Whisky Appreciation

Whisky and Prices – Factors that Determine Prices

Whisky is on an upward trend in consumers preferences around the world since 2010. The last ten years had seen tremendous growth in consumers choosing whisky over other kinds of spirits. While there was a period where gin gained traction, it died down pretty quickly with the rise of more whisky choices. With the overwhelming preference from consumers globally, market forces began to act on the prices of whisky.

We saw rapid growth for particular brands of whiskies, especially those which won awards. An excellent example would, of course, be Yamazaki. The brand shot to fame overnight after its Sherry Cask 2014 won the converted award of Best Whisky in the World in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible. Since then, the prices of all Yamazaki bottles have gone northwards.

Japanese vs Scotch

The award from Yamazaki shot many Japanese whiskies to fame since then. The latest to join the fray is Chichibu. The boutique distillery caused a stir in the market whenever they release a new bottling, and it is so difficult to buy them at retail prices that people fought over the bottles. This worldwide phenomenon is seen by some critics as silly, but others, including investors, are willing to fight for a bottle of Chichibu for its perceived value.

Scotch whiskies, on the other hand, are steadily increasing in prices. The demand for specific brands also shot the prices of these whiskies skyward, making them harder to find and difficult to afford. Some examples of Scotch whiskies that are getting too expensive include Clynelish and to some extent, Ben Nevis. Nonetheless, the bottles that are going up in prices are mostly independent bottling. The standard distillery bottles are still affordable.

Factors that Determine Prices

There are many factors which determine prices. In the whisky industry, demand and supply are not the only things that cause price increase, even though these factors are a big part of the equation.

Cost of Manufacturing

In any form of production, the cost of manufacturing is a huge factor. Whisky production takes time and money. The spirit that comes off the still needs at least three years to rest in an oak cask before it can be called whisky (at least in Scotland). Many boutique producers incurred high costs to make whisky. Not only do they not have the economies of scales like the bigger players, but they also do not have the global market to sell their products to. In order to keep the company sustainable, they usually need a bigger margin.

Marketing Cost

For boutique distilleries, the marketing cost is also an issue. It is especially critical if the distillery is young, or looking for a new market. The distillery usually needs a large sum of money to venture and enter into new markets where potential customers can try their whiskies for free. It can be made more difficult if the distillery is young, and offers only non-age statement whiskies. To complete the doom and gloom, consumers generally do not care for whiskies that are not Scotch. The worldwide phenomenon is similar to non-Scotch boutique distilleries, especially if they are trying to enter the Asian market. Therefore, one of the easiest solutions for these producers is to price their whiskies higher to help with the ever-increasing marketing cost.

Demand from Consumers

Willing Buyers, Willing Sellers

So said a very wise man we know…

The previous point leads us to a vital discussion of what consumers want. The long years of marketing by the Scotch whisky industry shaped the current demand. Discerning drinkers want to enjoy only high-aged Scotch single malts and are willing to shell out more money for these bottles. The problem, however, is that distilleries in Scotland are running out of older casks. The introduction of non-age statement bottling from various distilleries is the admission from the industry that something needs to change. While it could be a happy problem for the distilleries in the long term, the shortage of higher-age whiskies put a lot of stress on the producers right now.

The shortage naturally leads to a rise in prices for high-age bottles in the secondary market. Discerning drinkers began to buy their desired bottles from others who are willing to sell them. As a result, the market forces pushed the prices higher, making it unaffordable for some. Some distilleries, such as Ardbeg, noticed the price increase for their products, and are working hard to bring them back down. They do so by expanding their production lines, bottling younger or NAS whiskies and marketing them as desirable. Despite the efforts by these distilleries, the secondary market is still robust with discerning drinkers willing to buy at high prices.

Independent Bottling (IBs)

In the not so distant past, independent bottlings are usually lower in prices. Many discerning drinkers buy them because of various reasons. For the uninitiated, independent bottlings are whiskies bottled by companies or individuals who are not part of the distillery. They are independent. An example of a famous independent bottler is Scotch Malt Whisky Society or SMWS for short. Another one would be Cadenhead. Such bottlers have reputations of bottling quality single cask whiskies at cask strength. The whiskies are also non-chill-filtered and do not contain colouring.

Influence on IBs’ Prices

Today, the prices of IBs are rising as well. Sure, there are certain IBs that are still affordable, such as Single Malts of Scotland (SMOS). However, most of the IBs that do not originate from Scotland are facing the problem of higher costs. These costs include casks prices, logistics and even things like designers for labels.

Cask Prices

“Excuse me, can I buy a cask please?

As the whisky industry advances, more and more people are buying whisky casks for investment and personal bottling purposes. As a result of individuals buying up casks, the demand for cask trade went up. This affects the ability of smaller IBs companies to ensure a steady steam of casks for their bottling plans. The demand for cask trade also pushes up the prices of the casks, making it appealing to investors to join the fun.

With all the activities in cask trade, the only winners are the large IBs companies who are holding ready casks in their inventory, ready for sales or bottling. Smaller IB players have to shell out more funds to continue bottling casks for their brands.

Logistics and Other Costs

If a bottler is not operating a business in Scotland, he would depend on someone in Scotland to store, monitor and bottle his casks when they are ready. This can drag up to 12 months or more if there are unforeseen delays. In addition, the shipping cost from Scotland to the bottler’s location is not cheap either.

Take, for example, an independent bottler going about his business. After choosing a cask, the owner needs to wait up to 6 or 12 months for his cask to be bottled by the various brokers/bottling plants in Scotland. He pays for all the bottling fees, the designer for his customised labels, and various other fees involved. After the bottling plant completes the job, the independent bottler finds a freight forwarder to ship his whiskies from Scotland to his country. All the fees involved in the process increases his cost, sometimes drastically. In the end, when he finally sells his bottles, it is probably 1.5x more expensive than his counterparts who operate in Scotland.

Alcohol Duties and Taxes

Most countries considered alcohol as a luxury or a vice. As a result, whisky is heavily taxed. In many countries around the world, whisky attracts a tax that is higher than most other commodities. Importers, distributors, and resellers shoulder these duties and taxes to the detriment of their business profitability.

We often hear people saying that “local sellers takes high margins” or “they sell so expensive” or worse still, “it’s daylight robbery”. While some of these sentiments may reflect the truth, the fact remains that many other sellers do not do that. The higher price is simply to cover their costs and give them a little margin.

Frustrations and Misunderstandings

“I am not selling a higher price for profit. I am selling at this price to cover my cost.”

Annoynomous

There are many other sellers down the line from the bottlers themselves. Most of these bottlers do sell on their whiskies to distributors and retailers. The longer the supply chain goes, the higher the cost. These sellers lower on the supply chains bemoan their high costs, and their frustrations regularly. Not only that they are not able to compete on fair grounds with sellers with lower costs, they are often misunderstood by their customers. Some retailers bitterly commented that customers walked into their shops to mock them about higher prices. While it is not common, we can understand the frustration of these retailers.

Online retailers are not spared either. Consumers forget that online platforms charges fees and monthly subscription too. Some online retailers struggle to make ends meet because they are not making enough sales per month. Yet, they are forced to compete with others higher in the supply chain.

Unhealthy Competition

Sometimes, we also heard of issues from the industry where there is unhealthy competition. We term it so to include any form of undercutting and smear campaigns of other businesses. Singapore is lucky that we have a cooperative and friendly whisky industry where we look out for one another. The same thing cannot be said in other countries. Unhealthy competition is too real for their small business owners.

Please Be More Understanding, and Support Local, Small Players

All of us want a good deal. However, we cannot expect local, small players to give us a good deal all the time. While it is up to each seller to determine whether their business is sustainable, we can do our part by supporting the small players whenever we can. While some of their prices may be higher than you expect them to be, supporting them with one bottle goes a long way in helping them survive. Pandemic or not, this is how small businesses grow.

Disclaimer

This article is written based on research online and various interviews with small business owners in the whisky industry around Asia. As we have promised each interviewee that their identities will not be revealed, we seek our reader’s understanding of us not providing more information.

Guest Post: A Historial Look into New Zealand Whisky

Photo Credit: Greig Price

Most people imagine New Zealand to be a clean, peaceful country with a large population of sheep.  To those who had been there, fond memories of food, Hobbiton, clear blue skies linger, and for the drinkers, sauvignon blanc. You may have tried New Zealand wine, but have you tried New Zealand whisky?

What is New Zealand whisky and does it even exist?  To understand the story of New Zealand whisky, we need to go back to the history of New Zealand itself.

A Short History of New Zealand

Aotearoa (land of the long white cloud) was a country covered in forests and abundant birdlife. The Maori people settled there and the British later colonized it. The resulting interactions between these two peoples influenced later generations and whisky production.  New Zealand was seen as the final frontier for the British colonial masters.  Creating a new nation, the migrants wanted a society unbound by the rules of the countries they left behind.  The Maori culture values water and land, and these values progressively manifest themselves into the thinking of the new settlers.

The peoples of New Zealand realised the importance of nature and the need to protect it quickly. They enacted new legislation to protect the natural resources for future generations. With this, a growing awareness of where people lived, the food they ate and the water they drank began in earnest.  Therefore, New Zealand was spared the blight of heavy industries, and the water quality benefited from it.

The Influence of Clean Environment on Wine and Whisky

For wine drinkers, location is everything, and to scotch drinkers, the mention of Islay will conjure up images of peat, smoke and brine.  For New Zealand whisky, the inhabitants, terrain, and scarcity of available resources heavily influence the production.  The new colonial arrivals brought with them a rich history of distilling, particularly the Irish and Scots.  It wasn’t long before a thriving unregulated “moonshine” industry sprang up, with reports of whisky being made as early as the 1830s.

Early Whisky Production and Regulations

Onerous government regulations combined with prohibition and world wars delayed large scale commercial whisky production until 1969. The behest of Scottish banks to quell nascent competition (See the Pattison Crash) was largely a part of the reason. In 1969, the now-defunct Willowbank distillery sprang up. Fittingly, Willowbank was located in Dunedin (Gaelic for Edinburgh), the most Scottish city in New Zealand. A statue of the Scottish poet, Robert Burns still resides in the centre of the city. Dunedin is a coastal city surrounded by misty hills with a Scottish climate. It was a perfect location for the production of high-quality New Zealand whisky.

Initial production requirements which called for the use of Scottish peat, water and barley were not practical due to the distances and costs involved.  Locally sourced ingredients were used instead. The whisky received mixed review –  “It’s palatable, just not Scotch”.

The Willowbank distillery produced blended whisky under the Wilson and 45 below labels, and a single malt named Lammerlaw. As with all single malts, the distillery gave it a meaningful name after their water source – the Lammerlaw mountain ranges. There are also lots of plains, where farmers grow the bulk of New Zealand barley during the long, hot and dry summers.

Change of Ownership

In 1980, Seagram took charge of operations after a change of ownership. Lammerlaw single malt gained a reputation as a quality single malt whisky as a result. Foster’s brewing took over in 1997, resulting in Willowbank getting stripped of its assets.  Its pot stills went to Fiji for the production of rum.  Given the “taste” of Foster’s beer and their lack of foresight, it is somewhat ironic that the stills from Willowbank have gone on to produce highly sought-after Fijian rum.

Fast Forward to the Present

With the distillery closed, there were over 400 barrels of whisky that were sitting around, unwanted.  In 2010, these barrels found their way into the hands of The New Zealand Whisky Company and Thomson Whisky.  Both companies released bottlings from these barrels successfully.  Noted whisky writers, Jim Murray and Charles Maclean, further attested to their quality and the whiskies won awards at major international competitions.  The current oldest release is a 30-year-old single malt, a testament to the staff at the sadly closed Willowbank.

New Zealand Whisky Producers

Thomson Whisky was quick to realise that their barrels would not stay full forever, and they need a new source of whisky.  This spurred Thomson to start producing whisky. A new batch of distillers, such as Workshops and Cardrona, also started whisky production.  New Zealand whisky producers focused on best practices in small batches using locally-sourced ingredients.  For example, Workshops Whisky, who built their still inhouse and sourced their water from an onsite well direct from the Southern Alps is a success.  Thomson Whisky, who have used locally-sourced peat, applied Manuka tree smoke to the barley and currently using ex-local pinot noir barrels for ageing.

Exciting Times for New Zealand Whisky

So to summarise the points made earlier, New Zealand is a country where its inhabitants used the physical isolation and environment to make whisky. Using the best local ingredients where possible, with time-honoured techniques, they make whiskies that are light and floral in character.  With future releases, this may no doubt change, especially with wider distribution starting to occur.  Sustainability and quality over quantity are paramount, which in the coming years, New Zealand whisky will start to gain more attention as a result of this approach.

About the Author

Greig Price is a native of New Zealand who has lived overseas on and off for the last twenty years and the last 12 in Singapore. Whenever this kiwi is homesick, he’ll seek out pies, potato chips or pinot noir. Or generally, anything else alcoholic from the land of the long white cloud and then bore you with why it tastes so great

Exciting New Blended Asian Whisky by Michel Lu

Michel Lu – Owner of Orientalist Spirits

WhiskyGeeks has the absolute pleasure of meeting Michel Lu, a well-known veteran of the Food & Beverage industry in Asia. As an active entrepreneur, Michel successfully ran many restaurants, bars and even night clubs over the course of his career of more than 20 years. In recent times, Michel decided to branch out into the whisky scene, and that was how we met – whisky!

Introducing Michel Lu

Michel has been in F&B for over 20 years around Asia – Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau, Xiamen, Shanghai, Indonesia, Malaysia. He successfully ran restaurants, bars, clubs and even for a period of time, was Group CEO for a group that handles food manufacturing. With his vast knowledge in F&B, he was getting a little tired of doing yet another bar or restaurant. For a short period, Michel was doing consultancy for the F&B industry, but he discovered that it was not what he wanted.

As a businessman, Michel wanted to do something new within the F&B industry. He considered two options – robotics and the spirits business. When he explored both options, the traction for the spirits business came faster and stronger than robotics. Michel did not hesitate for long; he jumped right into it! Besides wanting to do something new, Michel wanted to create a legacy for himself. The best way to do it, in his opinion, is to create a product, a brand, that is solely his.

Besides the above, Michel views the challenge of creating products that represent him as a creative process. He sees every step in his career as a step towards creativity. Starting a restaurant, bar or club has always been a creative process for him, and he wants to make the same process for a brand that can eventually become global.

Orientalist Spirits

The Orientalist Trio

Michel owns the Orientalist spirits. In the picture above, you can see the three products that the company launched recently. The one in the centre, is the Dragon Whisky, an 8 Years Old Blended whisky that is made up of Asian malts. The one on the left is the Gunpowder gin, while the other one on the right is the Origins Vodka.

Orientalist Spirits started because Michel wanted something different to challenge his creative senses. Beyond that, he wanted Orientalist Spirits to become a global brand in his lifetime. As the name suggests, Orientalist represents Michel himself. He wants to bring the appeal of Asia and the Orient to the rest of the world. It is a brand designed to showcase Asia to the world. Each of his products has ingredients that come from Asia.

Dragon Whisky 8 Years Old Blended Malt

The Dragon whisky is very special. As an 8-Year-Old blend, its ingredients hail from Taiwan, India and Japan, the three major Asian whisky-making countries. While Michel does not actively do the distillation himself, he blends the whisky to his requirements all by himself. The whisky is blended first before it is put into first bourbon oak casks and then sherry casks. Double maturing the whisky helps to bring out the flavours and texture that Michel is looking to create.

The aim of the whisky is to give good quality and value to the drinkers around the world. Although some parts of the world are smitten with single malts, there are many other regions who do not drink many single malts. Blended malt or blended whisky, however, may not have good quality all the time, and it is the reason why Michel wanted to create a whisky that helps to fill in the gap.

Moreover, his idea is not to compete with the many brands of single malts out there with a rich history and even richer experience. Michel wants to showcase Asia in the best way he knows, and that is to bring out the best of Asia through his products. Therefore, he acknowledges the fact that his Dragon whisky is not something that buyers would want to keep for 50 years in the cupboard, but something that they can easily drink with their friends and family. He even has a cute hashtag – notyourfatherwhisky.

Whisky Review

WhiskyGeeks is privileged to try the Dragon Whisky when we met with Michel. We enjoyed it both neat and on the rocks, giving us the full experience of the flavours of the whisky. Here are our short notes on it.

Nose: Floral, fruity and sweet candy, with a hint of vanilla in the background

Palate: Mellow, fruity and sweet. Slight spice as we roll the whisky around the tongue, but definitely pleasant

Finish: Short to medium finish, with a lingering sweetness.

We recommend enjoying the whisky as it is, without adding ice or water. However, do try to it as a highball if you fancy something nice on a hot day. Dragon whisky is not something that you would want to keep in your cupboard for the next 50 years, so crack it open and enjoy it with some friends! It certainly fits the hashtag “#notyourfatherwhisky”!

Vodka and Gin

The Origins Vodka uses only the highest quality base ingredients for its creation. Orientalist Spirits uses the purest organic longan honey from South East Asia, Tibetan highland barley from mythical, magical Shangri-La, perched 3,300m above sea level and more than 9 types of premium potatoes of specific varieties designed to give the best mouthfeel. The vodka has a faint taste of longan honey if you drink it neat at room temperature. Once you add ice, the longan flavour is harder to find, but the result is an extra smooth vodka for the evening.

The Gunpowder Gin uses botanicals found in Asia, including Siberian Ginseng, Osmanthus, Goji Berry, Korean Omija Berry, Gunpowder tea, and lapsang souchong tea from Fujian. The name “Gunpowder Gin” naturally comes from the fact that the gin was infused with gunpowder tea. The array of strong contenders behind the Gunpowder Gin gives it body and complexity, making it as good to drink neat as well as in a G&T.

Both vodka and gin are watered down by the pristine spring water from the Sakurajima peninsula in Kagoshima, Japan. The water is naturally filtered and purified over hundreds of years by 1,117m of porous volcanic rock. Just imagine the taste!

Try it for Yourself

If you have imagined the taste already, don’t keep dreaming about it! You can buy all three products from Orientalist Spirits on their website. It’s a new year and a new decade. Time to try something new!

 

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    An Afternoon Chat with Lukasz Dynowiak

    Lukasz Dynowiak

    WhiskyGeeks is honoured to be invited once again by our friends, AsiaEuro, to have an afternoon chat with Interbev Brand Outreach Manager, Lukasz Dynowiak when he was in town in November.

    Introducing Lukasz Dynowiak, Brand Outreach Manager, International Beverages Holdings

    Now, Lukasz has an interesting job with Interbev. He joined the company in 2015 and has since travelled extensively around the world, talking and teaching about whisky.  His main profile is the Balblair Single Malt Scotch Whisky from the Highlands of Scotland. Interestingly, he has been involved with the brand since 2010, where he worked as a consultant for the brand and did quite a lot of work that included training and hosting at the distillery.

    Lukasz’s previous life before joining Interbev was not far from whisky either. He worked at the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre through his undergraduate life and was heavily involved in educating and sharing his experiences. After graduation, he worked in the marketing and social media aspect in the whisky industry and was never far from his love and passion for the liquid gold.

    Back at the Beginning

    Lukasz came from Poland, in the Central Eastern European region. He was brought up in a traditional culture that involved lots of drinking. Lukasz was used to white spirits, so when he got to know Scotch whisky, it was something different.

    Lukasz shared that he never wanted to be involved with whisky when he was younger. When he first moved to Scotland in 2005 as a student, he was working on something that was completely different from the whisky industry. The first part-time job that he took up as an undergraduate in a whisky distillery, however, changed his life. The job showed him the intrinsic details of working in a distillery and sparked his interest in whisky. As he explored the option, his passion flared and he knew that there was no turning back. In his second year in university, he discovered that he no longer had an interest in whatever he was studying. His heart and soul have been given to whisky. He finished his course while working in the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre, and then move on to help distilleries with marketing and image consultation jobs.

    He also began to work with the distilleries on more technical aspects as he learnt more about distillation and production of whisky.

    Motivations of Moving into Whisky

    We were curious why Lukasz wanted to go into whisky, so we probed further. At this point in our interview, we were getting warmed up, and Lukasz began to share more about the social and cultural aspects of whisky. He said that living in Scotland, away from family, whisky appealed to him in many ways. The community radiates warmth, and the whisky industry is like family. The social and cultural appeals, however, are just part of the reason.

    The other reason, obviously, is the product itself. Scotch whisky is delicious, and it is one of the most flavoursome spirits that Lukasz has ever tasted. As a geek, he is also fascinated by all parts of the industry. There are just so much to learn and discover. Lukasz even listed down all the geeky stuff that one can do with Scotch whisky. First, he mentioned his first interest, which is the liquid itself. The age, vintages, types of casks and the maturation process are all something that interests him. Then he said that as a history buff, the entire Scotch whisky industry is a treasure trove for anyone who cares to dive right in. Of course, there are also the technical and flavours/aromas aspects of whisky which one can study and learn. With so many things to discover in Scotch whisky, Lukasz knows that he is hooked for life.

    Whisky and Terroir

    We cannot resist asking this rather controversial question about whisky and terroir. What does Lukasz think about terroir and whisky? Lukasz said that it is becoming an age-old question, but it is one which he loves to explain.

    Lukasz shared that he cannot truly understand the debate that goes on among some of the whisky fans and colleagues who speak of terroir as something tangible. Many may argue that the lands which the barley comes from plays a part. However, Lukasz feels that the process of distillation is a great equaliser to all whisky because, during distillation, every bit of the wort goes through a “violent” chemical reaction. During the reaction, the distillation method done by each distillery creates something new. The product at the end of the distillation cannot be called the same as the one before.

    “Whisky terroir is about the ways things are done; you can call it a social terroir if you will.”

    There are too many factors that affect the final product. First, we need to look at the historic landscape – what has gone on before the distillery comes into existence. Then we have to consider the human interaction, as well as the supply chain for all the necessary ingredients and equipment. After that, we check the environment – the temperature and the humidity.

    Whisky terroir and wine terroir are completely different. Maybe it is time for us to reject a broad-base term and look into the makings of whisky terroir.

    The Brands that Lukasz Looks After

    Lukasz does not just take care of Balblair Single Malt. He also looks after Old Pultney, Ancnoc, and a few other spirits. While it is difficult to look after so many brands, Lukasz said that it is much more exciting. He finds the challenge appealing (as a geek) and always look forward to learning new things for the brands he takes care of. The variety of brands also ensure that his days are refreshing and no two days will be the same.

    We wanted to know if he compartmentalised all his knowledge, or he actually remembers everything. Lukasz laughed and said that he is lucky that he already amassed a huge amount of general whisky knowledge from his years working in the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre and through his own studies. Having that base in general knowledge helped him to reduce the amount of work he needs to do for each brand. The other spirits that he looks after – gin and rum – are not as tough too, as his knowledge helps to migrate the difficulty.

    The secret behind Lukasz’s ability to retain all the information is not his super-human brains though. He has the opportunity to visit the various distilleries in his work, and having the almost constant interaction with the people at the distillery helps him to retain the knowledge and information of the various spirits.

    How to Improve Your Whisky Knowledge

    It was as if Lukasz could read our minds because he answered the question before we even asked! To improve your whisky knowledge, you need to read more blogs (such as ours!), listen to your pals, read magazines, newspapers and avail yourself to the vast amount of information online. However, nothing is more educational than going to Scotland and visiting the distilleries yourself. There is magic in the distilleries, and talking to the people working there release those magic moments. Whisky even taste better in Scotland! Now that is a fact that WhiskyGeeks can confirm!

    The New Balblair Range

     

    Most whisky drinkers know that Balblair has been releasing vintages since 2008. The vintages have worked beautifully in Asia particularly, as many drinkers love the vintage look of the bottle, label and liquid. However, in recent times, Balblair removed the vintages and replaced them with a core range of age statements. The move surprised many, and we want to know why.

    Lukasz explained that due to various factors such as their maturing stocks, the brand image and of course, the accessibility of the brand, they decided to make the change. The core range serves to reach more people and would help the brand grow globally. It is a platform that will help to develop new markets and excite the old ones.

    Nonetheless, the liquids remain the same. The core range of 12, 15 and 18 years old remains fruity, juicy and delicate. The younger ones are crisp, and the older one are rounded and fresh. There is also a premium 25 Years Old which is possibly more full-bodied but still fruity all the same. Every bottle of Balblair is still non-chill filtered and naturally coloured.

    Some Facts about the New Balblair Range

    To better understand the core range, we decided to check out the different casks that they were in. The 12 Years Old is a 100% American White Oak Bourbon-matured whisky. The whisky is crisp, fruity and brings along a hint of vanilla and lemon zest. The 15 Years Old is a mixture of Spanish Oak Sherry-matured whisky and American White Oak Bourbon-matured whisky. The balance between the sherry and bourbon maturation is amazing and truly a beauty to behold. The 18 Years Old is also a mix of Spanish Oak and American White Oak, with the Spanish Oak taking an upper hand. The sherry-maturation shines through and the whisky is heavier and sweeter compared to the 15.

    The WhiskyGeeks team is divided on our preference on these bottles, but suffice to say, we all like something from the core range! That makes all of them very appealing indeed! Before we go, we would like to thank Lukasz for his time to speak with us and we look forward to meeting him again in future!

    If you like to read more about Balblair Distillery, please visit our post on its history here.

     

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      Paul John – 6-row barley Whisky

      Whiskygeeks sat down for an extraordinary tasting with Yash, the brand ambassador for Paul John whisky! He’s a geek himself, graduating from the Harriet Watts brewing and distilling masters course, and I have learnt a lot!

      The Barley

      One of the unique things about Paul John is their use of 6-row barley for their core range whisky production. However, this is not bere barley from Orkney; this 6-row barley originated from the Himalayas and grows in India today. In contrast, most whisky producers use 2-row barley like Concerto or Optic strains. In Scotch, the most common 6-row barley used is Bere Barley that originates from Orkney. 

      While the 2-row barley has more sugar but fewer proteins and fats, it is the reverse for 6-row barley. As we would need sugar to ferment to alcohol, this means that the alcohol yield for 6-row barley is lower than 2-row barley. However, for 6-row barley, the higher content of barley fats and protein results in more flavour and complexity in its spirit character. 

      The Peat

      Paul John produces peated and unpeated whisky and brings in 2 kinds of Scottish peat. The barley is peated using Islay peat and Mainland peat to approximately 20-25ppm and 30-35ppm respectively. The Paul John Bold uses Islay peat while the Paul John Edited uses mainland peat. These two bottles make an interesting comparison between peat from 2 different regions as the whisky comes from the same pot stills.

      The Fermentation

      The fermentation process is approximately 70 hours in total, using a unique strain of yeast that performs well in Goa’s hot climate. The wash undergoes a 60-hour primary fermentation and sits in the washback for an additional 10 hours to develop flavour. During the warmer seasons, the fermentation is slightly faster, and during the colder seasons, more time is given for fermentation.

      Distillation

      The copper pot stills in Paul John distillery is not from Forsyths, but they were made locally in India! The still features an ascending lyne arm, which causes more reflux, allowing for a sweeter lightly distillate. 

      The Maturation

      The angel’s share in Goa is 8% per annum, which means that whisky ageing in Goa will lose 22% of its original volume in 3 years. However, as whisky matures faster in a warm climate, a 3-year-old whisky in India would taste like a 12 to 15-year-old Scotch! 

      For the past few years, Paul John has released mostly American white oak matured whisky primarily due to the law in India with importing casks. There is a new upcoming bottle that I cannot talk about at the time of writing this article, but let me say this – Christmas is coming early for sherried whisky drinkers! 😛

      Paul John’s main ageing facility is on the ground level with ventilation from the wind. The distillery also has an underground cellar with a slightly lower angel’s share. Yash told us that it’s a challenge to stay in the underground cellar as the alcohol vapours are thick and intoxicating!

      Challenge accepted!

      Educational Chat with James Cordiner, Brand Ambassador – Balvenie

      James Cordiner with the Balvenie Core Range of Products

      I always get lucky to represent WhiskyGeeks when a handsome, young man comes to Singapore. Allow me to introduce Mr James Cordiner, Brand Ambassador of Southeast Asia for Balvenie Single Malt Scotch Whisky. James is not just another brand ambassador; he is the man after our hearts with his passion for whisky.

      James is possibly the only brand ambassador that I have met so far to earn so many credentials in whisky production. He holds a General Certificate in Distilling, a distinction award in WSET 2 and is currently pursuing his Master Degree in Brewing and Distilling with Entrepreneurship at Heriot-Watt. He aims to complete the Master’s next year after his research project with William Grant and Sons.

      Let’s hear more from the man himself.

      Growing up in Speyside

      James grew up in Speyside, Craigellachie, to be precise. As a young lad, he saw that the economy of the country revolves around the whisky industry. It was the biggest employer in Speyside, and naturally, most of his friends and neighbours have something to do with whisky. James was not interested in whisky because everyone else was. He wanted to be the best vet in Speyside, tending to the sheep and Highland coos.

      However, fate tends to intervene.

      When James came of age, he began to work in some of these distilleries during the summer as a tour guide. It was an excellent way to spend his summer, and he got to work with his friends. James also enjoyed all the interactions he had with the tourists. As he immersed himself in the world of whisky, James discovered that he loves to know more about whisky production. After university, James had a tough choice. He could put in another five years in Medicine and fulfilled his childhood dreams to be a vet, or he could put in just one year to complete a Master in Biomedical Science. He chose the latter.

      During his time in university, James also began to work in Speyside whisky bars as a bartender. He also became the president of the whisky club. After graduation, he worked as a bartender for some months before joining Chivas Brother as a brand ambassador for the U.K.

      In 2018, James decided to go back to school to obtain a Master’s degree in Brewing and Distilling. He wanted to add on to his knowledge on the technical part of whisky-making just so to satisfy his geeky side. He will complete the course once he finishes the research project that he will take on at William Grant and Sons in 2020.

      How did James end up as the Balvenie Brand Ambassador?

      Gemma Paterson, the Global Brand Ambassador of Balvenie, was at the Speyside Whisky Festival in May 2019, and James had a chance meeting with her. Their friendship goes way before this meeting, as Gemma knew James when he was working as a tour guide in Glenfiddich and also when he was working as a bartender for one of the whisky bars in Speyside. Gemma told him that there is a job for Balvenie and James naturally said YES! He went for the interview on Gemma’s recommendation and viola, here he is – the Southeast Asian Brand Ambassador for Balvenie!

      Why be the Geek?

      James is the perfect person to be geeky with. He has all the credentials to teach us more about whisky. First, however, we need to know why he is so in love with whisky production. James has always been quite a little explorer as a child. His ambition to be a vet led him to study science and chemistry. While his grades eventually did not manage to get him a place in the course he wanted, he pursued a course in research into Family Medicine. The knowledge helped him tremendously when he decided to switch his career plans. Due to the switch, James also decided to put in more efforts and time to study what he chose to do for the rest of his life. He is genuinely excited to commerce his research at William Grant and Sons to earn the Master’s degree!

      Onwards to the Geeky Side of Things

      The Balvenie Core Range of Products

      I had to ask the one question that everyone likes to ask me: What is the most important part of whisky production?

      James looked at me seriously and said, “Well, every part counts!” He explained that many of the distilleries do use the same type of barley, the same yeast from the same company, and yet produces different kinds of whisky. Therefore, it is the uniqueness of all the parts, adding together that makes a whisky special.

      As a geek myself, I could stop myself asking for more details about the production process.

      The Whisky-Making Process at Balvenie Distillery

      Balvenie still has a traditional malting floor in which 10% of their barley is malted on-site. The remainder comes from professional malters. The malting process starts with two days of steeping the barley, before laying them on the floor for six days to germinate. Once the barley germinates, they go into the kiln for forty-two hours of drying. This malted barley then undergoes milling, and the end product is called grist.

      The grist then goes into the mash tun. Each batch of mash uses 11.8 tonnes of milled barley. Mashing takes five and a half hours, with the first water at 68-degree Celcius, the second water at 75-degree Celcius, and the third water at 86 degree Celcius. At the end of the mashing process, the wort produced goes into the washbacks.

      Balvenie has 15 washbacks that can hold 75,000 litres each. Fermentation takes place in the washbacks. However, the distillery only adds 53,000 litres of wort into each washback to aid fermentation and prevent overflowing. Two hundred sixty litres of yeast is added to the wort in the washback and left for 68 hours. After the fermentation is done, the wash is at 7-8% abv.

      Next comes distillation. Balvenie has five wash stills and six spirits stills. The wash stills have a capacity of 9100 litres which the spirits stills hold 12,750 litres each. The total distillation hours are 15.5 – 16.5 hours. Balvenie takes the cut of the heart between 74% to 64% abv, pretty much like most other distilleries. Finally, 4250 litres of spirits will be obtained from the original 53,000 litres of wort.

      It takes a total of 15 days to go from malting to distilling. Do note that Balvenie also has its cooperage.

      Terroir: Opinion of a Speyside Lad

      Does terroir affect whisky? James thinks that it does but in very minimally, especially when compared to wines. “Things like water source are important. [It is] not so much [about] the flavours of the water going in, but the chemical balances, especially the PH, which will affect the later process, such as the fermentation and mashing.”

      James goes on to explain that the flavours of the whisky come mostly from the cask, making up about 60-70% of the influence. Of course, when the whisky gets older, the impact of the cask gets stronger. Therefore, it is not really about terroir when it comes to flavours, but terroir does play a part in the entire process of whisky-making.

      We also began to talk about barley, and if different barley affects the flavours of the new-make spirits. James commented that most distilleries use the same type of barley that is commercially available. Therefore, it would be hard to say that barley affects the flavours by a significant percentage. Whisky undergoes distillation, and the chemical process changes the character of the new-make based on the time, temperature and technics of each distillery. Barley should not make a big difference to whisky. It would, however, make a difference to beer, but that’s for another day.

      Is Older the Better? Musing from an Expert

      The chat moved into the zone of whether older whiskies are better at this point, and I think we had it well covered.

      “I’ve tasted a lot of old whiskies that are incredible. It depends on what flavours you like, so, as it gets older, it is going to get much more influence from the oak, tannins from the wood. I have a lot of people who tried the old whiskies, and they don’t like that sort of dryness from the oak itself. So it doesn’t mean that it is a better whisky. But [what] does tend to happen with age though, is sort of [the] mellowing out of the whisky, so you get the evaporation of the harsher alcohol and tends to become much smoother the older it is, which I think a lot of whisky connoisseurs and geeks really appreciate that sort of old woodly oakiness in the whisky.”

      The Different Offerings of Balvenie

      Balvenie DCS Selection

      Since we were on the topic of older whiskies, we started talking about how Balvenie got everyone covered with their fantastic range of products. We get the core range of products from the Balvenie 12 Doublewood to the 21 Portwood for our daily drams and some exclusive cask strength whiskies for the occasions.

      James then pulled out the big guns – the Balvenie DCS Selection. I do realise by now what a treat I was going to get, and I was trying very hard not to show my excitement. The DCS Selection that I tasted range from 1981 to 1985, with the youngest whisky being 30 years old.

      After all four drams, I would rank them as such: 1985, 1984, 1981 and finally 1982. I love how each of them stands out on their own, with different characteristics but yet still showing the true Balvenie spirit. 1981, 1984 and 1985 are bourbon-matured while 1982 is sherry-matured.

      Final Question: What is the most challenging thing you face when moving to Singapore?

      I just had to ask this question because having just been back from Scotland; I know just how different Singapore is. James laughed and exclaimed, “The Weather!” He is truly a Scot to talk about the weather! James found the heat and humidity terrible to bear at first but he is slowly getting used to it. He will always miss the Scottish weather, but for now, he is ready to take on Southeast Asia to bring them more of Balvenie Single Malt Scotch Whisky.

      We really must take our hats off this guy!

      All the best to you, James, and we will be seeing you soon!

       

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        A Chat with Brendan McCarron from Glenmorangie

        Brendan McCarron, Head of Maturing Whisky Stocks at The Glenmorangie Company

        WhiskyGeeks is fortunate to get a chance to speak with Brendan McCarron, the Head of Maturing Whisky Stocks at the Glenmorangie Company, during our DFS event. As the heir apparent to whisky legend, Dr Bill Lumsen, Brendan has plenty to work on. He joins the company five years ago and started work with the whisky creation team alongside Dr Bill.

        Brendan’s Whisky History

        Brendan hails from Glasgow, Scotland. As a chemical engineering graduate, he started his career in the whisky industry in 2006 when he joined Diageo. After three years, Brendan began work as the distillery manager at Oban. Two years later, he left for “Peatland” – Islay, where he worked with Lagavulin, Caol Ila and of course, Port Ellen.

        Port Ellen is a malting facility where Brendan got to work with the maltsers on different requirements. Making smoky malted barley was probably one of his favourite thing to do! The smoky malted barley was also the reason that Brendan got to know Dr Bill Lumsen. After ten years of working as a distillery manager, Brendan decided to change his direction and joined The Glenmorangie Company as part of their whisky creation team.

        Brendan’s Unique Journey

        Brendan has a fantastic whisky journey from the day he joined the industry in 2006. He is probably one of the very few people in Scotland who has worked on all aspects of whisky making. From designing a brand-new distillery (building it!) to malting, distilling and maturing whisky, Brendan has done it all. These experiences at the various distilleries and malting houses have shaped Brendan’s knowledge and expertise along the way. Additionally, he also went out of his way to acquire theoretical knowledge through his pursuit of books, courses and degrees. All of these add to his practical experience and give him a well-rounded education in whisky making.

        Glenmorangie and its whiskies

        Glenmorangie Whiskies (Picture Credit: Glenmorangie.com)

        We had a short chat with Brendan on the different exciting whiskies that are coming shortly. We understood that there is a 25-year-old whisky released, but so far, we have yet to see it land in Singapore. It may be soon, but we do not know when.

        The exciting part of the chat is, of course, the single cask #1399, that we tasted during the DFS tie-up event that we did on 22 June 2019. It is part of their latest project to launch exclusive single casks for specific countries. Making its debut as a travel retail exclusive bottle is naturally the best way for a brand to market a rare single cask bottling in Singapore considering the sheer volume of people passing through our airport!

        Glenmorangie’s Affairs with Wood

        Wood has always been the talk for Glenmorangie. We know that they used exceptional “designer” oak casks for some of their limited edition whiskies. We asked Brendan about these casks.

        The creative team at the distillery involves itself in the creation of the oak casks from the start. Their research led them to the Ozark Mountains of Missouri, USA, where they found slow-growing wood that suits the spirit of Glenmorangie. To bring the effects of the slow-growth wood further, the team discovered the trees in the Mark Twain National Forest, where the oak trees grow slowly and develop the porous nature that the Glenmorangie team needs for its whiskies.

        The Making of Artisan American White Oak Casks

        An Oak Cask (Photo Credit: Glenmorangie.com)

        The entire process of making these oak casks started with the identification of specific trees within the Mark Twain National Forest. These trees are cut and then air-dried for two years for maximum effects. Air-drying not only reduces astringency and improves the wood’s permeability; it also enhances the soft and rich flavours of the Glenmorangie whiskies.

        These tight-grained but porous wood are then made into casks. The casks will be heavily toasted and then lighted charred for the distillery’s needs. The cooperage then fills bourbon whisky in the casks for precisely four years. It is like clockwork. Once four years is up, the casks are ready for shipment to the Scottish Highlands. The whole process takes six years to complete. Such dedication to oak casks is impressive, and we salute the team for going through with this process.

        Designer Wood Casks for Limited Edition Whiskies

        Some of the designer wood casks hold the core range of the whiskies from Glenmorangie; others hold limited edition whiskies. One of the famous limited edition is the Glenmorangie Astar. Our team got the chance to taste the Astar at another event held at The Exciseman on 1st July, where Brendan gave a presentation to both trade and consumer alike. We will speak of that another time.

        Due to the higher porosity of the cask, the whisky soaks better into the wood, extracting flavours that the distillery is after. The distillery also uses these designer casks only twice for maturation purposes. Brendan explained that the casks are no longer suitable after two uses, and they usually sell the majority of these casks. Some get left behind for experiments, and a small number of them go to Ardbeg.

        Are Flat-Packing Barrels still a Cost-Saving Practise?

        We asked Brendan some essential financial questions as well, that affects production. In the past, some distilleries broke up the ex-bourbon barrels they bought and flat pack them before shipping to Scotland. Once the vessel landed, the distilleries brought the staves to a cooperage and rebuilt the casks. The practice affected the quality of the casks, and the whiskies matured in such casks become a debatable topic.

        According to Brendan, this practice is hardly used in Scotland’s distilleries today. The discovery that they do not save cost by doing so was one of the significant factors. However, the debate on the practice that MAY have affected production was probably the main factor that led to the abolishment.

        The abolishment, unfortunately, led to a reduction of hogshead as most hogsheads are rebuilt from standard barrels. While this is a loss to the whisky industry, we must remember that cost is always a factor for end-consumers because higher cost equates to higher prices!

        The Truth about Virgin Oak Casks

        Some distilleries are making use of virgin oak casks to mature some of their whiskies. We even know of new distilleries that make use of virgin oak maturation to reduce the number of years needed to produce delicious whisky. Glenmorangie uses virgin oak casks as well, and we wanted to know what Brendan thinks about them. He thinks, that virgin oak casks may prove to be too strong an influence on Glenmorangie’s new make spirits. The virgin oak casks may hide the fruity notes of Glenmorangie and make it “un-Glenmorangie”. Brendan prefers to do finishes with virgin oak casks instead.

        It is of interest to know that Glenmorangie does a lot of wood finishes to bring flavours to their whiskies. For example, the distillery finished the Lasanta in Oloroso and PX sherry cask, the Quinta Ruban in Ruby Port Pipes and the Nectar D’òr in Sauternes casks.

        Factors that Affects the Choices of Cask Finishes

        Brendan explained that they do not know all the elements of influences when the creative team chooses the cask finishes. They know for a fact that the spirit of Glenmorangie works well with Port and Sauternes casks finishes. Unfortunately, they do not know the reaction to all the casks in the world. Therefore, it is much of a trial and error for the team when they are choosing the cask finishes. By selecting items of interest which the team thinks would work with the spirit, they came up with various experiments of different finishing casks. The availability of the casks is also crucial, as they need enough casks to complete a new finishing experiment.

        Brendan mentioned that the team also takes the opportunity when it comes knocking. If their suppliers offer casks which they have not tried before, they may take a few of the casks to create new experiments. Some experiments will succeed while others may not. Part of the fun is finding out if it works. For those of you who are curious, the casks that don’t work are not thrown away! The team reracks the “unworkable” casks into sherry or ex-bourbon casks to “reset” them. Usually, the age of the whisky will also help to rectify any issues that the team finds.

        Brendan Wants YOU to Know This!

        Brendan, the whisky expert

        We thought that we have enough technical talk, so we asked Brendan what the one thing that he would like the whisky community to know is. The answer is not surprising. Brendan wants everyone to know that a single malt whisky comes from a SINGLE whisky distillery. It is one of the most misunderstood terms in the whisky industry. Many whisky drinkers confused single malt whisky and single cask whisky. Brendan shares his frustrations at how he always get that same question – “How is the whisky still a single malt whisky when you blend all these casks to create it?”

        To set the record straight, Brendan shares that a single malt whisky can be a “blend” of 15 casks from the SAME distillery. As long as the whisky is made from malted barley and is not blended with whisky from another distillery, it is a single malt whisky.

        What You Can Do If You Want to Work for a Whisky Distillery

        Most of our younger folks here would probably be keen to work for a whisky distillery. We ask Brendan what we need to do if we want to work for a distillery. Here is his advice.

        Get a science-related degree if you want to be on the distilling team. Chemical engineering or chemistry is a good start. Otherwise, biochemistry is helpful too. There are, however, many ways to get involved. You can still work in the industry even if you have a business degree. You can join the distillery in sales or marketing with it. Nonetheless, you will still need the passion and love for whisky before you can comfortably stay in the industry.

        Do not despair if you do not have any of those. Brendan said that having experience is equally vital if you are not Scottish and want to work in Scotland. He started in pharmaceutical and the knowledge he gained there translated into his next job with Diageo. Working in a brewery also helps because that involves two stages of the whisky distillation. Ultimately, the potential candidate needs to be open and adaptable. When you combine the passion for whisky and your openness to adapt, you will be able to make headway into the career that you want. Start with a job that you can do and learn from there. You will never know where that will take you!

         

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          Let’s Talk about Memories and Whisky

          Whisky and Memories

          Most of us may find that specific flavours in our whiskies remind us of certain events or occasions in our lives. These memories can be good or bad. Sometimes, drinking a particular whisky helps us to remember the good times we had with our friends; while another whisky can bring up bad memories that we would rather forget.

          Why do we have such feelings?

          I am no scientist, and wouldn’t be able to go into the scientific notions of why our brains make us feel this way. However, I would like to offer my layman ideas about this.

          Our Memories

          Our memories are a part of us. It is possibly the one function of our brain that keeps us sane most of the time. The art of remembering is essential to our daily lives and in fact, necessary for our survival.

          While a significant part of our memory is crucial to our survival as it helps us to avoid danger, a smaller portion of our mind helps us experience life moments. We remember our wedding day; the day our child is born; our graduation day. These memories can be pleasant or unpleasant, dependent on our feelings toward the individual events.

          The same goes for food and flavours. Things get more complex. Say, for example, you remember that you were eating a chicken pie when your child is born. The association of chicken pie and happy moment (child is born) will give you a fuzzy, comfortable feeling whenever you smell or eat a chicken pie. The link is unconscious to you.

          Enjoying Whisky

          If you own a Glencairn glass, check out the graphics on the box, teaching you how to enjoy whisky. The graphics show you how to use your senses to look, smell and taste the whisky. Such simple acts come to us naturally, even though the first time may be tough. We learn how to enjoy and appreciate whisky over time using our senses.

          Our brains recognise and remember the different flavours of whisky. As we progress in our whisky journey, we begin to link the different whisky flavours to the food and drinks that we know.

          Linking Memories and Whisky Flavours

          At some point in our whisky journey, our adaptive minds will begin to connect our life experiences (memories) with the different flavours that we detect in our whiskies. It is the start of our new adventures of linking memories to the whiskies that we enjoyed. Some whisky flavours will give us a warm, comfortable feeling because the association is with a pleasant experience or memory that we had. Others will have us cringing because the smell or taste of it reminds us of an unpleasant association with another memory.

          Perhaps it is vital for us to understand the feelings that certain flavours generate to allow us to avoid stereotyping specific whiskies as something that we will never enjoy. I used to dislike Laphroaig tremendously as the flavours of the whisky remind me of a certain garbage smell that I hate as a child. As I grow in my whisky journey, I began to understand the link between my life experiences and my choice of whisky. With that understanding, I began to let go of my biases and try more Laphroaigs that was offered to me. While I still dislike many of the Laphroaigs that I tried, I discovered that I could accept some of them.

          Growing in your Whisky Journey

          All of us grow in our whisky journeys as we move along in life. It is common for us to discover that our taste buds change with time. Such changes lead us to favour and disfavour certain whisky profiles. However, it does not mean that you will not toggle back and fro from the various flavours that you enjoy. At the moment in my journey, I toggle between peat and bourbon-matured whiskies, which is a far cry from my previous enjoyment of heavily sherried whiskies. I am not in a hurry to throw out my sherried whiskies though, because who knows when I will begin to enjoy them again.

           

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            A Chat with Chris Morris, Master Distiller for Woodford Reserve

            Chris Morris – Master Distiller, Woodford Reserve

            The world of bourbon whiskey can be daunting if you do not know what you are drinking. The different expressions under one brand can be mind-boggling, and the struggle gets tougher when you face the various brands available. It is, therefore, a privilege to speak with Chris Morris, one of the most experienced Master Distiller under the Brown-Forman umbrella. Chris is the Master Distiller for Woodford Reserve, a whiskey that proves its mettle with its flavours.

            Chatting with Chris Morris

            We were unfortunate to miss the event hosted by Chris during his visit to Singapore a couple of weeks ago, but he was still kind enough to agree to an email interview with us.

            Chris Morris’ Background

            Chris is the seventh Master Distiller at Brown Forman since the company began in 1870. Woodford Reserve, of course, is a brand under Brown Forman. Chris grew up in Louisville in a Bourbon family. Chris is one of the three generations in his family to work in the Bourbon industry. His father worked at Brown Forman before him. As a kid, Chris watched his mother enjoyed a glass of Old Forester while preparing dinner and played at the Old Forester Distillery whenever his dad brought him in during the weekends. These particular interactions with the Bourbon industry gave Chris a lasting impact, and he naturally went into the industry when he came of age.

            First Foray into the Bourbon World

            Chris started his career as a trainee in the grain receiving lab and the sensory lab of Old Forester in 1976. His job included setting up barrel samples for the Master Distiller to taste besides running tests for the grains received. While the job sounded simple, it is essential because of the ingredients for the whiskey must be checked before the production team could use them. We asked Chris if much has changed since his time, considering the improvements in technology. Interestingly, he said that nothing much has changed except minor adjustments to improve the processes.

            Moving on from Brown Forman

            Chris moved on from Brown Forman after 12 years and joined Glenmore Distilleries Company in 1988. He then joined United Distillers when the firm acquired Glenmore in 1991. Chris gained experiences from these positions and became better at what he did. After nine years, he returned to the fold at Brown Forman.

            Becoming the Chosen One

            His return proved to be the perfect timing. With his experiences, Chris was the forerunner as a candidate for the position of a trainee of the Master Distiller. He became the first Brown Forman Master Distiller designee to receive a formal training program. The course includes both academic and work experience requirements. It wasn’t the easiest course to train under, but it provides all the essential skills for a Master Distiller to become an expert in his role.

            Chris mentioned that the program had been expanded to include a few additions that reflect the changes in the industry. This is the template for all future Master Distillers for Brown Forman. The current Assistant Master Distiller, Elizabeth McCall, is following the course.

            Understanding the Bourbon Tree

            Recently, there were debates about the Bourbon Tree, and what it meant for the Bourbon industry. We asked Chris for his opinions. “The Bourbon Tree is very interesting because it contains [several] inaccuracies that only an industry insider would recognize. It is also very simplistic in its portrayal of the diversity of Bourbon flavour development.” Chris said. He encouraged Bourbon lovers to research how the various brands crafted their bourbons, and judge the whiskey by its flavours, not its category.

            Understanding the Woodford Reserve

            Woodford Reserve

            Chris showed his passion for the Woodford Reserve when we began to ask questions about the bourbon. We came to understand that the bourbon is unique amongst the various brands because of its focus to flavours. The approach allows the brand to showcase flavour development and presentation that may not be possible in other brands. Woodford Reserve also created the Five Sources of Flavour production process philosophy to bring a balanced presentation of the Five Areas of Bourbon Flavours. This is why Chris is so proud of what Woodford Reserve has achieved so far.

            The Different Expressions of Woodford Reserve

            Woodford Reserve has various expressions and families within its portfolio. Every expression brings a different flavour to the palate. Each bottle creates a unique experience for the bourbon lover. The expressions exist to showcase the different characteristics of bourbon, and are designed to be unbalanced on purpose. The Distillers Select range provides distinctive flavours for the drinker, and the bottles are probably not for someone who is looking for a balanced dram.

            For the drinker who is looking for a balanced dram to enjoy, look out for the Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon. It is the most balanced of all Bourbons and will provide hours of pleasure for the Bourbon lover.

            If you are interested in wood finishes, check out the Woodford Reserve Double Oaked. This expression explores the flavours of barrel finishing and provides an insight into how wood influences changes the liquid. Finally, for the curious and open-minded, the Masters Collection and Distillery Series showcase unique flavour presentation through modern whiskey innovation.

            The Future of Bourbon

            We asked Chris for his opinions on the future of Bourbon. His simple reasoning resonances with our understanding of the current market sentiments. He said, “The future of any consumer product category is hard to predict. But based on a value system that places great store on extreme age claims, I don’t see Bourbon reaching the price levels of the select Malts and Cognac.”

            The fact remains that whisky drinkers placed much emphasis on age statements – perhaps too much. However, just as Chris said, the future is hard to predict. It may come a day where the market matures far enough to focus on flavours more than age statements. We see much improvements and acceptance of younger whiskies now, so maybe that day is not that far away after all.

             

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              Bar ShoutOut: Wala Wala Café Bar

              Picture courtesy of Wala Wala

              Mention Wala Wala, and most of the locals will go, “Oh yeah…” The iconic building that sits near the end of Lorong Mambong at Holland Village is drawing its crowds every night since 1993 due to a mixture of nostalgia, fun and lively atmosphere. It is one of those watering holes where most of us pub crawlers will visit at least once in our rebellious youth days. It used to be a place where you go to get your beers, basic bar grub and heavenly live music, but Wala Wala has evolved into an all-out venue for live music. The offers in the menu grown from one to two, so you can imagine just how much bigger and grander, it is now as compared to the 90s.

              The Lure of Wala Wala

              Wala Wala is helmed by Stanley Yeo and his wife, Lilis Yeo. The duo is often spotted at the bar, entertaining their regular customers with chit chat and drinks while enjoying the live music on stage. For those who have never stepped into Wala, you may wonder why the bar emits an almost magnetic pull for all its regulars. The reason is simple. Wala is like a second home, one where you can relax and chill with friends. Its simple but lively atmosphere makes for an exciting night out for the weekend and a chill, relaxing evening on weekdays.

              Tuesday Band – Tabula

              The iconic bar offers up live music every night, with a different style of music and bands every day. You could even declare the bar is THE place where Singapore’s live music scene reigns! The music ranges from acoustic to pop, rock, soul and even heavy metal! With different styles every day, you can choose to visit the bar on nights where your kind of music is playing. Here is the list of live bands:

              From 7 pm to 9 pm (2 sets):
              Thursday: Adia and Mark
              Friday: Randolf Arriola

              From 9 pm (3 sets):
              Sunday: Jack and Rai
              Monday: The Passerby
              Tuesday: Tabula
              Wednesday: The Lost Box

              From 9.40pm (3 sets):
              Thursday: Shagies
              Friday: Reverie
              Saturday: Peep Show

              Opened from 4 pm on weekdays and 3 pm on weekends and public holidays, Wala Wala puts in a lot of efforts to keep its customers happy.

              Food on Offer

              Wala Wala also offers up a wide variety of western food and bar grubs. The beauty of the food is not just the quality of good, tasty food; it is also the fact that Wala Wala often updates its menu to bring new dishes to its customers. While the bestseller on the food menu will always be its chicken wings, Wala Wala does some impressive upgrades to its menu just recently. One of the newest dishes is the Deep Fried Chicken coated with Salted Egg Yolk Sauce. The chicken is crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. The salted egg yolk sauce is light and flavourful.

              There are also numerous choices if you are a fan of sausages. New to their Grilled Sauage Platter is the Smoked Chicken Cheese, Smoked Chorizo Pork and Nürnberger Pork Bratwurst. There is also an exotic choice – Grilled Moroccan Merquez Sausage – which is a mix of lamb and beef.

              Food Menu

              Spirits on Offer

              Now, this is the reason why WhiskyGeeks is doing a shoutout on Wala Wala. We are a whisky blog after all! The famous watering hole offers more than just beers and cocktails now – it serves premium whisky, rums, gins, vodka, tequila, cognac, sake and shochu too. With a wide range of brands to choose, you will be spoilt for choice. Some of the more popular whiskies include Balvenie, Macallan, Bowmore and Lagavulin. You will be pleased to know that it also serves Penderyn, the newly-imported whisky from Wales. The menu is a collection of brands that will wow and impress you all at the same time.

              Spirits Menu

              Besides the spirits on offer, Wala Wala also creates its signature cocktails using different spirits from their selection of brands. Most of their signature cocktails are designed in-house by their talented bartenders. A total of six cocktails sit proudly on page two of Wala Wala’s menu and with names such as Maiden’s Blush, November Rain and Sailor on Deck, you would want to try them all!

              Signature Cocktail Menu

              Special World Gourmet Summit Cocktail

              Welshman

              If you recall from one of our previous posts, Wala Wala collaborated with Spirits Castle on the creation of a new cocktail named Welshman. Made with Penderyn Sherrywood, Elderflower Syrup and Cranberry Bitters, it is extra barrel aged in the bar before getting served with a slice of dehydrated orange. We understood from Wala Wala that they would be showcasing this cocktail during the upcoming World Gourmet Summit! WhiskyGeeks had tasted it previously (of course), and we love it! The sweetness of the whisky blends well with the floral notes from the elderflower syrup and the dash of cranberry bitters added an extra dimension to the cocktail.

              If you did not attend the World Gourmet Summit and missed out on the cocktail, fret not! Wala Wala Café Bar will be serving Welshman from 16 April 2019 for a limited time period! So, do go down and grab one before it is all gone.

              Where can you find Wala Wala Café Bar?

              Well, if you do not know where it is, here are the details.

              Address: 31 Lorong Mambong, Holland Village, Singapore 277689
              Phone: (65) 6462 4288
              Opening Hours: Monday to Thursday – 4 pm to 1 am
              Friday – 4 pm to 2 am
              Saturday and PH Eves – 3 pm to 2 am
              Sunday – 3 pm t0 1 am

               

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