Whisky People #8 – Andrea Caminneci

by Oliver Klimek on October 17, 2010

Fact Sheet

Name: Andrea Caminneci

Year of Birth: 1966

Place of Residence: Meckenheim, Germany

Profession: Wine and spirits trade

Whisky Involvement: Independent bottler, importer

Portrait

Although Germany is not one of the prime markets in the global whisky business, it is far from being neglectable. Especially single malt whisky is rather popular, so it is not surprising that quite a few Germans have ventured into the independent bottling business.

Andrea Caminneci is a German of Italian origin. You might be tempted to think of the Gastarbeiter immigrants that came to Germany in the 1960s from various countries in southern Europe, but his family actually moved from Palermo to the Rhine about a century earlier. But his Italian roots are not forgotten. During and after his business studies he worked at various tourist resorts in Italy, thus getting into contact with the gastronomy business.

After his return to Germany Andrea worked as sales director in the beverage department of luxury food wholesaler Rungis Express and then as sales director and product manager of wine and spirit distributor Schlumberger. In 2005 he founded his own company – Caminneci – Wine & Spirit Partner – acting as distributor for gastronomy and selected retailers.

At the beginning his business was mainly based on wine, but as Andrea’s love for whisky had steadily grown during the years in the drinks business he decided to take it a step further by starting to bottle his own whisky under the label C&S Dram Collection. Recently he also became the importer of Glenglassaugh for Germany.

Andrea Caminneci can be met at many a whisky festival where he is offering his collection of drams.

Interview

With your background in tourism and gastronomy, how did you get to be an independent
whisky bottler? I guess you need a lot of contacts to the whisky industry to make this work.

Well, it was a long way, combining several jobs I had with my personal love and interest in single malt whisky which started over 25 years ago. Since 1987 I had always in some way professional links to bars and gastronomy. So my interest and my knowledge had the chance to grow together. The big step was my time in Italian hotels 1990 to 1995, where in this time the distribution and the interest for single malt war already much higher than in Germany. This years made me learn a lot and taste a lot ;-) And they gave me a certain head start against German collegues which started to discover whisky only in the late 1990s.

When I came back to Germany I was so lucky to work first for the exclusive top gastronomy distributor of „Remy Deutschland“, in this time we had Macallan, Highland Park, Bunnahabhain and Famous Grouse in our portfolio. In 2000 I changed to the German distributor for Morrisson Bowmore, Suntory and (later) Blanton’s Bourbon. I started there as a sales manager, but after some months they recognised my sympathy for the whisky range, and I was appointed to be brand manager for all whiskies. Well, they made me invest a hell lot of time and passion, without remarkable financial profit.

But this was the time for me to make my contacts in the German and Scottish whisky scene. So I enjoyed this years a lot, but in 2005 I felt like „Time to say goodbye“ and I started my own business, first mainly wine based… just that all the contacts I had told me: Thanks for a bottle of wine, but what we want from you is WHISKY! Well I learnt that its easier to sell the people things they ask for ;-), so I changed the focus of my comapany from wine to whisky. Logically this was only possible because I had already very good contacts in Scotland, including e.g. Brian Morrison and most of all Kenneth MacKay, former sales and marketing manager of Morrisson Bowmore and now managing director of the Scottish Liqueur Centre in Bankfoot, Perthshire.

How do you find the casks for your bottlings? Can you always “try before you buy”?

My main source is the Scottish Liqueur Centre. They are searching always for good casks, as well for their own „Carn Mor“ bottlings, as well as for my needs. Their sources are different – distilleries, brokers or even private people who may have bought some casks years ago and nearly forgotten about them… In the beginning I tried every cask – but, as this takes a lot of time, I even lost some
good casks to quicker buyers… Today, Kenny and I know each other so well, and especially each others fancy, that he calls me sometimes : „I am here, tasting this cask, and its perfect – price is good, what do you say?“ And I know that I can trust him and buy blind. But thats a matter of trust and many years of cooperation!

Which distilleries or whisky styles are the most popular in your range?

My style is diversification ;-) We always try to find more the sligthly different casks, not always the same stylish things. I personally like hogsheads much more than sherry casks, as they don’t influence the original product so much. For me a hoggie whisky is more honest then a dark sherry one. Nevertheless, when we have a dark sherry cask, and it is good, we bottle it, and it sells like nothing – as well as nearly every peaty Islay whisky does.

But all C&S Dram Bottlings have two things in common: I like them, and the price is fair. That’s the whole philosophy behind it. No matter which distillery, region, age or cask – the whisky must be good, and the price fair. Then we will bottle it, otherwise no chance!

You are present at a lot of whisky fairs and festivals. How important are these for your
business? Some say they are not really worth the effort.

I totally disagree with that! For me, as a small importer and bottler without any A&P Budget it is extremly important to be present at specially the smaller, local fairs and festivals.

I don’t have a big, wellknown brand, and I don’t have a price-agressive supermarket range. Single cask bottlings, often from unknown distilleries, get sold only using tastings! And where can I get more people to taste my whiskies other than at a whisky event? When I started the C&S series 4 years ago people asked „What’s this, never heard about“. Today 50 % arriving at my stand asking „ Do you have some new bottlings?“ I would roughly say 60 % of the people knowing my brand today are the sucess of my trade partners, but 40 % is due my personal presence on fairs, events and tastings.

As a German with Italian roots, can you point out how whisky preferences differ in these
two countries?

In Italy you have a certain number of whisky conniseurs, but a big number of whisky drinkers. You find there young malts and price agressive brands or old prestigous collectors items. In Germany we have a lot of whisky lovers searching for the non standard, but not many colletor’s whiskies. People in Germany who search for an „economic“ spirit would rather go for vodka or schnaps, not much for simple young single malt. Italians are generally more curious, in the early 1990′s I found an enormous number of various single malts in nearly every bar in Italy, when Germany was still on the level of Glenfiddich, Glenlivet and Glenmorangie.

You are an expert for both wine and whisky. Is there something that whisky makers can
learn from wine and vice versa?

I think that we have two to different products here. Wine is very much more made by climate, terroir and most of all treatment of the grapes in the vineyard. The wine pressing and the processing of the must are surly important, as well, as the barrel selection and aging – but from bad grapes you can never get a great wine. Sure, that even the quality of the barley is important, but it is much easier, to get this. And the „art“ of making whisky is the malting, the mashing and destilling act. After this you need a clean and safe barrel – and a lot of time. So wine is mostly made on the field, whisky mostly in the distillery.

What most whisky makers learned already, is, that the money for a good barrel is good invested money. Wine makers could possibly learn not to undersell their product, but here you have the problem of time… a wine won’t get better and more profitable, if you keep it for a long time, whisky will!

Common Questions

1. Please share a memorable whisky moment with us. This might be a fantastic dram, someone you met or any other situation that left a deep impression in your memory.

Well, there were a lot of great drams, a lot of fantastic people and even many great memories… Maybe one of the most impressive situations was standing on a wednesday at the pier of Bowmore, just far enough from the village, so you could hear only the sea. Kiln at Bowmore Distillery was working, so you smell a mix of Sea, salt, and peat… and then a big plate of fresh Loch Indaal oysters in front of me, spiced with a drop of Bowmore Mariner instead of lemon – and a big dram of the same bottle with eyery oyster…. Even if it was not at all the best dram I ever had – but maybe it was the most perfect one!

Maybe the biggest personality I met so far is Brian Morrisson – a big whisky character, a true Scottish gentleman and a great friend!

2. What percentage of your life do you dedicate to whisky (sleep ignored)? Do you think it should be more or less, or is it just about right?

Haven’t made a bill yet, I would guess maybe 35 %. I’m so lucky, that I earn my living mostly with whisky, so my family accepts that I have do do a lot of tastings, fairs, meetings etc. Well, in a business sense, it could be more, in family sense it should be less – so I think at the end it is just perfect as it is.

3. Your three tips for whisky novices

  • Have the courage to taste things you don’t know!
  • Listen to other people but trust only in one mans taste – your own!
  • Don’t search for cheap products – go for good value for money!

4. Your three tips for experienced whisky lovers

  • Don’t follow fashions, follow your own experience!
  • Never start to collect whisky – you will always have enough bottles, if you just buy the ones you like to drink ;-)
  • Never say GlenMacX is the best whisky – you will always find a better one.

5. What was the last dram you had and how did you like it?

That was a big one! I opend a bottle of Glenglassaugh 1974/2010 Managers Legacy „Jim Cryle“ at Whiskymesse Rüsselsheim and had to taste it again! It is simply fantastic – for me the best (bottled) Glenglassaugh I ever had.

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