Edoardo Giaccone, Italy’s first independent bottler

Edoardo Giaccone—nicknamed Baffo for his incredible moustache—was indisputably one of the most important names in the history of whisky in Italy. A visionary, he laid the foundations for the many legendary independent bottlers who followed in his footsteps.

 

 

Bar owner and collector

Edoardo Giaccone was born in Varazze, Liguria in 1928. After briefly working as a bar manager at the age of 20, he was recruited to a cruise ship and began travelling the world. This marked the beginning of his love affair with whisky, a tipple he discovered at every stopover. Little by little, he became a genuine expert in the subject and in many respects something of an avant-gardist, notably favouring a nosing glass over the traditional and then ubiquitous tumbler for tastings.

He opened his first bar in Salo, on the banks of Lake Garda in 1958, initially naming it Garten before changing the name to Edward & Edward in 1956 when his son (almost named Edoardo) was born. It stocked more than 1,500 whiskies. A series of unfortunate incidents, from theft, to fire and finally eviction, eventually led the bar to close, but it wasn’t long before he opened another, Taverna del Capitano, in Gardone Riviera, Lombardy.

Over his life, Giaccone amassed an incredible collection, even selling his house to add new discoveries. Composed of over 5,502 different bottlings and more than 30,000 bottles in total, it even entered the Guinness Book of Records as the largest collection of whisky in the world.  When he fell ill near the end of his life, he offered Pepi Mongiardino the opportunity to buy it. Mongiardino initially agreed but eventually backed out, overwhelmed by the difficulty and enormity of the task, and the collection was bought by Giuseppe Begnoni.

 

Gordon & MacPhail

Giaccone frequently visited Scotland and travelled all over the country, visiting all of its distilleries to develop his knowledge and find the best bottles and casks, a practice that led him to select some of the finest whiskies of his time.

A large number of Giaccone’s bottlings were from Gordon & MacPhail. The Connoisseur’s Choice range—the first, with red labels on a black background—features a dozen bottlings made for Giaccone, bottled specially at 43% ABV, presumably at his request, instead of the standard 40% generally practised by Gordon & MacPhail at the time. These include  bottlings for many of Gordon & MacPhail’s flagship distilleries, including Mortlach, Linkwood, Strathisla and Talisker. Notable also are the particularly high ages of these whiskies, ranging from 21 years for a Talisker 1951 to 39 years for an Avonside 1938.

 

Two bottlings in Gordon & MacPhail’s Connoiseur’s Choice range for Edoardo Giaccone

 

Giaccone and Gordon & MacPhail also released an outstanding series of crystal decanters from Edinburgh for the Queen Mother’s 80th birthday in 1980. Four vintage whiskies were bottled, a Macallan 1940, a Glenlivet 1938, a Linkwood 1938 and a Glen Grant 1936. The others, which were generally younger and did not state the vintage, covered the 13 whiskies selected in Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart’s book Scotch: The Whisky of Scotland in Fact and Story, published in 1951.

Giaccone and Gordon & MacPhail’s relationship continued with other Italian bottlers, and it eventually even became practice for George Urquhart, who ran Gordon & MacPhail at the time, to take a six-week trip to Italy every year.

 

Official bottlings

Though few in number, it is difficult to choose between the official bottlings selected by Giaccone. For cask strength bottlings, the first of which was a Glen Albyn 10 Year Old bottled in 1967, the most notable including those for Glenfarclas, such as the classic 21 Year Old bottled at 51% ABV, a Linkwood 12 Year Old and, as we will see below, three Clynelish 12 year olds and two Bowmore 1969s. Other bottlings were released at lower strengths, like the Tormore 10 Year Old, the Dalmore 20 Year Old and several Highland Parks.

 

Glenfarclas 21 Year Old for Edward (sic) Giaccone

 

These whiskies bottled between the late 1960s and late 1970s were distilled in the 1950s and 1960s. Their style has little in common with more recent whiskies and allows a glimpse of a specific period in the history of whisky before it was modernized in the 1960s and 1970s.

Giaccone’s legacy is immense, not only in terms of his bars but also in terms of his collection and selections. Pepi Mongiardino says Giaccone was the first person he spoke to when he began distributing Bruichladdich in Italy. While not technically an independent bottler—instead selecting casks without actually having his own bottles and labels—Edoardo Giaccone did pave the way for the great independent bottlers of the 1980s like Silvano Samaroli, Pepi Mongiardino and Nadi Fiori. He died in 1996.

Clynelish 12 Year Old (rotation 1971) for Whiskyteca Edward & Edward

 

Clynelish 12 Year Old

56.9%, 75 cl, 1969, For Whiskyteca Edward & Edward

The versions of Clynelish 12 Year Old selected by Giaccone are some of the finest bottlings ever released for the distillery, which was renamed Brora after today’s Clynelish opened. Three exist, bottled in 1969, 1971 and 1973 respectively, all at 56.9% ABV. With vertiginous complexity, polishes, honeys and oils meet a coastal, medicinal and austere character composed of citrus fruit, herbs and salt. These are accompanied by notes of tar and smoke and a particularly smooth oily and rich texture.

Bowmore 1969

58%, 75 cl, 1978, #6635, For the 20th anniversary of Edoardo Giaccone’s Whiskyteca in Salò 

This Bowmore will be something of an enigma for those more accustomed to the fruity, exotic and only very lightly peated Bowmores distilled in the 1960s, the distillery’s golden age, as this version is the very opposite of this nonetheless much-loved style. Instead it is mineral, salty, intensely peaty and the only fruit expressed is found in lemon notes with an acidity as sharp as a razor’s edge. Perhaps one of the most wily and austere whiskies every bottled... and yet also one of the most beautiful—something that could be said for a great many of Giaccone’s selections.

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