As a new dawn broke for the previously unfashionable single malt whisky category in the 1970s and 1980s, it is generally accepted that the sun first rose over Italy, with brands like Glen Grant popularised there since the 1960s. Enthusiasm for the spirit was quick to take hold elsewhere on the continent though, and perhaps nowhere more so than in Germany. Its stamp is firmly inked on the whisky world today through brands like The Whisky Agency and Sansibar, and the annual mecca that is The Whisky Fair in Limburg. However, liquid history that charts its journey to this point is distinctly more enigmatic than the well-documented legends of the Italian story.
On that subject, Samaroli is always the name that springs to mind and in Germany a company called Scoma GmbH could be considered their spiritual counterpart. Scoma, a contraction of “Scotch Malt,” was established in 1977 by Jürgen Setter. After Silvano Samaroli broke new ground as an importer-turned-independent bottler through a collaboration with Wm. Cadenhead in 1979, Setter plotted the very same route in the early 1980s. No mere copycat however, the company’s personality was immediately evident from these earliest releases. While the first Samaroli collection perhaps played a safe hand, mostly comprised of Speyside single malts (compatriots Moon Import did likewise with theirs in 1982), Scoma went all-in on the big regional flavours of Islay, selecting a 14 year old Laphroaig and a 10 year old Ardbeg.
Scoma would go on to introduce a diaspora of Scottish distilleries to Germany, both through its distribution contracts and bottled under its own Glenscoma label, however it was its early affinity for peated single malt that routinely demonstrated its connoisseurship and expertise. This has never been better demonstrated than by the legendary dark sherry cask Port Ellen bottled for them by James MacArthur & Co.
Although the early Scoma bottles from Cadenhead are now instantly recognisable (if you know of them) by their gothic text set upon a blank background, the German company’s labels have always been understated. This made them ideal bedfellows for James MacArthur, a no-frills and often elusive independent bottler in Scotland, established in 1982. Although commonplace these days, outside of Italy only Cadenhead’s dumpy bottlings were labelled with any individuality in the 1980s. James MacArthur was one of the many brands who preferred to let the whisky itself do the talking, and when it came to Scoma’s 12 year old Port Ellen release, it did just that. More importantly however, those who were fortunate enough to try it have done a lot of talking too, and it is now revered for its exceptional quality and almost mythologised for its rarity. It is considered by many to be one of the finest whiskies committed to bottle.
It is easy to see why releases like this can often be eclipsed to the untrained eye by the dazzle of ornamental bottlings like those of Samaroli and Moon Import, but Scoma imports and bottlings are a cornerstone of the European fascination with single malt. They may look demure and unassuming, but they will reward any and all who take the care to look out for them.