Whisky Appreciation

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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Making Malt Whisky – The Scottish Way

 

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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This is How Scotch Whiskies are Categorised

 

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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6 popular whisky myths that are just…myths

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.

Scotland makes the best whisky

Source

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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