as a sales rep in charge of the distribution of the Springbank and Linkwood portfolio, among others, for an Italian spirits company. He visited many distilleries in Scotland at the time, built up close personal relationships with master blenders there, and gained the respect of people in the industry. In 1968, he took the enormous risk to set up his own company. Since then, many of his bottlings have acquired near-mythic status.
For TIBS/Whisky Live Tokyo 2013, Mr Samaroli prepared a very special bottling – one that, no doubt, will get its place in the pantheon of stellar Samaroli whiskies once people start discovering it. We spoke with Francesco Binetti and started off by asking him what the origin of the “Evolution” project was:

“We started this project in 1992 and the reason was that Mr Samaroli loves the old flavours of whiskies from the 50s and 60s so he wanted to create something to maintain those sort of flavours. He started with a vatting of 20 single casks from different distilleries and different ages, combining the old ones – which contribute the most elegant flavours and the widest perception of complexity – with younger ones – to add body and to maintain balance, but also to create a new balance.

These 20 casks were put together in a big wooden drum, married for about 6 months and then refilled into new casks. Half of these were ex-sherry casks; the others were virgin American white oak casks. And then, not every year, but every time when Mr. Samaroli checked the situation and felt that it needed something to rebalance the cuvee, we added something to it. To give you an example, the first re-vatting after 1992 was done in 1996. Everything was put together in the big wooden drum again, new components were added… and every time, the procedure is the same. Most recently, we put in a Linkwood 1997 and – if I remember correctly – a couple of casks of Glen Grant 1985. At the moment, “Evolution” consists of 45 single casks.”

The bottling for TIBS/Whisky Live Tokyo 2013 is the first cask-strength version of “Evolution”.

“Yes, we felt it was the right time to present it undiluted. And this particular bottling for TIBS/Whisky Live Tokyo 2013 is like a single cask – it’s from cask #7 – so it’s like a unique instance of the on-going evolution of our vatting. There are 12 casks at this moment that are part of this “Evolution” project – 4 and a half are ex-sherry, the others virgin oak – and this cask bottled for Tokyo was an ex-sherry, the fifth full one. As said, this is the first time we did a cask-strength version, but we love it so much, that from now on, all the “Evolution” releases will be bottled at cask-strength.”

At this point in time, “Evolution” comprises more than 5 decades. What does the future hold?

“For the next one, our idea is to take each of these 12 casks “as is”, because given the balance achieved, it would be risky – in our opinion – to keep vatting these. It’s not a 100% sure yet – we’re in the process of deciding now – but we’ll probably just use one of these 12 casks, the youngest virgin oak cask, as the “mother cask” for the next vatting. And we’ll be repeating the same process, selecting from our stock some old casks and some new ones and vatting these together with the mother cask from our current “Evolution” project. That’s how we plan to take this new “Evolution” into the future. If we start next year, the first release of that will probably be in 2020 or 2025.”

Francesco also brought some Samaroli rums to the BarShow and for many whisky fans these were the big revelations of the show. In fact, several people – when asked about their favourite whiskies at the show – said without hesitating: “The Samaroli rums!” Mr Samaroli fell in love with rum in the 70s, during his second honeymoon in the Caribbean, and has traveled all over the world in search of rums of exceptional quality, most of which are further matured in Scotland. Rum and whisky are of equal importance – also in volume – to the company, but here in Japan, the rums are still fairly unknown. Now that the secret’s out, we hope these marvels will finally find their way to our shores.

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