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Samaroli Braeval 1994

To engage in a bit of own horn blowing, one of the strengths of MALT is our relentless curiosity. This especially so in the coverage of distilleries off the beaten path, either due to their novelty or because they’re hidden in plain view.

Personally, I love a “sleeper” distillery, those without official bottlings. They work as hard as the single malts we know well, yet they don’t have the pride of their own ranges. They are known to us only as components of the mega blends, and through the sporadic independent bottling. Some of them once encountered individually, seem to deserve their humble reputations. Others can be exquisite exemplars of their type, particularly when the quality of a single cask was recognized and plucked from obscurity by someone in the know.

Jason, in particular, does a commendable job seeking out independent bottlings from these sleepers. Adding to the considerable body of work he’s produced on this topic, today I’ll be considering a single cask of Braeval from the illustrious bottler Samaroli.

Braeval was confusingly named “Braes of Glenlivet” before it was renamed in 1994, the year this whisky was distilled. Coverage of this distillery has been comparatively limited at MALT. Aside from Jason’s seminal piece (prior link), you’d have to hop in Mr. Sherman’s Wayback Machine to find Mark’s review of the Old Particular 1998 (also reviewed by Jason) in 2014.

The independent bottler Samaroli has fared a bit better here in recent times. After a pair of bottles of rum (what on Earth is that?) were reviewed by Mark (here and also here) in 2017, I finally got around to a single cask of Caol Ila late last year. I’ll point you to that review for a potted history of the man and the brand. I’ve since been joined by Dora, who treated us to an ancient Samaroli bottling of Glen Garioch.

However, as I noted in my review of the unfortunate 2008 Speyside Blend, all is not well in Samaroli-land. A change of ownership and the expansion of the range has resulted in variable quality, while the price has remained at the level previously justified by the rarity of the offerings and the judiciousness of the selections. Thus, buying these has become a bit of a game of chance, particularly given the cost.

Regarding the bottle being considered today: a dear friend travelled to Rome a few years ago. In exchange for recommendations of dubious quality (“The Sistine Chapel is a must-see. Don’t forget to look up!”) I implored her to search high and low for a bottle – any bottle – from the famous house of Samaroli. She returned with this Braeval.

A dilemma facing any collector of whisky is deciding when to open a bottle. The high prices and the scarcity mean that pulling the cork is fraught with all kinds of emotions – anticipation, fear, regret. I’ve found it’s best done when there are friends around to share with, as my enjoyment increases exponentially with generosity.

As writing these reviews allows me to virtually “share” these bottles with all of you, I’ve taken the plunge and removed the stopper (screw-cap, actually) of this bottle that I had long stared at. There’s plenty left, and drams are available for anyone who cares to brighten my humble abode with their smiling face.

Onto the review: this whisky was distilled in 1994, bottled in 2015, from cask #165657, at a strength of 45%. 240 bottles were produced, of which this is #143. It was purchased for around €200.

Samaroli Braeval 1994 – Review

Color: Medium golden maize.

On the nose: Appealingly wine-y; sniffed blind, I might swear this was Sancerre with 20+ years of age on it. Ripe honeydew melon and pineapple notes abound at the start, with an oxidative quality to the fruit. Nutmeg, dry grass clippings, almonds, limes. Honeysuckle and freshly-baked brioche. Again and again, this returns to the ripely fruity note of a plump green grape.

In the mouth: Delicious, delicious, delicious. Delicious. A gently toasty note of wood blooms for a second at the tip of the tongue. At midpalate this has apricot and torched orange peel enveloped in a silky texture, albeit with the firmness of a mineralic limestone note underpinning it. There’s a piquant nip of powdered ginger and a woody heat that ring the edges of the tongue. Finishes long and gently, again with a grapey wineyness accented by subtly nutty, roasty, and woody flavors. Everything here is integrated seamlessly, and with perfect balance.

Conclusions

Elton John once sang about “trying to drink whisky from a bottle of wine.” I feel like I have done the inverse. There’s such a mature, elemental fruitiness about this, yet it is kept fresh by periodic assertions of wood and spice and stone. I love this style; it’s the truest expression of Speyside, in my opinion. The lightness and minimalistic purity of the first impression yields to unfolding depths of nuanced flavor, and it lingers on and on for several minutes on the tongue. This is the type of cask on which Samaroli’s reputation was built; if you can find a bottle of this, I’d advise snapping it up without hesitation.

Score: 9/10

CategoriesSingle Malt
  1. Avatar
    NOTNICE_75 says:

    “There’s plenty left, and drams are available for anyone who cares to brighten my humble abode with their smiling face.”

    Mate, I can be in Chicago by lunchtime. Already smiling.

    1. Taylor
      Taylor says:

      Um, because I struggle to generate an intro sometimes? And because I legitimately believe that the team has done meaningful work amassing a library of reviews that are off the beaten path, and it’s worth highlighting? Like, Jason could be reviewing Talisker 10 (probably quite happily) every year, but he beats the bushes and finds distilleries that some of the readership may not have heard of. This is its own kind of public service and I’m happy to call attention to it. So, there.

      1. Avatar
        John says:

        Ok, but as a reader I just find it tiring sometimes. And by the way, you do know that many readers skip all the text and go straight to the score at the end? My honest advice is … keep your articles shorter.

        1. Taylor
          Taylor says:

          As far back as I’ve read, MALT has always been about providing more in the way of history, information, opinion, and philosophy, compared with others. If skipping to the score at the end is your preferred approach, I’d suggest that you’re reading the wrong site. Others churn out lists of numerical scores with minimal verbiage attached. That said, your comments are visible to the editors and they’re welcome to exercise their editorial prerogative if they find submissions needlessly verbose. Cheers.

        2. Jason
          Jason says:

          Hi John, I’ve had the privilege in meeting many of the readership in person. A common denominator is that each and everyone takes something different from an article.

          As you say, some skip to the end for that score. Others love the tasting notes. Some just the introduction and details. And I know of some who blindly stumble into an article and try to guess who the writer is. I even met a couple who enjoy going through the archives for suggestions as a weekend pursuit.

          Point being, everyone takes and enjoys what we do from a multitude of different perspectives. There are sites out there that churn out tasting notes and scores.

          As one of the editors here I feel a strength is the diversity of our writers and readership. We always listen and thank you for the feedback. Cheers.

        3. Adam Wells
          Adam Wells says:

          With the greatest respect John, if ‘many’ readers were uninterested in the pre-score article, there’s absolutely no way they’d keep coming back to Malt.

          It’s essentially an opinion column with a whisky review tacked on the end. Most people will never taste this Samaroli, the same way most people will never visit a restaurant that critics they follow happen to review. The individual whisky commented on by each daily writer – in this case Taylor – May be the article’s ‘raison d’être’, but it certainly isn’t the point.

          That being said, it’s there, it’s objectively reviewed, within the known parameters of Taylor’s preferences, and those who wish to simply skip to the bottom and get the note and the number are perfectly free to do so. I do that with a lot of books myself!

          Either way, thanks for provoking an interesting discussion. Another good use for Malt … not to blow our own horn. (Oops…)

          Best

          Adam W

          1. Avatar
            John says:

            Like it or not, it’s a fact that people pay a lot of attention to the score. I try to read the whole article, but I still find my mind wandering to the bottom, and to the score. And if the score is average I become less interested in the article, than if the score is very high or very low. This is all human nature, and not rocket science. I’m sure people who analyse how people read online reviews would agree with me. It’s not good, but that’s how it is. I have the same problem with thewhiskeyjug.com, but not with whiskynotes.be or whiskyfun.com (or with scotchwhisky.com, still a far inferior site compared with malt-review.com).

            So, a solution could be: Keep the articles the way they are, but just move the score to the top, just to get it out of the way. You could also consider separating reviews from opinion pieces. I like opinion pieces, for example the serious articles on whiskysponge.com. And please … no more blowing of horns or whatever. It’s not needed – we all think you are doing good.

  2. Avatar
    Robert says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed this! Malt exist because it’s an experience, not a daily reminder of what bottles to chase based off scores. To me the scores are arbitrary to a degree. I get more excited that when I do scroll to the bottom I guessed correctly who wrote the content based on writing styles and cadence.

    1. Taylor
      Taylor says:

      Robert, much appreciate the support. I agree the score is “highly subjective,” to put it politely. Less so than the 100-point-scale, perhaps, but we’ve done enough team reviews here to show that my 7 can be someone else’s 5. Setting that aside – did you guess right this time?

  3. Avatar
    David Pop_Noir says:

    My thoughts on leaving a comment to a review would be…
    If you feel the need to leave more than one reply then at least don’t repeat yourself
    “It’s not needed”
    If you find other sites more to your liking then perhaps Malt Review isn’t for you.

    Personally I wouldn’t want Malt to be any other way so hope they don’t change a thing.

    1. Avatar
      John says:

      So, more than one reply is not okay, and repeating a point is bad, too?

      Of course I can go somewhere else, a point that has been repeated a couple of times above.

      Anyway, I’m off to do better things.

  4. Jeremy
    Jeremy says:

    I generally say I’m interested in Malt because of what it is. If I just want a score then Whiskybase is going to be the place, as you get more rates and so perhaps the number means more as it’s not 1 person’s opinion (ignoring the clear fake rating to try and push bottle prices up when they get dropped into auction). I also find just tasting notes a bit boring, as (to me) there is only so much “apples, pears, whiff of oil from a 1991 Golf GTI after 23 minutes driving” that is interesting. At least for most whiskies I won’t purchase. So I read Malt for the opinions, for the rambling historic bits, for the personal stories about how a bottle traveled around the world due to the kindness of others etc.

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