Within the tapestry of whisky history, few occupy the pedestal of greatness – these select individuals have spent their lives helping to shape the landscape of whiskies and have in some way, shape or form, influenced the direction of whiskies in a significant manner. It’s quite crazy to think about how much of an impact they have on the hordes of drinkers worldwide, whether consciously or otherwise – which could be said of both the individual and the hordes of drinkers – such influence sometimes extends even long after they’ve unfortunately left us. One such individual goes by the name Silvano Samaroli.
Silvano Samaroli, a big personality in the whisky world, forged his name by bringing big changes to the indie bottler scene and was known for some legendary bottlings. (Image Source: Catawiki)
For the sake of posterity, let’s take a quick look at the man himself; as we know all too well, whisky is equal parts man, equal parts whiskymaking. Much like the rhetoric of the chicken and the egg, it seems to be of circular logic which came first.
Samaroli was born to a pilot father and naturally himself had wanted to fly an aircraft, yet after finishing school, he found himself as a sales manager for a liquor store in Italy. He eventually started his own, and what would be the first outside of the UK, Scotch bottler. From humble beginnings as an importer, he would later go on to release his own collection of bottlings, over time building up a reputation for bringing to palates incredible whiskies.
Why use "Cask Strength" when you can use "Natural Strenght"? Because Samaroli can. (Image Source: Scotch Whisky)
Fun Fact: Samaroli was amongst the first to bottle cask strength whiskies, which is now considered a category staple.
Samaroli had no shortfall of innovative streaks, also amongst the first to populate a bottle’s back label with key information such as tasting notes and cask types used, as well as no-age statement (NAS) bottlings.
You can actually read a couple of chapters of Samaroli’s biography Whisky Eretico here.
We've got this in our books section, lovingly named Panda Press.
As for the bottling itself, this one’s a Highland Park bottling, one of the few distilleries to have populated the island of Orkney. It’s 24 years old, bottled in 2016, at 45% abv. What is most obviously a standout here is the shape of the bottle, which is often nicknamed “Masam” – the name coming from the company run by Samaroli’s wife, Maryse, after Samaroli’s passing, who had combined their names together “Ma-“ and “-Sam”.
Samaroli and Maryse, both of whom make up the pseudonym Masam. (Image Source: Masam)
While this bottle wasn’t really from the Masam line-up, the shape of the bottle was most popular under the Masam company and hence the name stuck. That said, this bottle is pretty significant as it was one of the last few selections made by Samaroli himself before he passed, even if it wasn’t technically bottled under him, as the company was sold to the Bleve family back in 2008. That’s 8 years before this bottling and 9 years before Samaroli passed, for those who’d like to check the math. Still pretty cool nonetheless!
Onwards! Let’s give this a try.
Color: Light Olive Oil.
Nose: Fruity start! But a specific type of fruit – it’s sweet but with a zesty twang. Picture an orange peel twisted, scrunched and coating the rim of a glass. It’s fairly solvent in that it sublimates quite quickly to give a perfumery whiff – almost ethanolic and solvent-y. More nosing allows the ethanolic tincture to just give up alittle to reveal rose water and cut grass.
An almost solvent-y perfumery nose that is reminiscent of rose water. (Image Source: The Kitchn)
Belying that is something reminiscent of chestnut mousse, or as the correct term goes Marron, the sort of brown icing you tend to see on hotel confectionaries. There’s some milk chocolates here as well and a good drizzle of honey. Think Maltesers candy chocolate, the ones with a honeycomb center. This could also pass off as marzipan or almond jelly – that sort of very distinctive almond-like aroma that borders on comically artificial.
Milk chocolates and honeycombs conjure thoughts of Maltesers candy. (Image Source: ATERIET)
But overall a very big, cloud of a nose. Sort of blooms and engulfs the glass. Light oaky notes that give it a slight bitterness.
Palate: Syrupy mouthfeel, very honey-like in terms of texture. Fairly velvet-y and generally sweet. Similar to maltose candy, a real treat for kids in the 90’s especially in Asia.
A real 90's Asian treat. (Image Source: Partymojo)
Here is turns alittle more floral and something like fruit jelly cups. Apples, grape, green melons reveal themselves as the initial citric zest that was found on the nose persists to the palate.
A sweet sugary fruit jelly cup, specifically the cone shaped ones. (Image Source: Kiddie Goodie)
There’s slight herbaceousness that seems like mint jelly, and its actually giving me thoughts of a rack of lamb grilled with rosemary. There’s a sort of oak-y sourness that makes me think of dried flowers – fragrant but also astringent. Some general malt-y notes but nothing to write home about.
A fragrant mint jelly rings on the tongue. (Image Source: Martha Stewart)
Finish: Long finish, with a good length of oak that carries on, light floral perfumery stays on as well but a lot more gentle and airy now. Light flecks of flint, still noticeable nonetheless. There’s some sweetness but if only after the bitter oaky notes completely recedes – mostly honey and light fruits.
I should say I’ve never had a particularly floral or fruity Highland Park. In fact it has almost become a little side quest that I’ve had with one very knowledgeable Mr Yee (who almost never offers any whisky a grade higher than an A-, tough crowd, I jest!). Well, till this bottle!
A solvent-y note that you'd notice from perfumes. (Image Source: Inc Magazine)
This was very perfumery, almost comical in fact, and packed in a lot of florals and fruits – but with a catch! I’m kind of used to fresh florals and ripened fresh fruits from whiskies (I seek them out), but this one took a very interesting turn, almost offering them dried, like dried orange and apple slices and the flowers in a potpourri. Which made them less juicy but more fragrant and at the same time with a bitter aftertaste that I can only describe as tasting a dried flower. It’s somewhat astringent and flinty. Very interesting taste. I can’t tell you I’m into it, but I can’t say I’m not either – I’m actually left fairly puzzled.
A perfumery but slightly astringent back palate. (Image Source: The Spruce Crafts)
That said, I can appreciate the sweet milk chocolates and honey as well as the fruit jelly cups’ almost artificial tasting sweetness. I found that to have coupled quite well with the overall syrupy texture of the whisky. Almost like a kid on a playground buying some candy off a nearby sundry shop (or mamak store as we call it in Singapore). Reminds me of fruit ice popsicles too.
A vestige of the past, mamak stores were commonplace around Southeast Asia and are a fan favorite amongst school kids for the bountiful harvest of candy. (Image Source: Pinterest)
Overall I’m not a huge fan despite the what I must admit is a very complex and interesting (read: thought-provoking) whisky. Much of the fruity and floral notes struck as ethanolic and artificially perfumery, which I could see turning off some fans (not me though, only because I found it quite interesting). But really for me what took it a notch down was the bitter twang that laid below the sweeter airy notes, which I found too stark.
Lot's of florals and fruits, which I had sought out in a HP, but... not quite the HP I am looking for. Complex but left me unsure if I was into it or not.
I'm not entirely sure if this was representative of the best of HP which I've heard can be a real fruit basket, so the quest goes on! If you have any idea of a HP that might fit that bill, throw your suggestions my way, I'll greatly appreciate it! (Hint: I've heard they are those bottled in the late 60s)