It is common for a bottle of whisky to state the type of cask or barrel used during maturation on the label. It is especially so when you buy a bottle from independent bottlers. Do you know that the whisky cask type and size influence the liquid inside the bottle that you bought?
One of the basic things is to remember that the smaller the cask, the more contact it has with the liquid inside. The contact between the wood and the liquid has a big influence on the final product. Hence, we come up with this short guide to help you understand the different types and size of casks better.
The 10 common types of whisky casks
A blood tub is a small cask with a capacity of only 40 litres. It is used in beer making. Distilleries use the blood tub for maturation if they wish to mature a limited run of whisky. The cask has an elongated oval shape that makes transportation easy, even on horseback.
A quarter cask is a smaller version of the American Standard Barrel (ASB), a quarter of its size to be exact. With a capacity of 50 litres, it is one of the most reactive casks for spirits. Whisky distilleries use the quarter cask to give flavours to whisky quickly as the size creates the most contact between the spirit and the wood.
American Standard Barrel (ASB)
The ASB is a slightly smaller version of a hogshead with a capacity of 200 litres. Created mainly for the ease of use in the modern world, the ASB is made of American white oak that is widely used in the bourbon industry. After its first fill in bourbon, the ASB is popular among the Scottish and Irish whisky distilleries for their whisky maturation.
This is one of the most commonly used casks for whisky maturation. The American white oak hogshead is widely used to mature bourbon as a new cask before shipping out to Scotland and Ireland for the maturation of whisky. Its name comes from a 15th century English term ‘hogges hede’, which refers to a unit of measurement equivalent to 63 gallons. If you have a bottle of whisky matured in a bourbon cask, it is likely to have matured in a hogshead or an ASB.
These are usually known as “wine casks” as they are widely used throughout the wine industry. They are different from the other casks and barrels because they are not bounded by mental hoops. Instead, they are bounded by wooden stripes. These casks are normally used in the whisky industry to give a “wine cask finish” to the final whisky.
There are 2 types of puncheon. The common puncheon is made of thick staves of American oak with a short, fat body. It is used for the rum industry. The other type of puncheon is made of thinner staves of Spanish oak with an elongated body. It is used for the sherry industry. Both types of puncheon are used to finish whisky. They both have a capacity of 500 litres.
A butt also has a capacity of 500 litres. Made mostly from thick staves of European oak, this tall, narrow cask is widely used in the sherry industry in Spain. Butts are the most common type of sherry casks found in the whisky industry.
A port pipe looks like a regular barrel that is stretched from both ends. It is made from thick staves of European oak and has the capacity of 650 litres. It is used to mature port wine and normally used as finishing in the whisky industry.
This is a short, fat and dumpy barrel with a wide diameter. Its capacity is 650 litres as well. These drums are solely used in the Madeira wine industry and occasionally used as a finish in some whiskies.
Gorda is a huge barrel with a capacity of 700 litres. It is made of American oak and occasionally used to mature whisky. Most of the time, it is used for the marrying of different whiskies for blended or vatted whisky production.
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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 (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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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 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.
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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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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Malt whisky is still made with the same traditional methods of Scotland’s past using natural raw materials. Malted barley, yeast and water made up the humble ingredients of every malt Scotch whisky. The process is made up of 5 steps, and the time frame for making malt Scotch whisky varies depending on how long the whisky is eventually matured.
Step 1: Malting
Barley has to be malted before they can be used in the whisky making process. They are steeped in water before being spread out on a traditional malting floor for germination. This process creates a kind of starch in the barley which will be converted into soluble sugars in later processes. These sugars will eventually become alcohol.
The malting process lasts a week, in which the barley will start to sprout. The sprouting is stopped by drying the barley in a large oven known as a kiln. This drying process is known as kilning and peat is sometimes burnt in this process to produce whisky that has a distinctive, smokey flavour.
Step 2: Mashing
Once the barley are dried completely, they are grounded and then mixed with hot water in a mashing tun. Mashing dissolves the sugars from the malt and produces a sugary liquid known as wort. Wort will be used to turn into alcohol. The liquid is collected for the next step while the remaining solids are reused as nutritious cattle feed.
Step 3 – Fermentation
The wort that is collected went into large containers known as washbacks, where yeast is added for fermentation to happen. The yeast then converts the sugars in the wort, creating undistllled alcohol known as the wash. The wash is around 8% ABV.
Step 4 – Distillation
Normal malt whisky production demands a double distillation process, where the wash is distilled once in a wash still and once in a spirit still. The wash is heated in the wash still until it boils. Alcohol vapours then rise and pass over the narrow head of the wash still before it condenses back into liquid form as low wines. The liquid is then collected into the spirit still, where the distillation process repeats. The liquid that comes out from the spirit still is further monitored and only the high-quality of usable spirit is collected as new spirit. Do note that there are some whiskies which are tripled-distilled. In such whiskies, the liquid collected from the spirit still is distilled a third time to create even purer new spirits for maturation.
Step 5 – Maturation
The new-make spirit is then transferred into oak casks of different origins and set aside for maturation. Through the maturation process, the colourless spirit takes on the colour of the cask that they are in, and develops further flavour characteristics influenced by the cask. By law, whiskies that are to be known as Scotch whiskies must matured in Scotland for at least 3 years. When a whisky label carries an age statement, for example 12 years, all the whiskies in the bottle must have matured in a cask for at least the said number of years.
The 5 steps whisky-making process sounds easy but whisky-makers put in a lot of hard work and passion into the process. Whenever we are enjoying a Scottish dram or two, do think about the beautiful work that these producers are doing and wish them well. 🙂
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Most people would know Scotch whisky as single malts, but there are also other forms of Scotch whiskies that you should know so that you can enjoy whisky completely! In this article, we will share a little about the different categories to pip your curiosity!
Scotch Whisky Categories
The Scotch Whisky Regulation 2009 defined five different categories of Scotch Whisky to regulate how Scotch whiskies are made and marketed across the world. The relevant category must be labelled clearly and prominently on every bottle of Scotch whisky that are sold around the world.
Single Malt Scotch Whisky
A single malt Scotch whisky must be distilled in a single distillery from water and malted barley without adding any other cereals. It must be batch distilled in pot stills and bottled in Scotland.
Single Grain Scotch Whisky
A single grain Scotch whisky must be distilled in a single distillery from water, malted barley and the addition of whole grains of other malted or unmalted cereals. Some Scotch whiskies which does not comply with the definition of single malt Scotch Whisky are also labelled as a single grain Scotch whisky
Blended Scotch Whisky
A blended Scotch whisky is simply a blend of one or more single malt Scotch whiskies with one or more single grain Scotch whiskies.
Blended Malt Scotch Whisky
A blended malt Scotch whisky is a blend of single malt Scotch whiskies which have been distilled at more than one distillery.
Blended Grain Scotch Whisky
A blended grain Scotch whisky is a blend of single grain Scotch whiskies which have been distilled at more than one distillery.
Greater Protection for Traditional Regional Names
The changes made in the Scotch Whisky Regulation 2009 acts as a better protection for traditional regional names that produce Scotch whiskies, that is, the names of Highlands, Lowlands, Speyside, Islay and Campbeltown. These names can only be put on the labels of whiskies which have been wholly distilled in the regions. A distillery name cannot be used as a brand name on any Scotch Whisky that is not wholly distilled in the named distillery. Labelling of every bottle of Scotch whisky is strictly monitored so as not to mislead consumers as to where the Scotch Whisky has been distilled.
Better Protection for Consumers
These regulations also provide for better protection for consumers who are buying Scotch whiskies all over the world. It helps to keep fraud down to the minimum. Besides, such regulations also help consumers to better understand where each bottle of whisky came from.
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Whisky is a mysterious drink to many people around the world. While the drink is progressively getting popular, especially in Southeast Asia, China, and parts of Southern America, many people are still wary of whisky. Some of the most arguable points in whisky are possibly how to drink it, when to drink it, at what age should you start appreciating whisky and what sex you have to be if you want to drink whisky.
All these myths are negative ideologies that give reasons why people should NOT drink whisky. To drive home the point, you just need to examine the parts of the world where whisky is getting popular, and you will see that those areas do not subscribe to whisky myths like those above. That is possibly the only real reason why whisky is so popular in these countries.
Whisky is not an elitist drink, neither is it a drink just for men. It is a complex and flavourful drink that can impress even the most knowledgeable man and woman. Let’s see some of the whisky myths and blast them away with facts!
Whisky is old-fashioned
Maybe the scenes of old movies in which a group of men in tweed suits, holding glasses of golden spirits and muttering to one other about peat and flavours come to mind whenever you think about whisky? It is considered as old-fashioned, irrelevant and unable to catch up to the modern world. However, if you would just look at the whisky bars that are springing up one after another in Singapore today, and you will realise that more and more young people are starting to appreciate the complexity of the drink. Just as the clubs are mixing whisky cocktails for the party-goers, the whisky bars of the modern world are serving up drams of excellent whiskies in almost any way that it can be drank – neat, with an ice ball, with ice cubes, with water, or perhaps as a highball. Whisky is not old-fashioned, but our mindset might be.
Whisky is too strong a drink for women
That is probably a sexist remark in today’s world. If you walk into a whisky bar today, you may find that many of the knowledgeable bartenders are women. If women are too weak for whisky, why are the bartenders women? To entertain the men? Absolutely not! You will be surprised at what these women bartenders drink if you dare to ask! Besides, there are many women now who enjoy whisky, and possibly drink more than the men. Whisky is for everyone, and definitely not a drink exclusively reserved for men.
Whisky should be drunk neat
This is furthest from the fact. Whisky is a versatile drink. It can be drunk neat, but it can also be enjoyed with a splash of water, with an ice ball, with ice cubes, as a cocktail and as a highball. There are so many people in this world who does not know that whisky can be drank in any of these forms! Some old timers are so fixated on drinking it neat that they did not fully appreciate what a dash of water can do to open up the flavours of their well-loved whiskies. Newcomers are usually put off by the sharp taste of whisky when drank neat. Without knowing that whisky can be drank in other ways, these people tried whisky once and never try it again. Isn’t that a perfect waste?
Whisky is an after-dinner drink
Whisky might be an after-dinner drink during the Victorian era, where gentlemen retired to the gentlemen’s den for whiskies and cigar, while the ladies return to their chit-chats in the parlour. It is however, the 21st century now, and hardly anyone ever drink whisky after dinner due to the drink-no-drive policies and reluctance of restaurants to serve digestifs after dinner. This makes whisky a drink that can be drank before dinner, at parties and as a late night snack! Just ask those whisky lovers around the world!
Single malts are better than blended whisky
This is the one single thing that many people adhere to almost anywhere we go. This could be due to the price tags that are attached to the single malts. Blended whiskies are generally cheaper; hence, it is labelled as inferior, rough, cheap and a dilution of strong character. We need to stop comparing single malts and blended whiskies, because they are different from each other. While single malts are popular because of certain well-known brands, blended whiskies have their fan base too. In fact, in new markets such as China and Vietnam, the whisky lovers sees whisky as blended. Single malts and blend each have their own distinctive characters, complexities and flavours. Comparing the two of them is just like comparing apples and oranges – they are simply not the same, and should be appreciated differently.
If you still believe this, you probably stayed in an ice cave all these while! While Scotch is undisputedly the largest whisky producer, it is definitely a mistake to associate it as the producer of the best whisky. Just check out Irish whiskies with their sweet, juicy drinkability and Japan, whose precise, complex single malts have won awards in recent years. How about Taiwan? She is slowly but steadily building whiskies that are flavourful and complex, winning awards and fans along the way. There is probably no “best whisky” since the appreciation of whisky is subjective to individual preferences.
Whisky is therefore, a drink that is for everyone. Appreciating and understanding whisky may take time, but we promise that it will be a journey that you will hugely enjoy! So, sit back, relax, rise your glass and say slainte!
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