Whisky and rum drinkers will do well to know this label: The Silver Seal, an Italian label that is respected within the inner circles of connoisseurs for its well-curated bottlings.
Independent bottlers have an important place in the world of fine spirits, as they release bottles that, while may not be in keeping with the ‘house style’ of the distillery, nonetheless will reveal stories that would have otherwise gone untold.
The usual suspects in the independent bottlings, like Douglas Laing & Co. (now split to become Douglas Laing & Co. and Hunter Laing & Company), Gordon & MacPhail, and Signatory Vintage (who also own Edradour distillery) are arguably better known because of better availability, as well as having a wider range of products at different price points.
Independent bottlers buy casks from a distillery, which they bottle under their own label. All of these is done in Scotland to meet legal requirements. In most instances, the whisky is sold as a single cask offering. Unless explicitly stated on the label, you can expect most whiskies with an age statement to be a mixture of vintages – a very necessary move to ensure a consistent flavour profile. But single casks carry the promise of a wonderful accident of nature that’s worth bottling on its own.
But having sampled several whiskies and rum from The Silver Seal at The Auld Alliance (who is the authorised distributor here), I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s simply too good not to share about – or not, if you don’t want people to know so that there’s more for yourself. The Silver Seal bottlings don’t come cheap, which partly explains why its revered status only prevails amongst the cognoscenti. I also had the good fortune of meeting Signor Massimo Righi, owner of The Silver Seal label, from which this short interview transpired.
Old Sestante bottlings are highly sought after by collectors and The Silver Seal is regarded as the spiritual successor of Sestante. Max owns the rights to the Sestante name and uses it for a line called the Sestante Collection.
MR: The Silver Seal was founded in 2000. Before that it was known as Sestante, which in turn was founded in 1979. I bought the two brands in 2010, but have been searching out casks for the label since 2008.
SS: What does one expect from a Silver Seal? What are the most important qualities that every Silver Seal bottle has?
MR: We always look for the best casks we can find, which are now very difficult to acquire. We invest in quality, and we are willing to pay more for the cask if we feel it is worth it. One thing that we look for is that every cask must be expressive.
SS: I noticed that you currently only bottle whisky and rum. Any plans for other spirits?
MR: Yes, we have been bottling quality Italian Grappa that have been aged in rum casks or whisky casks for two years.
SS: Personally what is the best whisky and rum you have ever tasted?
MR: One of my favourites was an old Laphroaig Bonfanti Import, but there are many, many others; like some instances of the old Macallan-Glenlivet.
SS: What do you think of the current global trend for rum?
MR: If you mean top quality rum, then I think it is a very good market that is growing year by year.
SS: These days single cask rum is no longer a new thing and is part of the norm. How do you choose your casks?
MR: It’s difficult to describe, but firstly, I don’t mind if the alcohol comes on strongly, but the flavours must be able to overcome it. Secondly every cask must have a particular uniqueness about it.
SS: What is the most interesting cask that you have ever bottled?
MR: I can think of a few: the Macallan 22YO 1989, and Demerara 1975, and also a Caol Ila 31 YO. There are many, actually.
SS: Have you ever thought about bottling non-scotch whisky?
MR: In 2014 I bottled a Chichibu in Japan, but it was exclusively for the Japan market.
SS: Any tips for pairings?
MR: I believe that before you drink a rum or whiskey, you must always think about what you eat, because you should marry the drink with the taste of your food. Also, a cigar is a great combination with whisky and rum, and I love it.
SS: What is your direction for Silver Seal in Singapore? Do you find that Singaporeans and Asians in general have a preference in terms of whisky profile?
MR: I think that Singapore is now like Japan; it is a mature market and the customers are curious and game enough to try different kinds of whisky and rum – thanks also to the very good work of my importer, the Auld Alliance. Asia is different: I think there are more customers that prefer Speyside whiskies, but it is now changing and they are requesting for more Islay whiskies.
SS: In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge for the whisky industry right now?
MR: I’m very worried because the prices are very high in the old vintage market, and only a few people can afford these prices. At the same time I’m also very worried about the increase in production for 90 per cent of the distilleries. I hope that the quality is still good but I am genuinely worried about this. I think whisky making these days is no longer an art, and more of a business. I hope I am wrong.
SS: Do you have any upcoming releases that will be heading to Singapore soon by any chance?
MR: Yes, very soon. Good news, specially for the Singapore market but about this, you have to ask The Auld Alliance… [Ed’s note: will be updated once The Auld Alliance is ready to talk about it]
Despite being quite a fascinating chap, there aren’t many interviews of Massimo Righi around on the web; at least in English anyway. There’s a particularly interesting one that’s centred around rum at gotrum.com, if you’re interested. If you wish to try out The Silver Seal range of whiskies and rum (you can get them by the glass), head down to The Auld Alliance @ 9 Bras Basah Road, RendezVous Hotel Gallery #02-02A.
Photo credits: Massimo Righi, Whisky Antique