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Every so often, we hear a whisky tale so good that we just have to tell you here on the Whisky Foundation blog.
This story isn’t just a great anecdote, but it’s full of other little titbits about the whisky industry at large and – best of all – ends with a message that pretty much sums up what makes independent bottling so special.
It involves Wilson and Morgan, a family-run Italian independent bottler. We love them here at WF. They’re a great example of the innovation, creativity and international collaboration upon which the independent bottling industry is built.
It also involves Michael Jackson. No, not that one, sadly. (However good this tale is, there’s no way it couldn’t be improved with a bit of moonwalking.) We’re talking about the beer and whisky writer, Michael Jackson, who not only is responsible for elevating beer from something to stave of thirst to something to treat like an art, but who also wrote the comprehensive guide to all things whisky, Malt Whisky Companion.
(We love Michael Jackson here at Whisky Foundation. Not only was he an incredible writer, but he also had a sense of humour. Knowing the mix-up between him and his namesake, he used to wear a single white glove to present his TV programme, The Beer Hunter, and said that he didn’t drink Pepsi, but drank beer.)
And it also involves lots of talk about whisky and the care it takes to produce an incredible independent bottling.
Shall we begin?
By the start of the millennium, Wilson and Morgan – having only been bottling for a decade or so – had built quite the reputation.
They were following in the footsteps of the great Samaroli, producing consistently great bottlings time and time again.
Of course, this put them on the radar of Michael Jackson, who was writing the new edition of The Malt Whisky Companion. (And was going to include some of their bottlings with lavish praise.)
MJ’s assistant was travelling around Italy and wanted to meet Fabio, the head of the Wilson and Morgan family. They met, wined and dined and got on incredibly well.
They agreed to meet again the next year, with Michael in tow. (OK, it’s not the most interesting story so far, but bear with us.)
They met at a restaurant in Treviso at the height of truffle season (‘tartufi’ or white truffles are a speciality of the region).
Surprisingly, over glasses of Piedmontese red wine and taglioni al tartufo, not much whisky was discussed all. Instead, they talked of good lives well lived; of music, travel and the little things.
But it was after dinner that talk turned to all things malted.
Fabio brought out a couple of new Wilson and Morgan bottlings: a Bowmore 1989-2003 with an Armagnac finish, and a Longmorn 1990-2002 with a Marsala finish. (The story is good now, right?)
The Longmorn wasn’t just a new bottling for W&M either, it was the first of its kind. According to all reports, it was the first attempt to give a whisky a Marsala finish (but not the last.)
MJ loved it.
Not only did he love the innovative spirit and the fact that Wilson and Morgan were pushing the boundaries of whisky, but he also loved the design of the bottles.
That’s when he uttered his immortal words:
‘You make whisky like your jacket, you are a tailor.’ (Fabio was wearing fine Italian tailoring, of course.)
High praise indeed.
In fact, it’s something that Wilson and Morgan are still incredibly proud of. When we interviewed them a little while ago, it was something they mentioned then too:
Fabio has told me many times he believes himself to be a tailor because, as Michael Jackson intended, he likes to create small craft bottlings each with a particular mark of distinction. Like a tailor, he likes to have elegant variations in his all creations, and so not two of them are alike. However, being a tailor, all of them bear his mark of distinction nonetheless. A good tailor always has his “recognizable style” even between two very different kinds of dresses.
And doesn’t that just sum up everything that is great about independent bottlings? That each whisky has been cared for, crafted by hand and meticulously planned, like the finest of suits.
We’ll drink to that.