Rare Macallan Surfaces at Hong Kong auction in August 2017

Picture Credits: www.whiskyintelligence.com

A set of rare Macallan surfaced in a Bonhams Whisky auction in Hong Kong last week, much to the delight of the participants. The complete set of The Macallan in Lalique Six Pillars Collection was actively bidded for and finally sold for HK$3,797,500. This is possibly one of the first set of rare Macallan sold at an auction after news that a Macallan vintage bottle located in St Moritz, Switzerland couuld be fake.

The six decanters made with Lalique crystal were produced between 2006 and 2016. Each of them are in limited quantity with age statements of 50, 55, 57, 60, 62, and 65, released in that order. All of the bottles are highly sought after individually, but to get all six in a complete set is pretty much an achievement. Congratulations to the winner of the bid!

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41 Years Old Singleton to be launched in Asia

Picture Credits: www.thedrinksbusiness.com

The oldest whisky ever launched by The Singleton of Glen Ord is gracing Asia from 7 September 2017 in selected countries. Made by “Master of Malt”, Maureen Robinson, this whisky is bottled at cask strength of 49.9% abv. Going under the label of The Forgotten Drop series, this 41-years old whisky is the first “oldest” whisky released by the distillery since its inception in 1838.

From 7 September 2017, this whisky is available in selected Asian countries at a jaw-dropping price of £2,200 as it is a limited edition of 600 bottles only. This is according to the news released by Glen Ord.

This release is interesting as Robinson has used a predominantly small batch of refill American Oak cask to create the 41-years-old. As it is different from Glen Ord’s typical use of refill European oak, ex-sherry casks, the flavour profile is going to be different from your usual Singleton of Glen Ord.

Robinson shared that the refill American Oak Cask is what makes the 41-years-old so special as Singleton of Glen Ord does not usually create a whisky of such age in American Oak Cask. The whisky is said to have a “depth of taste” and adds complexity to the Singleton’s signature balance and smoothness.

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Whisky Butler’s September Curation

September is coming right up! As we draw nearer to the end of the year, things are also dwindling to a slower pace. This is the best time to start planning for December holidays with a dram or two. In anticipation of the slower pace this coming month, Whisky Butler is launching 4 new independent bottlings from The Single Cask (TSC).

The 4 bottles hail from 3 different countries – 2 from Scotland, 1 from England and 1 from America. The differences between them are not just their country of origins, but their individual flavour profiles and characteristics.

The September Whiskies

1. Deanston 15 Years Old

Deanston 15 YO is a single malt Scotch from Deanston Distillery. It was distilled in 1997 and matured in a cask for 15 years before it was selected by TSC. Cask #1958 was then bottled at 45.8% abv under the label of TSC. As one of the 4 whisky choices offered to new members of TSC as a welcome gift, you can be sure that this is a bottle worth keeping!

2. English Whisky 7 Years Old

English Whisky 7 YO is a single malt from The English Whisky Co. It is a young whisky of 7 years and bottled at a high strength of 60% abv. Some may think that young whiskies are bad, but guess what, this whisky is not! Rich and flavourful, it packs a serious punch.

3. American Sour Mash 5 Years Old

American Sour Mash is an interesting whisky. It can only be produced in Tennesse, due to governance from the United States. As unique as it gets, this whisky is also bottled at cask strength of 59.7% abv by TSC. It may be just 5 YO, but it packs a serious tasting profile worthy of an 18 YO!

4. Auchroisk 21 Years Old

Auchroisk 21 YO is another single malt Scotch. It is from the Auchroisk Distillery that was distilled in mid-1991. By the time TSC bottled it in early 2013, it has been sitting in its cask for a whole 21 years! Interestingly, it is still a youthful whisky, with soft notes and gentle florals. It is an easy drink, despite the “advanced age”!

Find out more about these whiskies as we share the tasting notes in our next few posts!

 

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Whisky Review #33 – The Single Cask Auchroisk 21 Years Old

Auchroisk 21 years old is by far the oldest expression in this collection. It has an interesting flavour profile and is considered one of the unique whiskies in The Single Cask (TSC). It is also one of the four choices offered by TSC to its new members as a welcome gift. If you like this one, grab one before it is gone too!

Tasting Notes:

Colour: White Wine
ABV: 48.4%

Nose: Green grass and flinty on the nose, it reminds you of green bananas in a field. Perhaps it is also green raisins with lime skin. Some sweetness close to a lime custard tart formed as you nose it a little longer with hints of sour plum in the background. (15/20 points)

Palate: Umeshu with some pepper, it is sweet and citrusy like a lime soda before giving way to a combination of winter melon, guava, summer berries and peaches. (17/20 points)

Body: Good balance between green and sweet with pepper to add to its complexity. (30/40 points)

Finish: The finish is medium long with sweet and minty notes. (16/20 points)

Total Grade: 78/100 points

Comments:
Geek Choc: “One of my favourite flavour profiles with a good balance. While not everyone will like the flinty profile, I do find it unique and interesting as a drink.”

 

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Whisky Review #32 – The Single Cask English Whisky

English Whisky is truly one rare whisky which everyone’s got to try. The Single Cask (TSC) has specially chosen a whisky that is not from Scotland for this bottling. It is from England, hence the name “English Whisky”. This whisky is a fantastic dram to chill with even though it is only aged for 7 years. Do take note that it is a small release with only 249 bottles if you are interested to get one!

Tasting Notes:

Colour: Straw
ABV: 60%

Nose: If you like peanut butter and smoked honey bacon, this is for you! The notes of peanut butter with sweet corn juice drift up the nose before smoked honey bacon invades. Hints of salt and wet wool follow after. (18/20 points)

Palate: It is sharp and spicy with a big punch, as expected from the high alcohol content. Rich and buttery on the palate, smoky oak chips follows the spice before giving way to hints of toasted nuts and creamy vanilla ice cream. Gradually, it gets dry on the palate like a crisp Sauvignon Blanc. (17/20 points)

Body: Well balanced whisky with a punch. Sharp and spicy versus rich and buttery, it has quite a complex flavour profile. (31/40 points)

Finish: A long and dry finish with a pleasant hint of vanilla ice cream (16/20 points)

Total Grade: 82/100 points

Comments:
Geek Flora: “This whisky definitely lives up to TSC’s motto of fine-quality single malt. A complex flavour profile coupled with its small batch release, this is a whisky that should fly off the shelves fairly quickly.” 

 

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Whisky Review #31 – The Single Cask Deanston 15 Years Old

Deanston 15 years old is a single malt Scotch from Deanston Distillery. It was distilled in 1997 and matured in its cask for 15 years before it was selected by TSC. Cask #1958 was then bottled at 45.8% abv under the label of TSC. It is one of the four exceptional choices offered by TSC to its new members as a welcome gift at the moment. It will be replaced once it is completely sold out!

Tasting Notes:

Colour: Deep Gold
ABV: 45.8%

Nose: The immediate sweet notes on the nose feels like walking into a store full of fresh perfume. Almond vanilla crackers with key lime custard tart mix with honey tea and wild lilies follow after. (16/20 points)

Palate: A sweet and citrus palate like a honeycomb cracker with limes and grapefruits hits the palate pleasantly. It gradually turns into a mellow peppercorn with creamy vanilla burnt wood (16/20 points)

Body: The body is reasonably balanced with honey and vanilla. (28/40 points)

Finish: The finish is short but sweet with a pleasant oaky woodiness (15/20 points)

Total Grade: 75/100 points

Comments:

Geek Flora: “I like how it reminds me of a perfume shop with all my favourite perfumes. A sweet and easy drink that goes well as an after-dinner dram.”

 

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Exclusive Interview with Brendan Pillai – Bar Manager of The Single Cask

Picture Credits: WhiskyGeeks

WhiskyGeeks has invited Brendan from The Single Cask (TSC) to speak with us on his passion for whisky and share his views about the whisky industry with our readers. Here’s the lowdown of what we spoke about.

Before we start, let us give you a brief introduction to Brendan Pillai – Bar Manager of The Single Cask Singapore.

Name: Brendan Pillai
Occupation: Bar manager at TSC Singapore, Owner of WhiskyMate (blog) and fellow Whisky Geek
Loves: Whisky, of course!
Speciality: Brendan is a fantastic walking “wikipedia” on the whiskies in his bar; so, if you visit the bar and have no idea what to drink, ask him! He also packs a punch with his cocktails concoctions.

Now that you know Brendan a little bit more, let’s deep dive into our conversation with him.

What did Brendan do before joining TSC?

WG: Hello Brendan, thank you for taking time to speak with us. Before we start, maybe you would like to introduce yourself to our readers?

Brendan: Hello WhiskyGeeks! I am happy to share this conversation with you guys! Alright, introduction…My name is Brendan, I’ve worked for TSC for a year and a half now. I was previously from the oil and gas industry, dealing with the financial side of things. It wasn’t going well back in 2015, so it was either to wait it out or change. After some deliberation, I decided to join the spirits/whisky industry. Reason is simply – spirits has always hold an interest in me. This interest has led me to start my blog – WhiskyMate even before I delve into the industry. I thought that there is a need for a greater understanding for what I am writing about. So, the choice was either to join one of the big boys or to start off at a bar and work my way up. Learning happens along the way and I get something interesting out of it.

Who influenced Brendan into joining the whisky industry?

WG: Wow, what a history! We bet it wasn’t all that easy as you made it out to be. Besides your love for spirits, is there any one person who influenced you to join the whisky industry or to get you passionate about whisky?

Brendan: I think in terms of my passion for whisky, it started from my dad. He’s a very simple whisky drinker. He is very much a blended whisky person. He drinks Johnny Walker Black Label and Chivas 12, even Dewar Black Label. So that was where I started my journey as well. Usually it starts at home. As I experienced different things, different whiskies, I began to do a lot of research, both online and offline. The Internet has some good articles and I am fortunte to meet some really nice people who talk to me about whisky. One of them is Mr Matthew Fergusson-Stewart, now the Brand Ambassador for Glenfiddich; I met him when he was bar manager of Auld Alliance and we had a very good conversation in Nov 2012. There are also Mr Emmanuel Dron, the co-founder of Auld Alliance, Mr Richard Gillam, Brand Ambassador of Bruichladdich, and Mr Jim McEwan, the Master Distiller of Bruichladdich; I met him during my tour of Bruichladdich back in Jan 2015. All of them made an impact.

How has whisky changed for Brendan from the beginning till now?

WG: Is there anyone who has influenced you to delve into the knowledge behind whisky? When we first met, you were pretty much an enthusiast; you are now practically a whisky geek. How has it changed over the years?

Brendan: There’s no one person to be honest; it was more like a group of people. It was pretty much the 3 people I mentioned earlier – Matthew, Richard and Jim. These 3 have, in their own ways, influenced the way that I formed my opinions, found my favourite whiskies and distilleries. It was also the distillery tours that I went. Going to the source where your favourite whiskies are made is a profound experience. You get to see the process from start to finish in in-depth tours and that is one of the pleasures of a whisky lover. Speaking to Matthew is usually a transfer of knowledge from him to me; I would say something general, and he would transform that into something more in-depth, more complex. Richard, on the other hand, would speak to me about the intrinsic quality of raw materials and how they affect the final product.

What was the geekiest thing Brendan did?

WG: You call yourself a whisky geek. What was the geekiest thing that you have ever done in the industry?

Brendan: The geekiest thing I did was actually for my blog, WhiskyMate. I tend to write a whisky review weekly, but recently, I am so busy that the review is now fortnightly. One of the things that I normally do when I write a review is to research and find out more about the history, the shape of the stills, size of the wash backs and everything. All these technical aspects affect the final product and are some things which I find interesting.

Picture Credits: WhiskyGeeks

How long has Brendan been drinking?

WG: You mentioned that your dad introduced you to whisky and the spirits. How long have you been drinking then?

Brendan: Officially since I was 18, unofficially when I was 12. I had my first taste of whisky at the age of 12, when my dad let me have a sip of his whisky. I did and didn’t like the liquid. When I hit 18, the shackles were off and I went in search for something I like. I tried it all; vodka, whisky, gin and whatever I could get my hands on. In the past, it was pretty much the mixers when you hit the clubs, and as a young kid, you drink what your friends drink. But I always went back to whisky. It has always been a safe haven, partly because it could be mixed. I started my journey with the blends and mixers but I moved on to the single malts and fell in love with them.

What mixer will Brendan suggest for whisky?

WG: In your opinion, what is the best mixer for whisky?

Brendan: I was partial to whisky soda and whisky sprite. They lengthen the drink but yet retain more of the whisky’s characteristics as well. If you want to push it a little, there is whisky and lemonade, but I always wonder why the hell do people drink whisky and coke when it tastes like medicine!?

How important is whisky to Brendan?

WG: As a whisky lover, how would you rate the importance of whisky in your life on a scale of 1 to 10?

Brendan: I think at the moment considering my occupation, my blog and everything, a solid 8 perhaps. There is definitely room for it to grow, which is why I did not rate it higher. At the same time, I will not rate it lower, because it is a big part of what I do. I spend 6 days a week here to work, and it is not just work; it is passion as well. So I feel an 8 is a fair assessment.

As Bar Manager, how many whiskies have Brendan tried from TSC?

WG: What is the percentage of whiskies that you have tried over here at TSC?

Brendan: I think right now it is a good 65-70%. There are some bottles which we actually have not opened yet. Some of them tend to be sold off during sales or events as people want to try something diferent. I can try different variations, but since we work with a lot of small batches, single casks and independent bottles; it is not possible to try every variation of the same thing. More often that not, I try something that gives me an idea of what it taste like. The percentage flucutates because old stuff gets discarded, new stuff comes in.

How fast does Brendan think the whisky market will grow in Singapore and the region?

WG: As a whisky expert in the industry, how fast do you think the whisky market will grow in Singapore and the surrounding region?

Brendan: I think Singapore had a tangible growth for the last 7 years. 7 years ago, it was a case of the big names, where people looked at Macallan, Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, Glenmorangie and so on. But with the advent of the Internet, there are new avenues for the transfer of knowledge and people began to notice the different whiskies. It is not just Scotch, of course. The explosion of interests in Japanese whiskies and its awards helped. Newer whiskies like those from Australia, Taiwan and America also filled the demand. Online shops like Master of Malt and Whisky Exchange also made it easy to buy a bottle with a click of the button and have it shipped to your doorstep.

There is also duty-free where a wealth of alcohol awaits you, with different brands, types, strengths, and flavour profiles. It wasn’t this way 10 years ago – there were so much lesser choices back then. The distilleries also expanded their ranges to provide for more choices. In Singapore, whisky bars offer another avenue to taste new whiskies. That allows patrons to try different things that they have not tried before.

In terms of the region, I think growth is happening at a different pace, largely due to our differnt standards of living. You can get more premium quality stuff in Singapore, but in places like Vietnam and Thailand, the range is less extensive. But it is just a matter of time. I think that the strength of the industry and the love of whisky is growing, and people are getting educated through events such as WhiskyLive, and during interaction with brand ambassadors. It takes time, but we will get there.

What caused the increase in whisky drinkers in the region- Japanese or Scotch?

WG: In your opinion, what caused the increase in whisky drinkers in the region – Japanese or Scotch?

Brendan: If I have to pick one, I will say Scotch. Primarily because it has been around for very long in many different ways and forms. The blended whiskies are predominantly accounting for 95% of the market while the single malts accounted for the remaining 5%. The thing is that people are tired of Scotch and want to try something different. Japanese whiskies provided a different interpretation of what people are used to in terms of the Scotch whisky industry. There are connections between the Japanese and the Scotch as well, for example, big boy Nikka owns Ben Navis distillery and Suntory owns 5 other Scotch whisky distilleries. Nonetheless, Japanese whisky has a different flavour profile and some people like it better than the Scotch.

People will still go back to Scotch, according to Brendan

WG: Do you think that Scotch will lose its place eventually?

Brendan: If you ask me, I will say no. I think that yes, you can go with the Japanese, or the new world whiskies, but in the end, you’re still going to come back and try the Scotch. Primarily because there are more than 120 distilleries offering different flavour profiles and options. Of course, you can’t try them all but you can try the different flavour profiles of the majority of them. The distilleries are always innovating and trying new casks so there is always something new for you to try. Eventually, people are going to say, I have tried the Japanese so, let’s go back to Scotch.

What’s Brendan’s views about the Singapore whisky community?

WG: In a nutshell, what are your views about the whisky community in Singapore, in the context of the whisky industry?

Brendan: I know we had this discussion before and my views are not popular. I said that we are quite a fragmented nation when it comes to whisky. It is fragmented in the sense that there are those who stick their guns on a certain style, a certain distillery or a certain brand. There are also those who are open to try different things and those who are risk adverse to even try anything new. Lastly, there are the ones who are willing to try but do not know enough to find out what they like.

What is Brendan’s suggestion to close the gap in Singapore?

Brendan: We tend to like the big names. I’m sure part of it is due to marketing and word of mouth, and part of it is herd mentality. It is another controversial point of view, but I do believe herd mentality plays a part. Just because your friend tells you that this whisky is good doesn’t mean that you are going to find it just as good. You’ve got to try every whisky, give it a go, and form your own opinions. I think this is where the fragmentation lies. That risk adverse attitude of not wanting to try. If given the right motivation and the right push towards the whole idea of trying different things, I think we can solve the problem. Of course, it wouldn’t solve everything; we’ll never get that; but we can get to a greater understanding as a whisky market as a whole.

One of the most misunderstood categories is of course the indepedent bottlings. People tend to think that just because it is independently bottled, it must be inferior from what the distilleries are putting up. In some sense, they are not wrong; but in other sense, they are very wrong as well. That is very subjective. It depends on the situation and the casks of whiskies used. That is why we ask people to go out there and try as many whiskies as possible to form their own opinions. Find the ones you like and the ones you don’t like and keep trying.

Picture Credits: YX (Whisky Butler)

Does Brendan think he is an influencer in the Singapore whisky community?

WG: How much of an influencer do you think you are in the whisky community in Singapore?

Brendan: In terms of influence, I have a long way to go, primarily because there are other influencers who have established themselves. These people are well known not just for the content they produce but for the views they hold as well. In some ways, I may have some influence through my blog and the bar here, but I feel that the motivation to keep learning and improving, is more important. I believe that I am just a crazy guy who loves his whisky and that translates into my passion at the bar and my views of getting people to try new things. When we succeed in getting someone to try new things, we influence the community in a small way because this person is going to tell his friends, “hey guys, I tried something new at TSC! It’s different, but it’s worth a try.”

Who are the influencers in the whisky community in Singapore?

WG: Who are some of the others whom you think are influencers?

Brendan: There are several whisky bloggers out there. First, there is Mr Benjamin Chen. He is part of the Malt Maniacs and one of the foremost authorities in whiskies. In my opinion, he is one of the greatest whisky writers out there. Then, there is Mr Matthew Fergusson-Stewart. It comes back to him because of his knowledge, and his views are respected. He is also more than willing to engage you in a healthy debate in terms of ideas. He is not someone who will shut you down because your view diverges from his. Of course, there is also Mr. Benjamin Tan from Whisky Butler. Ben is very knowledgeable and we have many good conversations. He speaks freely about the industry and the whisky market and we often exchange our ideas and views about whisky.

We also have the people behind the bars. We have Mr Khoon Hui from Quaich Bar, Mr. Emmanuel Dron from Auld Alliance and Mr Jeremy Tan from The Wall. All of them stock amazing stuff in their bars. We also have La Maison du Whisky with a huge selection. All of them play a part in the industry and shape the opinions of the whisky drinkers in Singapore.

Do the large number of influencers contribute to the fragmented whisky community?

WG: When you mentioned the large number of people who influence their members in their own small ways, do you think they are also contributing to the fragmentation of the community?

Brendan: 100%! The thing is, everyone has their own agenda. There are certain points that they want to drive forward – particular elements of the business, part of the company or part of what they want to profess. These resulted in different opinions that contributed to the fragmentation. A large part of it is also the lack of information. In a sense, people do not have enough information about the whisky industry as a whole, but only elements in a part of it. Hence, people don’t look beyond the brands or the information provided to them. They tend to take it at face value instead of looking deeper with research. There are always people who are just looking for a nice dram but there are also those who are looking for something new because they are not satisfied with what they have. At the end of the day, the fragmentation comes from the differing opinions as well as the lack of knowledge and information.

What does Brendan see for the future of the whisky industry?

WG: Do you think that the future can bring about a change in the whisky industry where the fragmentation can be lessened?

Brendan: I think the closing of the gap can only be achieved through education. The proliferation of online sites such as WhiskyFun, Scotchwhisky.com and even looking local, you have yourself, Whiskygeeks, and also Casks and Drams, a whisky publication that we have. The idea is that these places provide tangible information for people within the industry and that will help to close the gap eventually. It is not about recognition; it is about the provision of information, the furthering of knowledge that contributors such as Matthew and Benjamin Chen write. If no one do anything, the industry will remain the same. People are not going to care.

Having such websites and access to good information serve to level the playing field. We try to explain the concepts in a more scientific term, produce geeky stuff and provide just a little more information. I guess it is the sharing of information and knowledge that will negate that fragmentation. I hope that it will continue to be this case moving forward. It is a deep-rooted problem that will take years, a lot of efforts, some blood and sweat, but I think eventually, we will get to a point where people can understand the industry better. There is no 100% understanding, but having healthy debates within the industry is a good start.

What does Brendan wish to see in the future of the whisky community in Singapore?

WG: To round it off, what do you wish to see in the future of the whisky community in Singapore?

Brendan: I think I would like to see a bit more fearlessness and a bit more drive to try different things. Working at TSC surrounds me with different bottles every day, and I can’t help but be influenced by what is in front of and behind me. I want to share it with people and if anything, I wish to have more people walking in to try something different.

What is Brendan’s advice to the whisky community?

WG: What is your advice to the whisky community in Singapore and the region?

Brendan: Don’t be afraid, be fearless. Just because you like one whisky doesn’t mean that it’s the only thing you drink. Just because you didn’t like it, doesn’t mean that the distillery is bad. So the biggest take away that I can provide to whisky drinkers out there is to go out, try as many whiskies as you can. Don’t be afraid. There is nothing to lose.

 

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The Single Cask – An Introduction to an Independent Bottler’s Bar

Picture Credits: WhiskyGeeks

The Single Cask (TSC) is a boutique whisky bar located at the charming Caldwell House in CHIJMES. Almost hidden by a spiral staircase right outside its doors, this cosy place is not your typical whisky bar. TSC dedicates itself to whisky lovers in Singapore and around the world with the motto of “by enthusiast, for enthusiast”.

History of The Single Cask

Ben Curtis founded TSC as a brand  in 2010 with only 4 casks. He spent the next 5 years looking for the right casks and distilleries for his bar. TSC opened its first bar in September 2015 in Singapore. The second bar opened in March 2017 in Stamford, Lincolnshire, United Kingdom.

The Single Cask Singapore

Despite its short history, TSC won the hearts of many whisky enthusiasts in Singapore. Returning patrons walk through their doors on a regular basis. The bar stocks a range of more than 350 different labels. Most of these labels are independently bottled and drawn from a single cask. The brand also has its own range of independent bottling which showcases single cask expressions from Scotland, England, USA and Guyana.

Speciality of The Single Cask

Picture Credits: WhiskyGeeks

TSC specialises in single cask Scotch whisky and commits itself to source for only the best. The company supports and represents a number of family owned distilleries and independent bottlers. As an independent bottler, TSC takes care to select whisky casks that are unique and interesting. These casks are then bottled under their own whisky label “The Single Cask”. Patrons visiting the bar can have a dram of these beautiful expressions. If they like it, visitors can buy a bottle to bring home for their own private enjoyment.

Who is Who at The Single Cask

Ben Curtis: As you already know, Ben Curtis is the boss of TSC. He is the “whisky daddy” as he is the oldest in the team and knows the most about whisky and spirits. As a man who is in this trade for more than 2 decades, he has rightly earned the rights to be a “daddy” of whisky.

Brendan Pillai: Brendan is the bar manager of TSC Singapore. As a fellow whisky geek, he is considered the resident expert at the Singapore bar. Brendan also shares his knowledge through his blog, WhiskyMate.

What does The Single Cask offer its patrons?

TSC inclines towards independent bottlers and lesser-known distilleries due to their own experiences as an independent bottler. Within that impressive collection of more than 350 different labels, you can expect to find rare and beautiful expressions that are not found elsewhere.

Besides whisky, TSC offers a range of different spirits and cocktails to satisfy patrons who are not inclined towards whisky. Expect amazing cocktails from their “mixologist” as he creates cocktails suited for your palate.

Besides beautiful expression of whisky, TSC also hosts special events and masterclasses. It is also the first Whisky Ambassador accredited venue in Singapore. Patrons interested to host whisky tasting sessions for their friends or business associates are also welcomed. In addition, TSC offers whisky tasting sessions for corporates team building and networking events. Flexible arrangements and packages are available.

Where is The Single Cask?

TSC Singapore is located at Chijmes Caldwell House, #01-25, 30 Victoria Street, Singapore 187996

TSC Stamford is located at 16 St Mary’s Hill, Stamford, Lincs PE9 2HN

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Top 5 Independent Bottlers you can find in Asia

We have touched the tip of the ice berg regarding independent bottlers (IBs) in our previous post. In this post, we will share the top 5 IBs whose bottles are found in Asia, particularly Singapore.

Gordon & MacPhail

Gordon & MacPhail is founded in 1895 by James Gordon and John Alexander Macphail. Originally a well-known grocer, the company imported all kinds of groceries. That included whisky. As the founders grew to like whisky, they started buying malt whisky by the barrels. They inclined towards Speyside’s single malts and today have a large collection of these whiskies.

John Urquhart joined James and John Alexander in their early days as an apprentice. The business passed into the hands of Urquhart and his family later on. Today, the company is still helmed  by the Urquhart family.

Gordon & MacPhail occupies the original premises in Elgin, Scotland since 1895. Today, it is one of the largest independent bottlers in Scotland. They have over 300 own bottlings in their catalogue at any one time. In 1993, they also bought the Benromach distillery. The distillery closed for renovation for 5 years and reopened in 1998, where they continue to produce quality whisky for the world.

The range of whiskies is wide and includes Connoisseurs Choice, The MacPhail’s Collection and Cask Strength.

Douglas Laing & Co Ltd

Douglas Laing & Co Ltd is a Glasglow based company founded in 1948 by Frederick Douglas Laing. Unlike Gordon & MacPhail, Douglas Laing started out as an IB directly. The post-war era was a good time for business and the company grew rapidly. The business passed down to his two sons, Fred and Stewart, who continue to manage the business well. The company is one of the largest independent bottlers today.

In 2013, Stewart decided to start his own company called Hunter Laing and the two brother parted ways. Nonetheless, Douglas Laing continues to produce high quality whiskies despite challenges in the company with Stewart leaving.

Some of the popular ranges of whiskies from Douglas Laing includes the Old Particular range of single malt and single grain whiskies as well as blended malt such as Big Peat and the King of Scots.

WM Cadenhead’s

WM Cadenhead’s is a well-known independent bottler but it did not start that way. It was founded by George Duncan in 1842 as a vintner and distilling agency in Aberdeen. He invited his brother-in-law, William Cadenhead, to join him after a decade of flourishing business. 6 years after Cadenhead joined, Duncan passed away, leaving the vintner to Cadenhead. He promptly changed the company’s name and continued to build the business.

Cadenhead passed the vintner to his nephew, Robert Duthie, when he died. Duthie was the one who developed the company into the independent bottler that we know today. In an attempt to move away from his uncle’s business model, Duthie started vatting the variety of malts he had to create exceptional blended malts like the popular Heilanman and deluxe Putachieside. He also started the slogan “By Test the Best”.

Duthie died in an accident in 1931, leaving the company to his two sisters. They have no idea how to run the business, so they left it in the hands of long-time employee, Ann Oliver. Unfortunately, Oliver was unable to grow the company but instead left it in such a bad state that they ran a “fire sales” of spirits at the auction house of Christie’s in 1972. Ironically, it cleared all their debts and added a 6-figure profit to the company. The sisters decided to sell the company to J. & A. Mitchell and Co., the owner of Springbank in Campbeltown in the same year. It moved to Campbeltown where it continues to produce quality independent bottling today.

Duncan Taylor Scotch Whisky

Duncan Taylor shared a similar history to most of the independent bottlers above. It was founded in 1938 as a cask broker and trading company. Due to its strong ties with the distilleries they worked with, Duncan Taylor began to bring their own casks to buy new make spirits from their distilleries friends. This resulted in Duncan Taylor holding on to rare whiskies from closed distilleries today.

Euan Shand bought Duncan Taylor in 2001 and moved the company to his hometown of Huntly, Scotland. He also changed the business completely, forsaking its history as a cask broker. Euan’s experience in the industry makes him the perfect guy to utilise the whisky vault that Duncan Taylor owns and he began the company’s new journey as an independent bottler.

Some of the popular ranges of whiskies include Black Bull, The Octave and The Rarest.

Signatory Vintage

The last bottler on our list is relatively young but equally strong. Signatory Vintage is established in 1988 by Andrew  Symington and his brother in Edinburgh. As a late bloomer, the company adopts a vigorous release policy so consumers can easily find 50 available different single malt expressions at any one time. Despite the bigger amount released, the quality is never compromised and the company grew by leaps and bounce.

Signatory Vintage was threatened in the early 2000s due to the crisis of independent bottlers where distilleries started to mistrust them. In an attempt to overcome the threat, Signatory Vintage bought Edradour distillery in 2002 and moved its operation to Perthshire, next to the distillery. Today, the company is producing not only quality independent bottles but also releasing single malt whisky under the Edradour brand.

The popular ranges of whiskies from Signatory Vintage include the un-chill filtered collection, the cask strength collection and the single grain collection.

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A Short Note about Independent Bottlers

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Much talks about independent bottlers have been around for a while. Almost everyone has an opinion about independent bottlers. Some say that they are fantastic for the market, some not so. Others say that independent bottlers make inferior whiskies, while some appreciate these whiskies more. Despite the mixed opinions, indepedent bottlers are rising to fame. Why is that so?

The Appeal of Independent Bottlers

The appeal of independent bottlers (IBs) is simply the fact that they expand the whisky market. You can call them an industry disruptor if you will, because they bring a larger selection of whisky to the world. IBs do one of these two things – they buy new spirits from distilleries and mature them in their own casks, or they buy and trade already matured whisky in barrels. If the IBs decide on new spirits, they can choose to store the barrels/casks in their own warehouse, or leave them in the distillery or a shared warehouse.

The Rise of Independent Bottlers

The last decade has seen the rise of many new independent bottlers, especially in Scotland. There is also a trend for popular whisky shops to bottle their own whiskies. For example, The Single Cask, La Maison du Whisky, The Auld Alliance, etc. These shops are found in Singapore and each of them have their own labels. These new independent bottlers often confuse people, because they are not well-known to the public. The doubt is strong regarding how good they are. Oftentimes, they need to prove their own worth but they are doing it!

History of Independent Bottlers

The first known independent bottler in Scotland appears to be Gordon & MacPhail from Elgin. Originally a well-known grocery company, it decided to buy malt whisky in casks and to bottle it with their own labels. As they started in 1895, they have a large stock of malt whisky casks that are worth a fortune in current time. Between 1895 to 1980s, there were many other IBs, but most of them closed down due to the 2 world wars and major economic upheavels.

In the 1980s, Signatory Vintage Ltd entered the market. The Symington brothers marked the Scotch single malt as their goal, and they make it their mission to change the Scotch single malt market. Due to their diligence and hard work, they transformed the whole market in 20 years, achieving high success.

Up until 2001, there were many dubious new IBs which entered the market and gave it a bad name. This pretty much caused suspicions and doubts from both big player distilleries and consumers alike. Restrictions were placed by the big boys. Distilleries such as Glenmorangie and Glenfarclas forbid IBs to use their names. Others like Diageo, stopped selling casks to IBs. Consumers boycotted certain IBs which are producing inferior products. Some stopped trying whiskies from IBs completely. The sincere IBs were in trouble. With no good quality casks to be bought, they were in danger of drying up.

Solutions to the Problem

In order to survive, the IBs bought distilleries themselves. Gordon & MacPhail took over the Benromach distillery. Murray McDavid bought Bruichladdich while Ian MacLeod took the helms at Glengoyne. Signatory Vintage waited a while before buying Edradour distillery. With the big IBs running their own distilleries, expectations of independent bottling naturally raise as well, creating this class of high quality independent whiskies that we get today.

The Future of Independent Bottlers

Nobody knows what the future may bring. Nonetheless, we foresee mergers in the short to medium term for the IBs. For the long run, they will need to come up with better business strategies. One viable option is to set up new distilleries of their own. Some examples of such include the Isle of Arran and Kilchoman. The easiest way to do this is to buy a distillery that is closing down. However, this, in itself, is a challenge. Well-known distilleries are expensive while cheap distilleries have lesser potential.  How can one decide which to buy?

Nonetheless, the future is not totally bleak for the IBs as the market is taking notice. As long as they continue to finetune their business models and produce good whiskies, the consumers will help them to survive for the next 100 years or more.

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