Beth Squires from whisky brokers and consultants, Mark Littler, takes us through the history of Samaroli.
The name Samaroli evokes feelings of love, nostalgia, and awe amongst whisky lovers both in the industry and the wider public.
The Italian independent bottler, although only established 55 years ago, has had an untold impact on the whisky industry.
This is evidenced by the outpouring of grief upon Silvano Samaroli’s death in 2017. His good friend Emmanuel Dron dedicated his book Collecting Scotch Whisky to Samaroli in 2018, and various other industry figures paid tribute to Samaroli.
So, how is it that Samaroli had such a profound effect on the whisky industry in such a relatively short space of time? And would the industry be the same today had this young man from Italy not ventured into the world of spirits?
THE HISTORY OF SAMAROLI
In the 1960s, Silvano Samaroli had spent time working as a sales manager at a liquor store in Italy, and decided to embark on a solo venture in the whisky industry.
Samaroli Srl Wine and Spirits Merchants was established in 1968. Until the late 1970s, the company operated as an importer.
In 1979, Samaroli took its first step into the world of independent bottling. The company became the first non-British independent bottler of Scotch whisky when the Samaroli Cadenhead Dumpies were released. These bottles were followed by the iconic Samaroli Flowers series in 1981.
The 1980s saw Samaroli adopt an innovative approach in promoting cask strength whiskies. At the time, the whisky market was very much still dominated by blends. However, Silvano Samaroli saw the potential in cask strength whiskies and single malts and began bottling, marketing, and championing high-proof single malts.
Samaroli bottlings were also extremely transparent in terms of what the drinker could expect from the whisky. On the back of the bottles was a lot of information including cask types, tasting notes, and stories about the whisky.
Again, Samaroli displays an innovative approach here and the transparency and familiarity laid the foundations for a strong relationship between bottler and consumer.
Silvano Samaroli also built a close relationship with Anacleto Bleve, an Italian gastronome and restaurant owner. Bleve was a pioneer in his own right. He owned a wine shop in Rome that became the first shop to serve wine on the premises, and pioneered the pairing of food and wine in Italian cuisine. This relationship further strengthened Samaroli’s foothold in the food and drinks business, offering him a Roman outpost through which he could sell his products.
In addition to the publicisation of cask strength whiskies, Samaroli was also a strong advocate for no-age-statement (NAS) whiskies and foresaw the need for NAS bottlings in the industry. Today, of course, NAS bottlings are becoming increasingly common as a result of vattings to meet high demand.
As the whisky industry developed throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, the demand for Samaroli bottles began to rise along with the popularity of cask strength whiskies. One such series that experienced a boom in popularity was the aforementioned Samaroli Flowers.
THE ICONIC SAMAROLI FLOWERS SERIES
The Samaroli Flowers series is the company’s most famous exploit. Whisky connoisseurs around the world vie for these bottles when they appear at auction. They are prized not only for their rarity and artistry but, by all accounts, they contain some incredible whisky.
The whiskies in the Samaroli Flowers series were bottled by R.W. Duthie & Co, a subsidiary of Wm. Cadenhead, and this was the beginning of a long-standing relationship between Samaroli and the Aberdeen-based bottler. R.W. Duthie & Co would handle a number of bottling operations for Samaroli over the years, as Scotch whisky needs to be bottled in Scotland to adhere to whisky regulations.
One of the most recognisable aspects of the Samaroli Flowers series is the labels, designed by Samaroli himself. The labels are considered works of art in themselves. They feature various flowers in a timeless, simple style.
There are many stunning bottles of whisky in the Samaroli Flowers series, but there are those that stand out amongst the rest: The Laphroaig 1967 15 Year Old, and the Bowmore 1966 Bouquet. These two bottles are considered some of, if not the best whiskies ever bottled.
At auction they reach astonishing prices, with the records currently being £61,000 and £60,000 for the Laphroaig and the Bowmore respectively.
The lucky few who have sampled these legendary whiskies also vouch for their exceptional flavour and quality. Serge Valentin and Angus MacRaild at WhiskyFun are two such lucky whisky drinkers. In their most recent tastings (2020 and 2022) both whiskies were awarded a staggering 98 points.
THE PASSING OF SILVANO SAMAROLI
Silvano Samaroli, the founder of Samaroli Slr, passed away at the age of 77 in February 2017 and was widely mourned by the whisky industry.
Upon the founder’s death, the management of Samaroli was handed to Antonio Bleve, the son of Anacleto Bleve. Antonio had been a mentee and close family friend of Samaroli for many years, and was well placed to continue his legacy.
SAMAROLI FROM 2017-NOW
Since the death of their founder, the team at Samaroli have been honouring Silvano Samaroli’s legacy by continuing to release cask strength, NAS, and high quality whiskies. The appetite for Samaroli bottles on the secondary market has also remained strong, as is evidenced by the 2021 sale of Samaroli and Corti Brothers bottlings from the personal collection of Emmanuel Dron.
The auction was hosted by Whisky Auctioneer and featured Samaroli bottles such as the Laphroaig 1967, a 1952 Glen Cawdor, and the 1966 Bowmore Bouquet, some of which were signed by Silvano himself. This auction saw a slew of high value sales such as £58,500 for a Bowmore Bouquet, and £40,000 for the Laphroaig 1967.
In 2022, a whole host of new Samaroli bottlings were released to the public including the Samaroli Islay – a Caol Ila bottled in 2022, the Samaroli Spey which hails from Linkwood, and the Laphroaig and Macallan Magnificos, distilled in 1997 and 1994 respectively. In typical Samaroli fashion, you can read all about the bottles, tasting notes, and the inspiration behind the whisky on Samaroli’s website.
The company’s outreach is also growing, with the recent establishment of a distribution partnership with The Old Barrelhouse in New South Wales, Australia, meaning that those down under can now sample Samaroli’s incredible bottlings.
AN IMMEASURABLE IMPACT
When Silvano Samaroli formed his company in 1968, nobody could have foreseen how grand his venture would become, and what a profound impact he would have on the industry.
Except, perhaps, Silvano himself. As the first non-UK-based independent bottler of Scotch whisky, Samaroli was entering an area of untapped potential.
His vision and innovation subsequently produced some of the most revered bottles of whisky ever released.
He could also predict the behaviour of the single malt market before anybody else – a market that was still in its infancy at the time. As a result, everybody in the whisky industry knows the same Samaroli. Without him, it is certain that the landscape of the whisky industry would look vastly different now.
Mr Samaroli left a very strong legacy in the hands of his friend Antonio Bleve. Bleve feels very strongly that this legacy should be protected, and the company philosophy remains that things must be done the “Samaroli Way”.
Mark Littler is an independent whisky broker, market analyst and consultant with over a decade of experience in the industry. For more information email email@example.com.
Read more news and reviews on Scottish Field’s food and drink pages.