Yeah, the Rolls Royce of Scotch Whisky according to the great Mr. Jackson. And I do agree, mainly because I grew up with it. Macallan was so popular here in Italy in the 80’s, it had a national TV commercial going for years, you could find the 7yo in ANY bar, you could find the 10 and 12yo in MOST bars and the 18yo and 25yo in most restaurants.

I remember once, we used to buy 25yo “coffins” as we called them, by the dozens to give to clients for Christmas as a present (sigh) and they were very cheap, one time end of the summer I think 1991 one of the regional importers was so fed up with the riviera’s discotheques not settling the payments, basically in september the disco owners would just close up and leave without paying the distributor for the booze, and so he called my father and me into his warehouse and asked us if we would be so kind to buy off all the remaining stock of Macallan for 150.000.000 Lire. That is 75.000 euro approximately.

The amount of Macallan offered can only be described by what can be contained in an area about 30 meters long, 3 meters high, pallet on pallet on both sides of the hallway. I suspect there were about 15.000 bottles of Macallan of all vintages. At a cost of about 10000 lira (little more than 5 euro) per bottle we said…. no thanks. (Don’t do it, whatever you’re thinking of right now i have already done it to myself…). Having a collection back then meant having a cabinet with all available vintages lined up, and what would we have done with 15.000 bottles?? Well some ideas spring to mind now, but back then it was just crazy.

Danny diego petto
1990 Me with two BFFs and a Mac 12yo to go….

In any case, as I was saying I grew up with it, maybe that is why I still prefer it to other speysiders (although not to well made peat/sherry Islayers). The taste of the metal cap 1Ltr. 12yo, was like breaking a chestnut open, we would stick one in the car and go dancing, and by the end of the night it was gone, yeah not very PC right now but back then it made sense. In the discos it was “mac and coke” with ice all night, try it once, but careful it is refreshing and addicting!

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“New” style Macallan

It was a sad day for me, and a lot of my countrymen, when we saw the “new style” Macallan bottle, the one that looks like it got stuck headfirst into a vice, the simple rough paper label was gone and so was the mahogany hue we loved so much, and sadly the taste, that too was gone.  I find the last 7yo (the Maxxium one) to be so soapy it belongs in a shower cabinet, not a whisky one.

So keep your stash, if you can afford it, don’t fall for the easy money it now fetches, because it’s a taste long gone and no money can bring it back!

How to get a cork out from a bottle?

Well it has happened to us all, try to open an old bottle with a cork cap and… zak… it brakes off, now it’s time to go digging, if you’re good like Angus that’s no big deal, but if you’re bad like me there’s a high, high chance that the cork will end up inside the bottle and then it’s time to go fishing.

My father taught me a small trick, I am posting a video here for reference, basically you empty the bottle in a glass a bit, until the level is well below the shoulder, you will refill it later.

Take a clean plastic bag at least 35cm long, wash the outside of the bag well and even dip your finger in the whisky you poured in the glass earlier and pass it along the surface of the bag, then roll it up and push it inside the bottle making sure the bottom of the bag is below the cork, now inflate it making sure to stop before the whisky starts pouring out of the neck, and play a bit until you can sort of “cage” the cork. Then gently pull until you get it out. Easy right?

Hope it helps.

Distilled in the 70’s, with an age statement, for under 200 ??

Yes that’s right, as mentioned in an earlier post, it’s the last well kept secret in this word of Scotch Single Malts. For some reason, unless a bottle has a Vintage statement on it, it’s worth 5 times less.

Malts bottled in the 80’s

For example a Dalmore with a 1973 Vintage statement can sell for over 800 Euro, but the 12yo, also distilled in the early 70’s because bottled in early 80’s, you can still pick up for under 200. Same juice, different price. A Glen Garioch with a 1965 statement can sell for almost 1000, but a 10yo bottled in 1976 without the vintage printed on the label, sits unsold for 195 euro on an online shop. That’s just a couple of examples, let’s go into more details….


Imagine if the Lapphy 10yo above had a vintage stated on the label, let’s say this was bottled around 1989 (I could be wrong… Marcel?) so it would have a 1978 distillation date, the same bottle would sell for close to 1000 euro for sure.


Same for the Highland Park and the Springbank. And the Laddie. These and many other “Low cost” malts deserve a chance and my advice is to buy them up as you find them because they were produced in a time when making good Whisky was a serious deal, there was no rush to produce, fermentation time was long and care for the choice of casks was primary concern.


So look for them and let us know, post your tasting notes here if you can so we can build a sort of database for people who would like to taste good whisky for a fair price.

Italian liquor metal seals

So, before the beautiful excise “banderoles” there were the actually beautiful led seals, they were applied to each bottle produced, think of the waiste of led!

And here are the different seals with release dates. Keep in mind that, like for the paper flags, some importers and producers kept using the “older” version of a certain seal or flag until they ran out of them, sometimes a year or more after the new version came out.

The first led, or tin seal was released and used from 27/11/1933 until 31/05/1944. You will notice besides the coat of arms of the Savoia family there are two “fasci” from the “fascist” era, fascio in italian is a “bundle” or “sheaf” with an axe blade on top.

Sigillo Regno Fasci 

Then came the Sigillo Regno (Royal Seal” from 01/06/1944 until 30/12/1947 and it has two curtains instead of the “fasci”

Sigillo Regno

Then came, from 31/12/1947 until 29/04/1949 , the Sigillo Testa (Head Seal), signifying the new Italian Republic.

Sigillo Testa

And last came from 30/04/1949 until 15/06/1959 the Star Seal, or Sigillo Testa. This was the last one, after that came the in-famous paper flags for the joy of all collectors.

Sigillo Stella

So there you have it, I hope it helps. With thanks to my friend Valter for the precise dates.

Reading Italian tax flags and seals

I often get asked by my whisky friends to figure out when a certain bottle was bottled by reading the tax flag, here is a quick guideline for all of you who need this data.

Tax flags, are, well, tax flags. When an importer or producer wants to put on the market a bottle containing alcohol he has to pay an excise tax,in Italy to prove a certain bottle has absolved its excise duties they glue a paper flag over the seal. It’s not very pretty but we have learned to live with them. In order to tell when a bottle has been produced you can “read” the tax flags:

PINK flag WITH THREE STARS: Begin use 1952 Bottled before or in 1971.
PINK flag WITH TWO STARS and 3/4 litter statement: Bottled after 1971 and before 1976
PINK flag WITH TWO STARS and Litre 0,750 statement: Bottled after 1976 and before 1991
HALF PINK and HALF GREEN flag with 0,700 Litre statement: Bottled after 1991

To determine which is older just follow the alphabet: Serie A -001- sottoserie ….. To Serie Z and then Serie AA and so on. Often though we find discrepancies on this timing table, that is we can find a bottle with for example 3 stars which we know has been bottled for example in 1973. This is easily explained, nowadays it is the Custom’s Office which applies the flags, but many years ago bottlers and producers would just buy large quantities of these paper “stamps” and apply them on their own, this means that for example a certain producer in 1973 still had a quantity of 3 star banderoles and they were of course allowed to use them until exhaustion before having to buy the new kinds. So this system is not 100% spot on but it gives you at least a guideline.

Next time: Metal Seals.


Which is the best Whisky?

The one you like the most. That’s it. End of post…..

But, let’s go into a bit of details for those of you who need a hand in getting into Whisky drinking. This is data which most whisky lovers already know but let’s give a chance to our newbie friends and make it a bit easier for them to sail this magic world.

Scotch or other Countries Whisky can be often found having been aged in different kinds of wooden casks, each kind of cask gives the whisky a different flavor, character and complexity. By kind of cask we mean that each had previously contained something else before hosting the whisky. It is rather rare to see a whisky which has been aged in a virgin cask, this is because the oak influence would be so strong it would risk ruining the whisky completely. Tasting the “barrique” in a wine is a good thing, in a whisky, not so much. Tannins and high alcohol % do not go well together.

So the most used cask types are one which previously contained american Bourbon Whisky, these and all kinds of casks can be used more than once, this operation is called “refill” and in my humble opinion it is the best since the second time you fill a cask with Scotch lessens the influence of the previous host even more leaving you the chance to taste the whisky almost as it was when poured, just “aged”.


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Aged in Bourbon Cask


The most sought after kind of cask (and most expensive, sometimes 5x or more compared to a Bourbon cask) is the Sherry Cask. A large cask (aka butt) previously used in a Solera system (or single) in Jerez Spain where Sherry, a fortified wine, is produced. Many different kinds of Sherry exist and they go from the very sweet, dark and “thick”  Pedro Ximenez to white dry sherry of the Fino type. The color of the Sherry will influence the final color of the whisky as well.

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Aged in Sherry cask.

Somehow whisky plus sherry, and, (if done well and very few can) peat, go really well together, so much so that some Distilleries like Macallan and Glendronach have built their reputation out of this combination, Ardbeg has released some fantastic peated sherry single cask bottlings distilled in the 70’s. The very fortunate marriage Sherry/whisky was not born out of the need for a better whisky, it was born out of the need to save money, “used” casks cost less!

A few words about strength: Whisky when poured in a cask for the first time can reach over 70% in alcohol, time and weather conditions lessens this volume, this is called “the Angel’s Share” and depending on time and many other factors, when a whisky is finally bottled it could have lost a large percentage of alcohol and straight liquid. Most distilleries at this point add water to bring the alcohol volume down to 40% or 43% to make it drinkable for most. Of course connoisseurs prefer whisky which has not been watered down, this is called “cask strength”.

OK so these were some very easy info for newbies, apologies if it was boring for most of you but it was due.

NAS NVS NFL (not for long)

I’m going to rant today, (already? After just four days Diego??) after tasting a very expensive beautifully packaged NoAgeStatementNoVintageStatementWithaFancyName bottle from a very reputable distillery….

Most of us know by now, distilleries are crazy about NAS lately, No Age Statement, meaning we do not know how old the whisky is inside, it could be 3 years old, it could be 30 (right). This has ben the norm for a while, the huge increase in demand for whisky has pushed our Scottish friends and (more likely) “the dudes, who know nothing about whisky, sitting in a skyscraper’s International Headquarters office thousands of miles from Whiskyland” and barking orders on Skype to the Distillery Manager of that “new company we just bought”, produce! Faster! More! Run the still hotter! Shorten fermentation time!

Whisky is born with patience, repeat after me handsome suit and tie executives, “whisky takes patience”, it takes time to become Whisky. It takes many winter storms, and snow and sea gusts, it takes good old wood which has hosted before, it takes a long fermentation and quality yeast, and strong men who can weather all kinds of conditions, then it has to rest for a very long time. That’s how you make good whisky, and this coming from an Italian who knows absolutely nothing about REALLY making whisky, so maybe a new and young exec will point this out in some meeting and suggest to prepare for the future, to do things well.

Inexpensive, easy to find, 70’s distillation malts.

So this being an “advice” blog, why do I tell you all this, you already know it, I advise you to HOLD ON to some of the old bottles you have, to buy the still inexpensive OB 10 and 12yo that most distilleries had issued in the 80’s, with 70’s distillation, the Glen Gariochs, the Linkwoods, the Tormores, the Dalmores etc, you can still get them at auction for less than 150 euro, there’s decent stuff in there, at least its more complex than anything out right now. Keep in mind that 10 years ago we got spoiled by all those great bottles we could buy for a dime, so when we first tasted these, back then, it was no big deal, but NOW, well, taste a new NAS and then one of these and see what you think. They at least have that “old whisky style” complexity that is non-existent now. I will try in the near future to post here an extensive list of them.

OK I promise never to complain about the state of Whisky again! (thanks)

This will not last, i foresee. A new (bad)Whisky Loch will spring out of this rush. Stills and more new stills are pissing out faster then ever, there will be more whisky than thirst, and so some day we will hear, “we produce a REAL 12 years old!” “yeah… but it will cost you!”.

High Strength?

Every once in a while you might need to know if a bottle is “actually” a high strength one. It could be you can’t see the ABV on the label anymore, it can be you’re not too sure of the contents for some reason, so I want to share with you, if you don’t already know this, a trick I have been taught many years ago.

Shake the bottle vigorously  and watch the bubbles that form in the neck, if they disappear very quickly it should be a low alcohol strength bottle, if they linger for a few seconds it should be a high alcohol strength one. It doesn’t always work for some reason, i really do not know why, but i can say 9 out of 10 times it does the trick. Hope it helps.

Shaken vigorously and photo taken after 5 seconds

Bottle on the left is a 56.9% ABV, bottle on the left is a 40% ABV. The bubbles on the latter have almost completely disappeared, while they still linger on the high strength one.

“For drink or for collect?”

Yes, this is the phrase us Italians get joked about by our whisky friends. What is the bottle for? Do you intend to drink it or to collect it? Like it makes a difference…. True, drinkers joke about collectors and their perfectly lined-up displays of trophies, and collectors tell them “well, if there were no collectors you would be forced to drink what the distilleries are releasing now…” ahem, bleah. It used to be that good whisky was available in such quantities where you could do both, buy two of them, drink one, put one away for the future, or even three, that’s how i built my collection, open one, put two away, and after value has gone up sell one for the price of two… that way the one you opened was paid for.

And why is Whisky a great investment? Well all the obvious answers apply here, but also keep in mind that if you buy a Patek watch it will be one more Patek available in the world, with whisky when a bottle of Samaroli Bowmore Bouquet gets drunk that means there is one less in the world, that makes the value of the remaining bottles increase.

Scotch Whisky Export Growth
Value growth of whisky 1980/2013 Courtesy

So what to buy? Well the answer is easy if what you are looking for is drinking bottles, buy what you like to drink! But if you’re looking to invest in Whisky and to buy bottles that will hold or increase in value my advice is to buy the “Legends” when you find them no matter what the price is, if you can afford it, that is because there are less and less of them around and they keep increasing in value, if your budget is limited then the rule is “buy good whisky”, do not buy the latest fad, there will be a new one next week, buy whisky that has a good quality price ratio, Glendronach is still selling a 18yo and 21yo of excellent quality and decent strength, compared to its price and they use real sherry butts, same for Aberlour, of course the 12yo Lagavulin can ONLY increase in value because it is good, Scapa is in my opinion a still “undiscovered” great malt for a very reasonable price, many from the Rare Malts series are still affordable at auction even though they are distilled mostly in the 70’s. And of course Springbank in my opinion is maybe the last true boutique distillery releasing consistently high quality products at affordable rates.

In 2010 when i had my first Online Shop “Good Whisky” I listed the “Samaroli Bomb”, 4 bottles for 3450 euro and it went unsold for a year, price seemed too high, then, lucky me, it took it offline.  What would it be worth now?

Sama bomb1
The “Samaroli Bomb” unsold in 2010.

But…. good times are over now, even in Italy, but it used to be, not too long ago, that my wife and I would just hop in the car on the weekend, drive around to places we had never been before and stop at every bar, every pastry shop, small grocery stores etc, and come home on Sunday with the car full of Laffies, Lagas, Samarolis, Macallans and so on, they were everywhere.

Why in Italy? Why not in Germany or Belgium or more likely in the UK? Well the story is a bit convoluted but it can be explained fairly easily: In the 70’s mr Giaccone started a “fad”, the Whiskyteque, a place where you could try different kinds of hard liquors, they sprang up everywhere, and Whiskyteques needed product, different labels, series, so the good old masters of selection like Samaroli, Mongiardino (Moon Import), Intertrade, Sestante, Co-Import, Bonfanti etc etc started asking the Distilleries and Independent Bottlers to have different labels, Cask Strength whisky, series of bottles from different Distilleries with beautiful labels, so to fill up the shelves at the Whiskyteca with an appealing and wide selection of goods. And people started buying full bottles in these places to start a collection.

At the same time Italy was going through a serious financial depression, people started not trusting banks anymore and would rather put their money on collectables, watches, whisky, gold coins, stamps and so on. We estimate that there are about 3000 “undiscovered” collections still in Italy, but the internet served the purpose to let the collectors know that what they have in their hands could be worth a fortune, so it’s not that easy now to get them to sell it, especially when these rare bottles serve as a “come in” for the most searched online Whisky Shops and their prices are inflated beyond belief and so when we get an email from a seller asking if we are interested in purchasing a collection it is very likely that their asking price is way higher than what we would even sell it for in the shop.

And so the problem now is sourcing, not selling. But we have had some great years of fun and drams and we are thankful for that. So feel free to use this space as a “trade” venue, just please do not offer bottles for sale.

Knowhisky, another (useful) blog

Well here it is, another whisky blog. Let’s make it interesting then…. Let’s build a place where everyone can find and share information about the Whisky world, where one can find, on his journey to becoming a real “whisky Connoisseur “, bits of information, while having a dram, impress his friends with his anecdotes. So please feel free to share with all whisky friends what you have learned.

So first up… let’s see…. low level bottles.

There has been a trend lately, we can see it in our online shop, buyers are getting more and more choosey about “low level bottles”, where a bottle was considered low level when it was about a cm or more under the neck line in around 2007 now this has been taken to a whole new “level” and many customers complain of “low level” when the bottle is on or even above the neck line by almost a cm. The reason low level bottles are frowned upon is that alcohol has evaporated during the years of storage. This entails the risk that once Alcohol has reached a very low % level it will not conserve the whisky and the whisky will “rot”. With a level like the bottle on the right this risk is basically zero. Nevertheless as mentioned above many Connoisseurs will not buy it because of wrongly perceiving that the whisky will not be as good.

Left: A real “low level bottle” 

The bottle on the left should rightly be defined as “low level” because it has lost a significant amount of alcohol, the one on the right is not a low level bottle in my humble opinion, 50 years in glass will do that and evaporate 2cl of liquid, about 2.5% of total volume. This would bring the alcohol Vol % to maybe 44% if the initial Vol was 46% this being pessimistic in the evaluation. So do not be scared if the level has lowered about 2% in so many years it will take as many to make any more damage, and hopefully it will be “used” before then.

Another situation can exist when you see a bottle suddenly dropping in level, this could mean that the cork has dried up (even on metal cap bottles there is a cork disk sealing the top of the metal cap) and in that case if it is a metal cap bottle just gently tighten it, you will notice that you can turn it sometimes even by a third of a turn, this is because during the years the cork dries and becomes thinner, by tightening the metal cap you will once again seal the cap and give many more years of “Life” to your precious bottle.

Cork disk in metal caps

With cork cap bottles I usually tip the bottle every few months to “wet” the cap so that it has less chance of drying up. Just a few seconds will suffice. Parafilm is also an option although it has to be applied well making sure you warm it up with a hair drier or similar, Parafilm is essentially wax so if you warm it just a bit it will seal any opening, if you warm it too much it will melt and ruin your top.
VERY IMPORTANT: Sometimes we get an email from a customer complaining of a level being different than shown in the photo on the online shop. Understand that temperature has a huge impact on a liquid volume, especially on alcohol. If we have taken the photo of the bottle in August where the temperature in the warehouse was 30° celsius, and we sold the bottle in January with an outside temperature close to 0° the level will change by even 2 cm! Don’t believe me? Try this experiment: take a bottle to a temperature of 30° by warming it up with a hair drier or with a heater, or even by placing it in a sealed plastic bag and dipping it in warm water, mark the level on the bottle, now place it in the fridge first and even in the freezer afterwards and wait for the temperature to drop to almost 0°, now look at the mark, it could have gone from 3 cm inside the neck to just 1 cm! So keep in mind when purchasing a “low level” bottle, what is the temperature around it? Is it winter? If it is your bottle’s level could “grow” by lots in the summer.

STORAGE: Avoid storing your bottles in a “domestic Habitat”,what makes bottles evaporate is not the high temperature, it is the change in temperature. When alcohol heats up, as explained above, it will grow in volume, this will create a huge pressure inside the bottle and pressure means if there is even the tiniest escape route for alcohol it will be pushed through it by this pressure. So store if possible your bottles in a place where temperature changes minimally throughout the year. No pressure means no evaporation.

I hope this helps a bit, please feel free to share your experience and thought on this new blog, let’s all help each other know an enjoy this magic water of life better.