Introducing the 1887 Virtual Bar

Credits: WGS Singapore

Life took an unexpected turn at the beginning of 2020, and our lives changed 360 degrees when Covid-19 surfaced and killed more than half a million people worldwide. Many of us have stopped work, or at least started working from home as countries move to curb the spread of the virus. Many lives were changed, especially those in the food and beverage industry. However, out of all that negative vibes, hope rises as people band together to create a new way to drink and socialise. A virtual bar, or a virtual tasting, is fast becoming the newest trend to hit the world as the alcohol industry strives to continue serving its customers through the next viable means.

1887 Virtual Bar

William Grant & Sons, our friendly family-owned distiller, is no different. With the global situation getting worse, the company decided to do their part to help local bars to survive by opening a virtual bar to serve drinks, live from your home bar. The virtual bar is codenamed 1887 Virtual Bar to commemorate the year that WGS opened. The platform features weekly guest shifts hosting some of your favourite bartenders in Singapore together with brand ambassadors, Charmaine Thio and Brett Bayly of Hendrick’s Gin and Glenfiddich respectively.

Kick-off Guest Shift

The first session of the 1887 Virtual Bar started with Sam Wong, the head bartender at Shin Gi Tai, via Zoom on 9 April 2020. We logged in using the link given, and we found our hosts waiting for us. Charmaine Thio, brand ambassador of Hendrick’s Gin and Brett Bayly, brand ambassador of Glenfiddich, were already online together with the head bartender of Shin Gi Tai, Sam Wong. To kick start the session, Charmaine introduced 1887 Virtual Bar and what they hoped to achieve. She encouraged participants to ask questions via the chat function found in the Zoom sessions and to interact as much as possible through the limited functions available.

The virtual bar also sells cocktail vouchers, which participants can buy to support the bar. These vouchers can be redeemed at a later date at Shin Gi Tai when the Covid-19 situation in Singapore eases.

Cocktails on Show

  1. The Dragon’s Daughter

Sam Wong is a familiar face for many of us. For the first session, Sam created four different cocktails for the audience, based pretty much on what Shin Gi Tai is well-known for. Charmaine had the chance to request for the first cocktail (because ladies first!) and she asked for something light and refreshing. Sam took up the challenge easily, creating what he called, “The Dragon’s Daughter”.

You can check out the ingredient in the picture below.

From the screen, it looked like an orange/pink drink and being a virtual session, not a lot of garnishes went into it. Nonetheless, it looked delicious, and I would highly recommend that you try this the next time you are at Shin Gi Tai!

    2. Coffee so Stronk

After encountering the Dragon’s Daughter, Brett felt the need to have something solid to keep his nerves strong! So, he requested for a whisky-based cocktail. Sam, in response, created a cocktail that is not only whisky-based but also involved caffeine. Coffee so Stronk uses Nanyang infused coffee as part of its ingredients and it looked like a stiff drink! It is perfect after a hard day’s work.

Here are the ingredients.

You may not have the Nanyang Coffee infused Fernet at home, and it is probably too troublesome for you to make it at home. So, head over to Shin Gi Tai after the Circuit Breaker eases off to have a taste of this cocktail!

   3. Highball

Everyone loves a highball on a hot day! That was what Sam recommended after the first two cocktails. He said that the weather is terrible nowadays and a highball can help to bring down the temperature! After all, nobody wants to have a high temperature now too! Hahaha!

Yup, a highball is easy to make. As long as you have some whisky and soda, you can easily make your own highball! A note on Glenfiddich 15 years old though. This is one of the easiest whisky to drink and its sweet character makes it a great conversation starter. In case you are wondering, a highball is a Japanese concept of drinking whisky on a hot day. It is a simple mixing of whisky and soda (in the portion you want – most people do 30-70). You prepare a tall glass, put in ice, and you pour first the whisky into the glass, and then top the glass up with soda. Stir the mix with a spoon and you are done! If you want more flavours, add in a slice of lemon after squeezing some zest into it.

You may think that you wouldn’t want to order a highball in a bar, but trust me, it is really the best drink to have on a hot day!

   4. SGT Negroni

Next up, Sam introduced Shin Gi Tai for those who have never been there. If you have never been there, you should try to go after the Circuit Breaker ends and bars reopen. Shin Gi Tai is a cosy, intimate bar in Telok Ayer with no menu! Yes, no menu! What the bar tries to achieve is to tailor a personalised service and cocktail for each patron. Tell the bartender what you fancy in terms of flavours, and watch them shake it up for you!

Shin Gi Tai, however, has its favourites. SGT Negroni is one of them. Made using only three ingredients, the Negroni is a classic favourite at the bar.

Sam showed us how simple it is to make the Negroni but I can assure you that I am not going to know how to make it so I am better off heading to Shin Gi Tai when the virus goes away!

The Conclusion

The session concluded with a call for participants to ask questions. Sam took a few questions from the audience and he showed how experienced he is when someone asked for a low-calorie cocktail. I will not spoil the mystery here, so be sure to go to Shin Gi Tai to ask him! Finally, the hosts reminded everyone that we can support our bars through our kind purchases of vouchers to help them survive this tough period. Due to the time limit, the Zoom session ended with a final call to tune in again next week!

Some Thoughts about 1887 Virtual Bar

Well, it was a good session and I do encourage all of you to join in the next one (details below). However, I think the session could be more interactive. It would make the sessions more fun and resembles a real bar. Nonetheless, these are challenging times and we have to make do with what we have! Please support the 1887 Virtual bar and stir up your own cocktail at home!

Details of the Virtual Bar Sessions:

You can find out more about the guest shifts and participating bars at the below link:



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    Caol Ila Distillery – The Contributor of JW Blends

    Caol Ila Distillery

    Our visit to Caol Ila Distillery was the beginning of the end of our Islay trip. It was unfortunate that the distillery was undergoing renovations when we were there. It resulted in our tour getting cut, but the compensation we got was more of their gold nectar!

    The Caol Ila Visitor Centre

    Walking to the Visitor Centre

    Due to the renovations, our vehicle was not allowed to go right up to the gate, so we parked far away and walked up to the distillery. The safety measures put up at the distillery were impressive, so we felt safe during our time there, even with all the construction works all around.

    Curly the Pig reporting in

    When we reached the visitor centre, the cask greeted us in a quiet corner. The cask served an important role though – it was the meeting point for all Caol Ila tours! Upon entering the little shop, we were quite shocked at the number of people squeezed into the tiny space. A group of Caol Ila fans turned up at the distillery without a prior tour booking, and they were unhappy that the team at the shop turned them away! There was a little commotion, but it was sorted out after one of the team checked the tour for the day after and managed to squeeze them in.

    The Tour Proper

    Our tour guide came to meet our group shortly after the commotion. She explained that as the renovation was on-going, we would not be able to visit the whole distillery but only the Still House, which was still untouched by the construction. We were quite disappointed, but there wasn’t anything we could do about it.

    The Caol Ila Stills

    Inside the Still House, our guide shared all the details of the production at Caol Ila Distillery with our group. We visited on a Sunday, and the stills were not running because the distillery only works Monday to Friday! It was surprising as most of the other distilleries work seven days a week, 365 days a year. Our group joked that it must be a good thing to be a production crew at Caol Ila! You get the weekend off!

    The Caol Ila Way

    Caol Ila smokes their barley to around 50ppm, and it should get a very smokey whisky like Ardbeg. However, their stills with the long lyne arms created a lot of reflux, and the result is a much softer smoke.

    The wash still at Caol Ila has a capacity of 58 thousand litres, but they only charged 19 thousand litres of wash in each distillation cycle. The aim is to create high refluxes within the still and increase the purity of the distillate.

    The distillery takes a cut of the heart between 75% to 65% abv of the distillate. Our guide shared that the process takes an average of 2.5 hours during a normal distillation cycle. The head is around 85%% abv while the tail is below 65% abv. The head and tail go back to the distillation cycle in the next charge, similar to most other distilleries.

    The team then dilutes the new make to 63.5% abv (industry standards) before putting them into their respective casks for maturation. An interesting point to note is that Caol Ila does not mature their whisky on-site, but send them to mainland Scotland to mature in a separate warehouse.

    Casks of Caol Ila

    Noticing that some unfinished casks were sitting around the distillery, one of us asked our guide if those casks were no longer in use. She said that while those that we saw were indeed staves that they discarded, Caol Ila builds their own casks. How they do it is to import bourbon staves from the United States of America, and their talented team build the casks up on their own, complete with their specification. Most of the casks are hogshead.

    Where does Caol Ila whisky go to?

    Our article title already suggested that Caol Ila is the main contributor for Johnnie Walker blends. Still, you may be shocked to discover that up to 85% of all Caol Ila whisky goes to Johnnie Walker! Before the boom of Caol Ila single malts, up to 95% of the whisky goes to the blends. Diageo reduced it to 85% in 2011.

    The Tasting Room

    The Tasting Room

    After the short but information session in the Still House, our group went to the Tasting Room, a large, upper room hidden by a wooden door! It overlooks the Sound of Islay and right opposite us, the Paps of Jura! Now you might remember that the Still Room in Ardnahoe overlooks the Paps as well, but we weren’t lucky during our trip to Ardnahoe to view them. However, we were lucky this time!

    The magnificent Paps of Jura

    Ta-da! This was the view right outside the window of the tasting room. Even though the clouds were still low, we could see the two peaks of the Paps, which were magnificent. Of course, our photograph couldn’t do justice to the beauty that we witnessed on Islay.

    What was on offer?

    Caol Ila 15 YO Unpeated, Caol Ila 10, Distillery Exclusive

    Our guide invited us to take our places at a large table where our drams awaited. First, we gave us each a branded Glencairn glass; then she began introducing the whiskies. The distillery upgraded our tour basically, to include two drams direct from the cask as a form of apology for the renovations. You should hear the mumble of appreciation all around the table!

    The list of whisky was as followed:

    1. 15 Years Old, Unpeated, Cask Strength
    2. 10 Years Old, Cask Strength, Feis Ile 2018
    3. NAS, Cask Strength, Distillery Exclusive
    4. 1996, 23 Years Old, 55.3% abv, Straight from the cask
    5. 2012, 7 Years Old, 60.7% abv, Straight from the cask

    1996 Caol Ila Cask

    2012 Caol Ila Cask,

    It was a treat like no other! We enjoyed the large pours from our guide, chit-chat about whisky in general, and made new friends from the Netherlands! We also met the couple whom we saw at Ardnahoe, which was really a pleasant surprise! After all the drams, our guide also encouraged us to walk around the room, looking at some of the artefacts that the distillery collected over the years.

    Used Barrels and a Colour Chart

    We noticed some interesting old bottles of Caol Ila lying around too. Check them out!

    Curly was really excited too!

    Unfortunately, we needed to clear the room for the next tour before we could ask more about these bottles. Nevertheless, it was really enjoyable despite the disappointment of not being able to visit the mash tuns and the washbacks.

    Return to reality

    Exiting the Tasting Room carrying our drams, we went back to the shop just to meet yet another group of disappointed visitors who did not pre-book their tours. This group was unhappy when they saw us coming back, and some heated arguments started between the unhappy group and the team at the shop. Thankfully, our guide arrived in time, and she stopped the commotion.

    As for us, we quickly side-stepped the incident by moving deeper into the shop to look at the bottles available.

    Feis Ile 2019

    Distillery Exclusive

    It was disappointing that these were the best bottles on offer at the distillery, and the rest were the core range. As we had already tried the two expressions during the tour, we did not buy them home. All we did was to buy a super nice Caol Ila Down Jacket instead!

    Saying Good-Bye to Islay

    Our travels on Islay is over, folks! Caol Ila was the last distillery that we visited so we will be starting other articles from next week. Our team did visit Bruichladdich for a tour, but because we wrote a lot of articles on Bruichladdich previously, we decided to omit the tour unless our readers request for it!

    We did not go on tours at Bowmore, Lagavulin and Bunnahabhain because we couldn’t make time for it. However, we visited their shops and bars to purchase bottles and drinks! This omission also meant that we have another excuse to go back to Islay in future!

    WhiskyGeeks hopes that you had a lot of fun touring Islay with us! Stay with us, though! There will be more interesting articles coming up. 😀


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