Most of the time, when you ask someone what their favourite whisky is, they will respond with an example that falls into one of five categories: American bourbon, Canadian rye, Irish whiskey, or Japanese and Scottish single malts. With few exceptions, other countries and styles of whisky don’t enter the discussion. Which is why it’s interesting that Italy, with its long history of producing wine and amari, and the birthplace of many of classic cocktails, is rarely recognized for its whisky.
It stands to reason that a country like Italy, home to hundreds of distilleries producing indigenous spirits such as grappa as well as others, like gin, would be positioned to produce high-quality whisky. The distillation infrastructure is in place, and the taste for barrel-aged spirits has been growing thanks to the recent push for aged grappa. Italian whisky is a no-brainer, and there are some exciting developments on that front.
Of particular note is Veneto’s Poli Distillerie in Schiavon, which has made award-winning grappa since 1898. In the intervening years, it has added a host of spirits and liqueurs to its stable, including gin, vermouth, amaro, and brandy. But it is with its whisky—named Segretario di Stato in honour of 2013 appointment of a Schiavon native, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, as secretary of state to the Holy See—that Poli has made its boldest statement.
First bottled in 2021, Segretario di Stato spends five years in oak barrels before at least one year finishing in used amarone barrels, overlaying the whisky with a tinge of stewed fruit from one of Veneto’s more well-known drinks. The other dominant throughline of the whisky’s palate is thanks to a more unexpected intervention than amarone barrels: lightly peated (about 40 per cent of the malt), it delivers an unexpected smokiness, reminiscent of Scotland’s Islay scotches.
Segretario di Stato’s disparate characteristics—some from Poli’s Veneto home, others from abroad–illustrate what makes Italian whisky so much fun. Unlike its American, Canadian, Japanese, and Scottish counterparts, Italian whisky isn’t beholden to industry conventions. The result is a whisky that is hard to define but easy to love, and one that feels like a bold step forward for whisky as a category. Which makes sense—Italy knows a thing or two about a renaissance.