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.
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.