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Interview: An Hour with Jonathan Scott

Jonathan with the Smokehead Range

We have been fortunate to get support from Asiaeuro Singapore and Ian Macleod since we started the blog. We are grateful that the company has always looked after us. Last year, Glengoyne distillery and Jonathan had also gone out of their way to host our writer, Mr Hongfu Teo, when he visited the distillery.

This year, we are once again, grateful, to be invited to the Asiaeuro’s office for an exclusive interview with Jonathan when he popped by Singapore for a really short time. As we had mentioned our love for Islay and peaty whiskies the last time we met, we are invited to cover for their iconic Islay Single Malt whiskies – SMOKEHEAD!

Of Growing Up in Speyside and Tomatoes…

Jonathan Scott grew up at the edge of Speyside, and interestingly, his first memories for whisky is Glen Garioch. We spent some time talking about how to pronounce the distillery’s name, and finally, we agreed that it should be called “Glen Gary”! It helps the unschooled Asian tongue to pronounce the name and also makes it acceptable for the Scottish ears.

Jonathan shared that his childhood in Speyside revolved pretty much around tomatoes. The reason was simple – Scotland does not have the ideal climate to grow tasty tomatoes. Most of their tomatoes come from Spain. Therefore, tomatoes were a large part of his childhood. Nonetheless, tomatoes have had nothing to do with his passion for whisky…

Working in the Industry…

Jonathan works in the whisky industry for the past 15 years. His experiences are varied, and that was what makes things so exciting to him. Considering his many years of experience, we asked him the critical question – What are the differences for Glengoyne, Tamdhu and Smokehead when compared to others?

Glengoyne and Tamdhu Distilleries

Tamdhu 12 and 15 Years Old

Sherry. It is always the sherry wood cask that these distilleries use. Both brands have their reputation built around the excellent sherry oak casks that they use for maturation of their whiskies. They use both first-fill and refill sherry oak casks that can cost up to a £1000! Each sherry oak cask comes from Jerez, Spain, and it is not a readily available item due to the shrinking sherry industry and the inflation of prices for the sherry casks.

Besides the exclusive usage of sherry casks, Tamdhu (in Speyside) also sourced its water from underground springs. Unlike many other distilleries around the area, Tamdhu does not use water from the river Spey. This makes Tamdhu unique as I do believe that water plays a part in the production of whisky.

Smokehead

The Smokehead Trio

The range of Smokehead is the most interesting to me. Despite the various expressions available in the global market for about 16 years, Smokehead remains mysterious in its ways. Ian Macleod works with multiple distilleries on Islay to buy their casks for the Smokehead range. Smokehead started with one expression – the classic Smokehead, and then move on to release other expressions, including the 18 years old and the Sherry Bomb. While there may not be a name put to each Smokehead expression, we probably could tell from the palate when we enjoy the whiskies.

The Interesting Portfolio of Ian Macleod

Jonathan shared an often overlooked characteristic of Ian Macleod’s current portfolio. They have a distillery in the three major regions of Scotland. Tamdhu in Speyside region, Glengoyne in the Highlands, Rosebank in the Lowlands and of course, Smokehead (as a brand) on Islay. Perhaps the next step for Ian Macleod after restoring Rosebank is to build a new distillery on Islay!

They also have two gin distilleries – The Edinburgh Gin Distillery based in the city and a larger distillery in Leith.

Rosebank Robbery and its Restoration

Diageo mothballed Rosebank Distillery in 1993, and the robbery took place over the Christmas of 2008/2009. The thieves stole all the original Rosebank copper stills, but they left the whisky alone! If we looked at the context of that period, we would realise that copper was probably more expensive then whisky! In some ways, that was lucky! Otherwise, we would not have any remaining Rosebank whisky now.

The restoration of the distillery is underway now. As all the stills were never recovered, Ian Macleod has to rebuild all the stills in its original form. That is taking up much of their time, but patience will pay off eventually. While Jonathan does not have an exact timeline for us right now, we can be assured that Rosebank distillery will rise from the ashes again soon!

New Releases from Ian Macleod

Smokehead Sherry Bomb

Smokehead Sherry Bomb

Exciting new releases from the three brands are coming to Singapore in June and July. First up, we have the brand new Smokehead expression – the Sherry Bomb. Strong peat, creamy vanilla, and some fruits came through on the nose. Oily, black smoke, peat and burnt banana filled the palate. The long finish has hints of sweet sherry and a tinge of saltiness to remind you of the origins of the whisky.

Besides the Sherry Bomb, you can still find the classic Smokehead, the 18 Years Old, and the High Voltage expressions in Singapore too.

Tamdhu 12 and 15 Years Old

Tamdhu launches the 12 and 15 Years Old whisky recently, and Singapore will be getting them soon. If you are a sherried whisky fan, these are to die for. Try them for yourself and let us know what you think.

Glengoyne The Legacy Chapter One

The Legacy is one of the newest NAS bottles from Glengoyne, and we understood that the expression would only come to Singapore sometime in July. Even though it is not yet in Singapore, we are positive that this bottle will be again an extraordinary expression. We have received a sampling portion and will soon be posting a review of the whisky. Stay tuned for it!

Where can you find these products in Singapore?

Some of our bars in Singapore are carrying the brands from Ian Macleod. One bar of special notice is The Wall at Tanjong Pagar. They have the most number of bottles from Ian Macleod, from Tamdhu to Glengoyne to Smokehead. In fact, the bar is stocking up with some of the new releases such as the Smokehead Sherry Bomb, Tamdhu 15 Years Old and Glengoyne Legacy. Smokehead Sherry Bomb is available now, while Tamdhu 15 and Glengoyne Legacy will arrive in July.

Besides our friends at The Wall, you can also find Tamdhu 10 and 12 Years Old at The Connoisseur Divan! There will be more places in future, so do keep an eye out for them! In the meanwhile, head over to the two bars to try these delectable whiskies!

 

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Chloe Wood – Bruichladdich’s Brand Ambassador

Chloe with her bottle of Laddie Valinch 28

Chloe Wood – the new brand ambassador from Bruichladdich, made waves in Singapore even before she arrived when news of her joining the Singapore team was released officially sometime last year. The community is excited to meet a young lady who has so much knowledge about the brand and who grows up in Islay. Everyone knew that Chloe has much to share with us about Bruichladdich and what they do.

Fast forward to WhiskyLive Singapore 2017 in November last year – Chloe was there to lead the Masterclass for Octomore. We were there as well and got to know Chloe very quickly. Her friendly manners got all of us high and jolly (well, the Octomores played a part too) and we had a wonderful time with her.  We also learnt so much about Octomores from Chloe!

We invited Chloe for an interview with WhiskyGeeks and finally got a chance to sit down with her sometime in mid-December at her office for a chat.

Introducing Chloe Wood

Chloe at Islay (Picture Credits)

For a start, allow us to introduce Chloe Wood. She is Islay-born, and have grown up in Islay for much of her life. Chloe is into sports, and is a qualified coach in hockey, rugby, football, badminton and swimming! She was also a certified lifeguard before working with Bruichladdich. As a child, Chloe was not introduced to the whisky scene and never had much connection with whisky. However, she knows that whisky is part of life in Islay and as she grew up, her interests grew as well. As Chloe wasn’t keen to attend university, she escaped with a diploma and headed straight for work. When the job came up at Bruichladdich “Laddie Shop”, she jumped at the chance to join the big family.

The Laddie Shop opened the world of whisky to Chloe. Her daily interaction with customers, her co-workers and the occasional chat with whisky legend, Jim McEwan, all gave her knowledge and grew her passion for whisky. Chloe did not look back since, and she is now four years with the company with much to give back.

The Wood Family

As an only child, Chloe is close with her cousins, who also works with Bruichladdich. Her family is deeply involved with Islay and Bruichladdich to be sure. Her grandfather owns Octofad Farm, which is part of the Bruichladdich family too. Her dad, Andrew Wood, who is in the construction business, built grain sheds on the farm in 2008/2009 to hold and dry the barley that the farmers are producing for Bruichladdich, and now, the operation has grown. Octofad Farm dried all the Islay barley used in the distillation at Bruichladdich. “30 tonnes of barley takes 12 hours to dry”, Chloe said.

Chloe’s mum, on the other hand, runs a B&B on Islay. There are always Bruichladdich fans staying at the B&B, so the Wood family is consistently in touch with whisky and Bruichladdich.

Working with Bruichladdich as a host in the Academy

Chloe worked for The Laddie Shop for about a year and a half before she transferred to a role in the Academy. As a host in the Academy, she led educational tours for staff, distributors and wholesalers. Her vast knowledge in the brands came largely from her role as an educator. In the Academy, the host led highly-detailed tours for three tracks – Bruichladdich, Botanist and Remy Cointreau’s brands. As the educator for the Bruichladdich track, Chloe shared that the tours included visits to the barley fields and water source, an experience to cut peat and of course the distillery tour with a chance to taste whisky from the warehouses. It ended with a tasting session of the Bruichladdich’s core range of whiskies. The whole event takes place over two days.

Unfortunately, it is only for staff, distributors and wholesalers. Visitors to the distillery can politely request to see the water source, but it is up to the distillery’s discretion to bring the visitors. If the weather is foul, it is likely not possible to hike to the water source.

Bruichladdich Cask Sales

Up until 2011, Bruichladdich sells casks to its fans and help them to store the whisky in their warehouse for a fee. There were over 4000 cask owners by the time the cask sales stopped. In 2001, each cask cost about £400 and the price increased to £1000 by 2011. The cost to store the whisky was growing, and Bruichladdich was finding it more difficult to upkeep the sales portion as there are just too many cask owners. Therefore, they stopped the programme in 2011.

Funny Stories from Chloe’s days as an International Tour Guide

Chloe worked as an international tour guide for Bruichladdich as well and hosted overseas visitors for distillery tours. One of the funniest stories that she remembered was the one time where she brought a group of huge, Swedish men around the warehouse, and she made the mistake of saying, “Well, if you can lift any of the casks in the warehouse, it is yours to bring home!” She was confident in her knowledge that the hogsheads and barrels in the warehouse were too heavy for a single man to lift. Unfortunately, one of the Swedish men found a small cask hiding in between the big guys. The small barrel is only 35 litres, and he lifted it easily! “I am bringing this home, Chloe!” Hollered the man jokingly.

Chloe was so stunned that she did not know what to do for a moment. Thankfully, the men did not get rowdy and put the cask down quite willingly after she promised to give them an extra dram during the tasting session. What an adventure!

A typical day as a Brand Ambassador

For those of us who think that brand ambassadors have a fantastic job, think again. We ask Chloe what her day usually is like and the schedule is quite a hectic one!

In the day, she has meetings with the marketing manager, training with bartenders or staff, designing her presentation and arranging the tasting sessions for her training. On top of that, she has to do supply planning for her travels as well as writing tasting notes and stories for the people she meets during her travels.

In the evening, she attends meetings with bartenders and bar managers as well as with other brand ambassadors who might be visiting. Sometimes, she needs to host or speak at events too. Besides all these, Chloe travels a lot. Spending six to seven months of the year on the road can be tiring.

Do you still want to be a Brand Ambassador?

The Laddie Valinch 28 Chloe Wood

The Laddie Valinch 28 Chloe Wood

We asked Chloe about the Laddie Valinch 28 which was a special bottle for her. It got her name on it! The Valinch is a series of bottling by Bruichladdich to honour all the employees of the company. It can be a Laddie, or a Port Charlotte and each bottle is a single cask from the distillery. Currently, the Valinch series is at no. 31.

The Laddie Valinch 28 is a Sauternes cask (#780) with an outturn of 444 bottles. It is a 12 years old with an abv of 48.8%. We got the honour of tasting it straight from a new bottle that day. Man, it was fantastic! The nose is full of fresh honey, pears and green apple, a little grassy and light spice in the background. The palate is sweet like a white wine with an oily mouthfeel. Lemon mixed with the pears and green apples to form a tropical feel. Pleasant spice tickled the tongue for a warm feeling. The finish is long with lemony notes and a tingle of spice. It gets a little dry towards the end, just like an excellent white wine. The influence of the Sauternes cask was evident but nothing that overwhelms the character of the spirit. What an impressive dram!

Chloe’s Favourite Whisky

We asked if the Laddie Valinch 28 is Chloe’s favourite whisky, to which she said, “Oh! No, not really. I remembered that my first taste of whisky when I started work at Bruichladdich was an Octomore 12 years old. I fell in love with it immediately! It was 9 am in the morning, and Jim told me that he wanted me to try something special. That was my favourite!”

Besides that unattainable whisky, Chloe loves the Octomore 8.3 and the Bruichladdich Islay Barley bottlings! Those are her favourite for now. Are those your favourite too?

The Future for Bruichladdich

Bruichladdich has a bright future and one which we would like to be a part of. Besides her busy schedule, Chloe wants to expand the brand in the Asia and South East Asia region. She hopes to bring both Bruichladdich and Islay to the people here so that more people can experience the progressive innovation that is so prevalent in Bruichladdich. Chloe even wants to learn Mandarin so that she can communicate easily with Bruichladdich fans from China and Taiwan!

Besides that, education is also a priority in Chloe’s list of “must-do”. She wants to show people what whisky is all about, tell stories about the different brands and to bring Islay to everyone whom she meets! It is a pleasure to talk about her home and to invite people to visit Islay and Scotland.

What to look out for in Islay?

Besides all our talk about whisky, we also took the chance to ask Chloe what we should look out for when international visitors go to Islay. Her reply? “Check out the beautiful beaches, farmland, wildlife and sanctuaries. Eat fresh seafood, drink all the whisky and don’t drive if you are visiting distilleries. Oh, and don’t book tours too close to each other. The journey from one distillery to another can take you longer than expected! Lastly, watch out for wifi problem! It is an island after all!”

Advice for youths

Before we left, we asked Chloe if she has any advice for youths. Her biggest answer was TRAVEL! Travelling was indeed what she did as a youth and she shared that there is much to learn when you travel. You get to learn about yourself and others; see the world and know what you like. These experiences helped when you start working. We have to agree with that!

We wish Chloe all the best in her exciting journey for 2018, and we hope to see her again soon!

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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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.