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The Italian Love Affair with Single Malt Scotch

Features

11.12.2020

Head of Auction Content, Joe Wilson, explores the early roots of Italy's affection for single malt Scotch..

Italy's love for scotch whisky

Head of Auction Content, Joe Wilson, explores the early roots of Italy's affection for single malt Scotch..

Head of Auction Content, Joe Wilson, explores the early roots of Italy's affection for single malt Scotch..

The Italian love affair with single malt Scotch is not just one of romance, but one of crucial importance that can never be forgotten. The passion for Scotland’s national drink in a country over 1,000 miles away resulted in near-seismic shifts in the landscape of whisky that has shaped the industry as we know it today.

One man who’s contribution cannot be overstated is that of Armando Giovinetti, a wine and spirits distributor who became the official agent in Italy for Glen Grant following a visit to the distillery in 1961. It would be two more years before Glenfiddich would become the first distillery to actively market a single malt brand, so Giovinetti’s faith in the category was viewed by some as a gamble, and by many as pure madness. Instead, it was genius. Not only did the Italian public share his enthusiasm, but he had the business nous to import youthful 5 year old expressions, the lighter profiles of which provided the perfect stepping-stone for a national palate that had long favoured Grappa. Glen Grant 5 year old remained the best-selling single malt in Italy for years, and today the distillery remains adopted by the nation, under the ownership of its native Gruppo Campari.

Exports of single malt to Italy shot up over the next twenty years, and their success in that market played a crucial role in the popularisation of the category at home in the 1980s. It was sales in Italy for example, that encouraged Macallan to cease licensing and take control of its own single malt brand in 1980, and lead DCL to introduce The Malt Cellar in 1982, an early predecessor of the Classic Malts that cross-promoted Talisker, Lagavulin, Rosebank, Linkwood and Royal Lochnagar.

As the single malt market diversified through the 1970s and into the 1980s, so too did its distribution in Italy, with new players like Samaroli, Moon Import, Sestante and Intertrade emerging. While these companies had much to thank Giovinetti for, as importers who were about to become bottlers, they owed almost as much gratitude to the trail blazed by a certain Edoardo Giaccone.

Giaccone was the proprietor of the legendary “whiskyteca” in Salo, a bar known by several names over the years, including Edward & Edward, Garten and La Taverna del Comandante. He opened it in 1958, and by the end of the 1960s was importing single malts that were specially bottled for his customers alone. This was a ground-breaking and important development, and through his bar, Giaccone treated Italy to exclusive releases of Clynelish, Bowmore, Dalmore, Highland Park, and even Jack Daniel's.

These bottles set the stage for Italy’s new generation of importers, who raised the bar by not only seeking out their own casks and exclusive expressions, but developed their own brands and labels with which to promote them. Today they are some of the most revered and sought-after independent bottlings in the world, and their legacy respected by all who have followed.

Joe Wilson

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