Whisky Appreciation

Manhattan Bar Singapore – Asia Top Bar 2017

Have you heard of Manhattan Bar? In case you have not, we wanted to highlight that it won the title of the NUMBER ONE bar in the top 50 bars in Asia in the 2017 Singapore Tourism Award Best Nightspot Experience, amongst other awards. If you are not aware, Manhattan is the grand hotel bar in Regent Singapore with their own Rickhouse and house-made cocktail ingredients. Manhattan boasts an intimate space for relaxation after a hard day’s work and house so many different cocktails that you are spoilt for choice! It is no wonder that the hotel holds the bar in high regards.

Manhattan is inspired by the 19th century’s Golden Age of cocktail and fine drinking. Its glamorous and modern space gives the illusion of stepping into old New York. The classy interior and the brightly-lit shelves with its marble bar elevated on a “stage” give first-time visitors the vibes of being transported back to the 1800s. For returning customers, the cosiness of the bar envelopes them in a warm and welcoming hug. Coupled with the music, the bar brings you back to the soul of the Golden Age of the 19th century.

A visit to Manhattan is an experience of both glamour and history. Besides the superb atmosphere, Manhattan also brings old and forgotten cocktails to life with craft bartending and artisanal spirits. All these are achieved with Manhattan’s dedicated bar team and their capable leaders.

Introducing Manhattan’s Hero Trio

Philip Bischoff, Bar Manager

Phillip is born in Berlin, Germany. His interest in bartending began at the age of 23 when he started to make cocktails for his friends at home parties. He moved on to catering events and finally, he began his career as a bartender at nightclubs. At Manhattan, Philip takes charge of the bar operation with a special focus on enhancing the beverage programme for the outlet and alleviating the overall guest experience.

Philip also leads the Friends of Manhattan Series, an initiative that encourages collaborations between industry partners, guest distillers and bartenders globally. This programme aims to provide trade professionals and cocktail aficionados with a platform to share their knowledge and passion for the craft.

In addition, he also plays a key role in expanding the selections from the Rickhouse together with the rest of the bar team.

Cedric Mendoza, Head Bartender

Cedric Mendoza is a young, budding talent. His first experience in bartending was in Manhattan bar in 2014. The then 23-year-old young man was introduced to the world of cocktails and devoted the last couple of years to hone and develop his skills in both the art of bartending and the craft of cocktail-making. Cedric devours cocktail books to find new recipes and often strives to push himself further in his craft. That habit keeps him close to the fast-changing pace of the industry. Currently, he is one of the finalists in the Diageo World Class competition.

Gabriel Carlos, Assistant Bar Manager

Gabriel, who prefers to call himself Gab, is born in the Phillippines. His interest in bartending began as a school curriculum in college. He fell hard and fast for the craft and has never looked back since. Gab started his career as a bartender with Manhattan bar back in August 2014. His tireless persistence in honing his skills helped him to establish a strong foundation in the art of bartending and the craft of artisanal spirits and cocktails. He rose through the ranks fairly quickly, taking on the challenges of new responsibilities confidently. Gab was promoted to Assistant Bar Manager in 2016, where he assisted Philip in overseeing the bar team and operations at the bar. Together with the experienced bar team at Manhattan, Gab now produces cocktails behind the marble bar of Asia’s Best bar.

Manhattan’s Barreling Programme

In addition to Manhattan’s amazing array of cocktails and spirits, the bar is also a forerunner in creating barrel-aged Negronis. Guests are invited to join this unique experience to enhance their knowledge of cocktail-making as well as the influence of wood barrels on spirits.

Guests can choose to either fill the fresh barrel with the spirit of their choice on their own or to allow Manhattan to fill it for them. After a few weeks of ageing in the barrel, the guests come back to Manhattan bar for the bottling and tasting of the spirit. Before the tasting commences, guests learn to mix up classic cocktails and bottle-aged variations straight from the barrel. The session also includes a tour inside the Rickhouse, where they get to see how whiskies are enhanced with various finishes. They will also understand the process of ageing cocktails in customed American oak barrels for complex profiles. Guests will also get a chance to meet the chefs of Manhattan bar in the Ingredient Room, where innovative bar bites are made. As a bonus, guests will get a hands-on tasting flight of various aged Negronis before the bottling session starts.

The whole unique programme cost SGD$2,950/barrel and it can be shared between a maximum of 8 guests. This programme is exclusive in Singapore and hardly offered around the world too. Only a handful of microdistilleries currently offers this programme around the world. We could say that Singapore is really lucky to have such an offer at Manhattan!

If you are interested in this programme, you can contact WhiskyGeeks at slainte@whiskygeeks.sg or send us a PM via Facebook Messenger. We will link you up with Manhattan Bar’s programme manager for a discussion.

 

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    An Exclusive Interview with Stuart Harvey

    WhiskyGeeks met up with Mr Stuart Harvey, Master Blender of Inver House Distillers on Thursday, 12 October 2017 for a chat about whisky and the distilleries under the care of Inver House Distillers. La Maison du Whisky (LMDW) invited Stuart to Singapore to head a “by-invite-only” training session. The training inducted promising young talents into the world of whisky. Stuart was also involved in a  few whisky pairing dinner jointly organised by Inver House and LMDW.

    Mr Stuart Harvey joined the brewing industry straight after graduation and in 1995, he joined the distilling industry. He was an experienced whisky blender when he joined Inver House Distillers in 2003. Becoming the Master Blender of Inver House was naturally the next step of his career.

    WhiskyGeeks had a good chat with Stuart over coffee; most of them were related to the process of whisky making and his preferences for the traditional methods. Let us summarised some of the things we discussed.

    Fancy Whisky Finishing

    We asked Stuart if he has the intention to follow the trend of finishing whiskies in wine or port casks. Stuart replied immediately that he has no plans to do so because he is not a big fan of finishing. Stuart believes in the traditional methods of maturing new spirits in either American Bourbon cask or Spanish Sherry cask. The most he would do is to marry whiskies from these 2 types of casks before bottling.

    Balbair Distillery

    Picture Credits: La Maison du Whisky

    Balbair distillery is relatively famous in Singapore. It has a core range as well as some vintage limited release. The interesting thing about Balbair is their preference to put the year of distillation and bottling on their label instead of stating the number of years.

    Stuart shared that as the master blender, he has to ensure that each batch of the core range stays similar to the previous one and that is one of the challenges that he faces in his job. Therefore, he trains his staff well so that they are able to pick the right casks for him to nose whenever they start a new batch so that the profile of each batch stays similar. However, for the vintage limited release, every batch is different as the whisky of a particular vintage is only from the year stated.

    Stuart also revealed that Inver House is in the midst of repackaging Balbair to reduce the confusion caused by their choice of labelling. In the coming years, it is possible that Balbair will start to show the number of years on their bottles instead of the vintage for the Asian market as they realised that Asians do not take very kindly towards the vintage style labelling.

    Balmenach Distillery

    Balmenach distillery is one of the latest distilleries that Inver House acquired. In the buying over of this distillery, Inver House did not buy the stock of the whisky, and hence production for Balmenach single malt is still underway. However, they have bought some casks from independent bottlers and might be releasing some limited edition Balmenach single malts in the next few years. Eventually, they will release a core range of 12, 18, 21 and 25-year-old Balmenach single malts matured in Spanish oak cask. At the moment, we can only wait. Well, good stuff are worth waiting for!

    Well, good stuff are worth waiting for!

    Old Pulteney Distillery

    Picture Credits: La Maison du Whisky

    Old Pulteney is popular in Singapore. Most of their whiskies are matured in bourbon casks. Stuart revealed that their original core range includes an 18-year-old and a 25-year-old. However, Stuart advised the marketing team to create a 17-year-old and a 21-year-old instead because he felt that the whiskies were just right. So, the core range of Old Pulteney is thus born, with a 17 yo and a 21 yo.

    Stuart also shared that an Old Pulteney 25-years-old is coming to Whisky Live Singapore 2017! It is an interesting bottle because the liquid is matured for 21 years in bourbon casks before transferring to sherry casks for the remaining 4 years. We are excited to try that one!

    Interestingly, our conversation led us to the whisky-making process for Old Pulteney where we understood from Stuart that Old Pulteney takes 6 hours to collect the wash from their copper mash tun. By doing so, they ensure a fruity and citrusy wash. During fermentation, they used Anchor’s active dry distillers’ yeast to retain the fruitiness of the wash. The worm tubs also help to retain the flavours of the new make spirit.

    The influence of casks during maturation

    The chat soon turned to the influence of casks. Stuart shared that many people did not know that different types of cask needed different treatment before they are used. WhiskyGeeks prompted Stuart to elaborate and he said that Spanish oak needs only gentle toasting to get the wood to open up. To get first fill Oloroso sherry casks, they only need to fill the casks with the sherry for 2 years. American oak takes more efforts and needs to be charred to open up the caramel/butterscotch flavours. These are used mainly in bourbon maturation. In the event that sherry is used, it is usually Fino or Manzanilla sherry instead of Oloroso sherry.

    Plans for the future

    WhiskyGeeks asked about the collaboration between Inver House Distillers and LMDW in Singapore. We understand that the focus for Inver House whisky brands will be huge in Singapore as LMDW values the quality of whiskies from Inver House and their choices to stick with traditional whisky-making methods. With their long working relationship and their close collaboration (LMDW houses more than a dozen whiskies from Inver House), the plans for the future is exciting indeed!

    As a teaser, a 1983 vintage (24 years old) bottle of Old Pulteney is releasing soon as an exclusive from LMDW!

    Personal Questions for Stuart

    Picture Credits: La Maison du Whisky

    Lastly, before Stuart headed off for the rest of his busy day, WhiskyGeeks asked Stuart what his biggest challenges are as a Master Blender for Inver House. Stuart cheerily replied, “Logistics is part of the job, and the hardest one. I had to secure casks and resources for the whisky in the long term and ensure sustainability. That is my biggest challenge for the last 14 years and I believe it will continue until I retired!”

    Well, leaving a legacy is always the hardest thing to do, isn’t it?

     

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      Whisky Butler’s October Box – Highland Park

      It is October! 3 more months to the end of the year, peeps! Isn’t that the exciting time of the year where you begin to slow down the pace, smell more flowers and drink a few more drams of whisky? Well, we are! In this post, we are introducing the Whisky Butler’s October box – one that is truly amazing.

      As you can guess, October is all about Highland Park. Everyone probably knows that Highland Park released the first expression of a three-part series Viking Legend recently. Named Highland Park Valkyrie, it has received wide recognition as an exceptional whisky in the whisky community around the world. Singapore might be a little late, but better late than never!

      Another special dram in this box is the Highland Park Bicentenary 1977 Vintage. This 21 Years Old is an old bottling from Highland Park back in 1998 when they celebrated their bicentenary! 200 years of history went into this bottle, so, except the unexpected!

      The October box also includes the core range of Highland Park whiskies – the 12 and 18 Years Old. Known for their delicious nose and palate, these whiskies have been delighting many for decades.

      Here’s a little more information about October’s offer.

      1. Highland Park Bicentenary 1977 Vintage

        This legendary expression was exclusively bottled in 1998 to honour the celebration of Highland Park’s Bicentenary. The important milestone event was a historic event in the Orkney Islands as it also celebrated their Viking past. This 21 Years Old expression received many praises from the whisky community and was sold out almost instantly. Today, it is a discontinued whisky expression and not available for sale. Whisky Butler got a special privilege to offer a dram of this whisky to its members as a special celebration of their lovely collaboration with Highland Park.

      2. Highland Park Valkyrie

        This is the first expression out of a three-part series of the Viking Legends bottled by Highland Park. The Viking Legend series is a tribute to the Viking past and bravery of the Valkyries on the battlefields of old. The whisky has won the Chairman’s Trophy in the 2017 Ultimate Spirit Challenge, scoring an impressive 99 out of 100!

      3. Highland Park 18 Years Old

        Part of the core range of Highland Park’s offering, the 18 Years Old is nothing short of exceptional. Its intense balance of flavour has won the title of Best Spirit in the World in the Spirit Journal not once, but twice! The 18 Years Old owes its successful to Highland Park’s 5 traditional keystones in their production of whisky. It represents the distillery’s commitment to skilled craftsmanship and their proud, Viking heritage.

      4. Highland Park 12 Years Old

        The entry level to the core range of Highland Park’s offering is the 12 Years Old. It is considered the heart and soul of Highland Park as it is the most commonly drank whisky from their range of delicious offering. The perfect harmony of smoky peat, sweet heather honey and rich fruit cake makes the 12 Years Old a favourite among many whisky drinkers around the world.

      Whisky Butler’s members can look forward to 4 great drams this October, but if you are not yet a member, don’t fret! Contact WhiskyGeeks at slainte@whiskygeeks.sg or PM us via our Facebook page @WhiskyGeeks for more information. Alternatively, head over to Whisky Butler and tell them that you have been sent by WhiskyGeeks. Either way will get you a mystery dram on the house as long as you pick up a subscription package from Whisky Butler!

      Exclusive Interview with Khoon Hui, owner of Quaich Bar

      WhiskyGeeks is on the roll! After an exclusive interview with Bar Manager of The Single Cask, we are now back with another exclusive interview. This time, we spoke to Khoon Hui, owner of Quaich Bar.

      We spoke on many things, but Khoon Hui’s journey as a bar owner is one which truly inspires us. The story of Quaich Bar did not start with the bar’s existence, but some years before that. Here’s a lowdown of what we find out about this exquisite bar in Singapore.

      Khoon Hui is an ex-auditor. Yes, he was one of those scary auditors who come around to companies to nose if there is some hanky-panky in the accounts once a year. Khoon Hui got tired of being the bad guy, and he thought that having a cafe or a bar might turn him into someone more welcoming. So, in 2002, Khoon Hui and his wife, Joyce, left their jobs and started their own business.

      Khoon Hui and Joyce thought hard about what they wanted to do and finally decided on a cafe and bar. They leased a place in Winsland House and started their entrepreneur journey. For the next three years, Khoon Hui and Joyce poured all their efforts into their business and discovered that their bar was doing so much better than the cafe. Before they could change the direction of their business, they got to know someone who was working in the Bowmore Distillery in Scotland. This person introduced them to the world of single malts. It was that defining moment that Khoon Hui and Joyce decided that they have found their direction.

      The couple took one of the biggest business risks that they had taken at that point of time and travelled to Scotland to learn more about whisky. They visited big and small distilleries to discover the secrets of whisky-making. Along the way, they also learned how to identify good whiskies when they taste it.

      The Scottish journey started the predecessor of Quaich Bar. Khoon Hui and Joyce set up their first whisky venture in the form of a pushcart in Tanglin in 2005. They called their shop, “The Whisky Store”. After a year, they moved to Cairnhill where they continued the same operative model.

      In 2007, the couple decided to scale up the business. With their experience in running a bar, they decided to set up their very first whisky bar. They moved into the premises at Waterfront Plaza (located at Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel), where they set the standard of whisky bars in Singapore till this very day. In fact, Quaich Bar has been recognised by The Whisky Magazine to be a “Great Whisky Bar of The World” for their outstanding presentation, promotion and knowledge of great whiskies from around the world.

      Quaich Bar is celebrating their 10 years anniversary this month. Weekly events have been arranged for the next one month and everyone is invited to join in the fun! More details about the anniversary can be found here.

      Khoon Hui and Joyce also set up another branch of Quaich Bar at South Beach, the newly built office tower opposite Suntec City. They have another bar, named Cask 81, in Myanmar too!

      Khoon Hui’s Idea of the Modern Whisky Industry

      WhiskyGeeks decided to pick Khoon Hui’s brain about the whisky industry since he is an experienced bar owner in Singapore. We asked him how the whisky industry has changed from 10 years ago when he first started his journey. He frankly told us that 10 years ago, it was easy to buy whiskies but hard to get people to try. In modern times, the challenge has swapped. Now it is easy to get people to try, but hard to convince the distilleries to sell the whiskies. This is especially true for the smaller distilleries as they do not produce enough volume to sell to everyone who wants to buy their whiskies. At the same time, the big boys such as Glenlivet and Glenfiddich demand large contracts that smaller bars may not be able to afford.

      Khoon Hui’s single wish for the Singapore Whisky Market

      We ended our interesting interview with Khoon Hui by asking him what his wish for the Singapore whisky market is. He said,”I wish for more whisky bars to open in Singapore so that whisky drinkers have a wider variety to try. It is only through our collaborative efforts as whisky bars that we can encourage more people to understand this wonderful drink we call whisky.”

      Wow, what a wonderful sentiment! We certainly hope for that too.

      How Different Casks Influence the Taste of Whisky

      We have written about the different types of casks in our previous post, so now it is time to dive deeper into the wood itself to find out how it influences the final whisky produced. Two predominantly different types of wood are used for casks and both influence the liquid maturing in them differently.

      The effect on taste for the 2 types of wood

      Type of Wood Effect on Taste
      American White Oak Vaniila, Caramel, Soft, Mellow
      European Oak  Bitter, Spicy, Strong Woody Taste

      There are huge differences between these 2 popular oak casks. The American White Oak grows in the eastern part of America and some parts of Canada. This particular oak tree grows faster than others, making it more affordable as a cask. The dense wood contains a lot of mono-galloyl glucose, which transfers into the typical Bourbon vanilla taste.

      The European Oak grows all over Europe, including Russia and Turkey. Its slower growth makes it more expensive and is slightly less dense than the American counterpart. The wood contains Gallic acid. This acid is a pseudo tannin, giving rise to the slightly bitter notes in a whisky matured in European oak when water is added. The European oak also adds to the spiciness of the whisky due to other components within the wood.

      The effect on taste from the types of predecessor liquid in the cask

      The predecessor liquid in the whisky cask also influences in the taste of the whisky. Here’s a table of the different liquids and how they influence the taste of the whisky.

      Predecessor Type of Liquid Influence on Taste Influence on Colour
      Amarone wine very fruity, lightly sweet, lightly dry dark red
      Barolo wine sweetness, zest, acidity, light fruits bright to amber
      Bordeaux (red) wine strong red fruits, grapes (wine), berries red
      Burgundy wine light fresh fruits (citrus, mango), very sweet,  bright to amber
      Chardonnay wine fruits, tannins (bitter), dried fruits, heavy aromas red
      Muscat wine lean, crisp, acidic, tropical fruits bright
      Sauternes wine floral , sweet, citrus, peach bright/red
      Tokaji wine tannins (bitter), dry, raisins, ripe fruits red
      Madeira fortified wine spiciness, light fruitiness, sweetness, dryness dark, amber
      Marsala fortified wine sweet, dried fruit, spiciness  red
      Muscat fortified wine lightly sweet, dried fruit, spiciness  red
      Port (dry) fortified wine dry, dried fruit, spiciness red
      Port (semi-dry) fortified wine very fruity, dark fruits, berries red
      Port (sweet) fortified wine very sweet, dark fruits, raisins, syrup amber
      Ruby Port fortified wine sweet, complex, spices dark red
      Amontillado sherry deep, dark, nutty, dark ripe fruits red, amber
      Fino sherry very sweet, dark fruits, raisins, syrup amber
      Manzanilla sherry light fruits, sweetness, dryness, light wood bright
      Oloroso sherry salty, dryness, sea flavours, fresh, some fruit bright
      Palo Cortado sherry sweetness, nutty, dry, fresh, acid amber
      Pedro Ximenez (PX) sherry rich, sweet, dry, sweet spices, fruits brown
      Rum (white) spirit sweet, molasses, vanilla, tropical fruit, almond bright
      Rum (dark) spirit sweet, syrup, dark fruits, oak, caramel, vanilla amber
      Bourbon whiskey vanilla, sweetness, caramel, creamy golden

      The Effects of Charring and Toasting of the Casks

      Charring and toasting convert the wood sugar into caramel and vanilla flavours that typically grace whiskies. Toasting means to darken the top of the wood and the depths of the staves. It is identified by a black, flat layer on top. Charring means to burn the wood to a point where the surface breaks. It has an uneven top layer and looks like an alligator skin. The time that the barrel is burned determines the level of charring.

      The Effects on Reusing the Casks

      Finally, the number of times that a cask is reused also affects the final whisky. A cask that is reused multiple times releases fewer flavours into the whisky. Usually, the casks are milled and charred again to restore caramel and vanilla flavours for maturation before they are refilled with whisky. The only exception is bourbon, where only fresh casks are used.

       

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        10 Common Types of Whisky Casks

        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

         

        Blood Tub

        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.

        Quarter Cask

        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.

        Hogshead

        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.

        Barrique

        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.

        Puncheon

        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.

        Butt

        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.

        Port Pipe

        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.

        Madeira Drum

        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

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

          Picture Credits: WhiskyGeeks

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

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

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

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

          What did Brendan do before joining TSC?

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

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

          Who influenced Brendan into joining the whisky industry?

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

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

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

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

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

          What was the geekiest thing Brendan did?

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

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

          Picture Credits: WhiskyGeeks

          How long has Brendan been drinking?

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

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

          What mixer will Brendan suggest for whisky?

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

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

          How important is whisky to Brendan?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

          People will still go back to Scotch, according to Brendan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

          Picture Credits: YX (Whisky Butler)

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

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

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

          Who are the influencers in the whisky community in Singapore?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

          What is Brendan’s advice to the whisky community?

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

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

           

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

            Picture Credits: WhiskyGeeks

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

            History of The Single Cask

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

            The Single Cask Singapore

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

            Speciality of The Single Cask

            Picture Credits: WhiskyGeeks

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

            Who is Who at The Single Cask

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

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

            What does The Single Cask offer its patrons?

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

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

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

            Where is The Single Cask?

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

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

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              Top 5 Independent Bottlers you can find in Asia

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

              Gordon & MacPhail

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

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

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

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

              Douglas Laing & Co Ltd

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

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

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

              WM Cadenhead’s

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

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

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

              Duncan Taylor Scotch Whisky

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

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

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

              Signatory Vintage

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

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

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

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                A Short Note about Independent Bottlers

                Picture Credits: http://whiskyforeveryone.blogspot.sg

                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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