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A Chat with Brendan McCarron from Glenmorangie

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

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

Brendan’s Whisky History

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

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

Brendan’s Unique Journey

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

Glenmorangie and its whiskies

Glenmorangie Whiskies (Picture Credit: Glenmorangie.com)

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

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

Glenmorangie’s Affairs with Wood

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

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

The Making of Artisan American White Oak Casks

An Oak Cask (Photo Credit: Glenmorangie.com)

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

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

Designer Wood Casks for Limited Edition Whiskies

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Truth about Virgin Oak Casks

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

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

Factors that Affects the Choices of Cask Finishes

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

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

Brendan Wants YOU to Know This!

Brendan, the whisky expert

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Nantou Distillery (Omar whisky) visit!

Nantou distillery has been making Omar, a Taiwanese whisky, since 2008. The distillery tours there are quite like those of Scotland. The tour guide makes the experience more intimate, more personalised and less commercial. Nantou distillery’s willingness to experiment makes them unique, especially to whisky geeks like myself! I know many of you are more interested in the whisky; so I will leave the technical production details to later in the article!

Omar Whisky

Nantou winery makes different fruit wines and liqueurs which can be used to season casks for unique cask finishes. Omar whisky has released whisky finished in casks of Lychee Liqueur, Plum liqueur, Black-Queen Wine and Orange liqueur.

Batch 4 Lychee Liqueur Cask Finish

This Lychee liqueur finish has a balanced Lychee note that does not overpower the whisky. I enjoyed the tropical fruit notes of pineapple and mango alongside notes of pear drops!

Batch 1 Orange Liqueur Cask Finish

This dram is for the orange lover with notes of orange puree, orange zest, and orange flower water alongside some lovely notes of vanilla and honey from its prior maturation.

I am particularly fond of their bourbon cask strength, both peated and unpeated! But do not fret about the age statements. Due to a higher average temperature, maturation speeds are a lot faster than Scotland. A 3-year-old whisky at Nantou would taste similar to an 8 to 12-year-old whisky matured in Scotland. The 8-year-old cask strength is a special release; it feels like a 15-20-year-old scotch.

Omar 8yo 2009 Cask Strength

This 8yo is very soft and demure, giving notes of old oak, vanilla, pears and mandarin oranges!

Omar 3yo 2014 Peated Cask Strength

The 3-year-old peated cask strength displayed a high calibre of maturation, with the right balance of peat smoke. Water will draw out more smoke for people who love that note! This delicious yet affordable single cask would be good smoky daily dram!

Omar 10yo 2008 PX Sherry Cask

For sherry bomb lovers, this is an absolute sherry nuke or WMD! This is the result of 8 years in sherry hogshead before finishing in a PX cask for two years. This dram holds notes of Christmas cake, cinnamon, chocolate, plums and dried fruit!

Barley

TTL buys barley in bulk from multiple maltsters. Most of the unpeated barley is from maltsters in England, while most of the peated barley at 35ppm is from maltsters based in Scotland. The moisture content is also similar to specifications required in Scottish distilleries, around 4%.

Milling & Mashing

The barley is milled into grist with the standard ratio of 70% grist, 20% barley husk and 10% flour. Distilleries maintain specific ratios to assist in the filtration of wort and to prevent choking in the pipes. The grist is sent to a German semi-lauter mash tun with a charge of 120000L. Hot water is added three times; the first and second streams form the wort. The third stream, called the sparge, picks up the remaining sugars, but it is low in sugar. The sparge is not mixed with the first 2 streams, but to maximise sugar recovery. This is done by reusing the sparge for the first stream to be added to the next batch of grist.

Fermentation

The wort goes into one of the stainless steel washbacks to undergo fermentation, turning it into a strong beer called wash. In this stage, the yeast will start eating the sugar in the wort and produce carbon dioxide and alcohol. For Omar whisky, this fermentation process takes an average of 72 hours using French distiller’s yeast. This is slightly longer than the 48 hours of fermentation in most modern Scottish distilleries. The wash from Omar is around 7-8% alcohol by volume (abv).

Distillation

Pot stills

The wash goes into one of 2 wash stills to be distilled into low wines. This distillation removes the barley solids leaving mostly ethanol, water and aromatic compounds. The low wines are pipped into the spirit still for its second distillation to reduce water content. Nantou Distillery currently has 2 Wash Stills and 2 Spirit Stills. One spirit still is different, as it, strangely enough, has a window. The stills are of varying sizes, one at 7000L, two at 5000L and the last one at 2000L.

Cut of the Heart

There are three components in the spirit still distillate. The head comes first at a high abv, followed by the heart, which is what goes into the barrels, and lastly comes the tail which has a lower abv. The cut of the heart affects the new make spirit and how the whisky tastes. If the cut starts at a higher abv, the new make spirit gets lighter, fruity notes, but also more undesirable flavours from the heads. If the cut ends too low, it gets heavier flavours but risk lowering the final abv.

The master distiller decides how to balance these two points. For Omar, the cut of the heart is somewhere between 73% and 64%. This means that the stillmen sends distillate above 73% (heads) and below 64% (tails) into a tank to be redistilled. The heart that is within the range will go into barrels for maturation. Due to Taiwan’s legislation, Nantou Distillery reduces the strength of their new make spirit to just below 60% abv before filling in casks.

Maturation

Cask Management

Nantou distillery receives the sherry and bourbon casks whole so that the cask maintains its inherent quality. Nantou distillery uses ex-bourbon casks up to 3 times. As for Sherry casks, there is no fixed numerical limit. Craftsmen will keep utilising the sherry cask until they deem it to be too exhausted to provide flavour. According to the tour guide, the sherry casks usually provides stronger flavours in Nantou’s climate, therefore using refill would give a more balanced dram.

 

3rd and 4th fill Bourbon casks are usually used for seasoning with wines or liqueurs. This is extraordinarily creative, because a 3rd or 4th fill cask may not provide as much cask influence, but they can act as a sponge to soak up the previous liquid. This means that such a seasoned cask would deliver the flavours of the previous content without over-oaking the product. These seasoned casks are used for the various Omar whisky finishes.

Warehouse

Most of Nantou distillery’s warehouses are racked for easy access to the individual cask. Amongst the racked warehouses, Nantou distillery also has a specially designed warehouse with space for future tasting events. This warehouse has an architecture heavily influenced by the sherry bodegas in Spain. The casks stacked up to three high and is a mimic of the solera system in a sherry bodega. Though the ceiling is lower, the arcs near the ceiling are similar to Bodegas in Spain. As a comparison, these are some pictures of the bodegas I visited in Jerez de la Frontera. On the left is Bodega Diez Merito, on the right is Bodega Fundador.

 

Distillery Expansion

Omar is looking to expand its production capacity by adding 3 more pairs of wash and spirit stills! The distillery is also undergoing renovation to accommodate larger tour crowds. In addition, Omar is continuing to experiment with new and different finishes! It is an exciting time ahead for Omar whisky and Nantou distillery is a must go on your Taiwan trip!

 

Special thanks to Nantou Distillery, Chairman Chung, and Ben for this enjoyable experience!

Whisky Review #104 – Cragganmore 1989 27 Years

Cragganmore 1989 27 Years Old

Our recent visit to Kaohsiung, Taiwan, was pretty much a whisky trip. We landed ourselves in The Drunken Master Whisky Bar on the first night to enjoy some respite from the long day of travelling.

Cragganmore 1989 27 Years Old

There are only 60 bottles for this label. Bottled at 50.9% abv from a hogshead, this bottle of Cragganmore 27 Years Old is the brainchild of Kuo Yi Liang, the bartender of The Drunken Master Whisky Bar. He is a dear friend of the owner, Li Chunfeng, and also a friend of WhiskyGeeks. The bottle is labelled as Kuo’s Choice and showed a scene of summer on the label. There was another bottle in the series – a Glen Moray – but it was sadly sold out.

I was lucky to get the last few pours from the bottle and man; I wasn’t wrong in choosing to have this as my first dram!

Tasting Notes:

Colour: Light Golden

Nose: Sweet mango and melons dominated the nose at the start before the strength of the whisky wafted in as white peppers. Mild oakiness surfaced after resting the whisky for more than 15 minutes, giving the whisky more complexities. (20/25)

Palate: It had an oily texture, with white pepper leading the way. It soon gave way to mango pudding, melons, guava and a hint of oakiness. The oiliness made the whisky approachable, and the sweetness of the dram helps to balance out the spice from the white peppers. (22/25)

Finish: The long finish lingered in the mouth with fruity sweetness and gentle oak. The dryness of the dram allows the sweet fruits to leave a lasting effect. (21/25)

Body: It is a balanced dram! The sweetness of the whisky is pleasant and complements the oiliness perfectly. The oakiness is also in the right proportion to give a slight “old whisky effect”. (22/25)

Total Score: 85/100

Comments:

Zerlina: I like the fruitiness of the dram. It is also richer than the usual Cragganmore OB with that oiliness found in the palate. At 27 years old, the oakiness is gentle and does not overpower the character of the whisky. I think it is a well-chosen cask. However, I did not give a higher score because I feel that it is not as sophisticated as what I would expect of a 27 years old whisky. It is, nonetheless, just my opinion. If you have a chance to try this, you should try it to see how it works for you. 🙂 

DFS Whisky Festival 2019 Special Releases

For 4th Edition of the DFS Whisky Festival, DFS Changi has its first pop-up bar in T3! If you are travelling anytime between 1st May to 10th June, the bar is opened from 8am to 12 midnight so be sure to check it out! Travellers can expect to enjoy their whisky with live jazz performances. You can find out more about the event here! The DFS Whisky Festival brings about some new releases as well! And I got to try some of these exciting drams, here are some of my opinions on it!

 

Glenmorangie 14 year old 2004 (#1399)

This single cask Glenmorangie is a Changi exclusive! It spent the first 10 years in ‘slow-growth’ American White Oak, and then spent the next 4 years partying in an oloroso sherry cask!

Nose:  The smell is initially sweet but reserved. Vanilla, Confectionary sweetness, unripe strawberries, notes of milk chocolate With water: Strong notes of milk chocolate, lemon zest and green apples with that sweet Glenmorangie spirit character

Palate: Citrus notes on arrival with vanilla. The dram had good texture, bringing hints of cinnamon spice, vegetal note and whiff of chocolate With water: Initially a burst of lemon zest, then stronger cinnamon notes, more chocolate-y this time round, alongside honey and vanilla, hints of dried fruits and figs.

Finish: Citrus, brioche and vanilla notes still lingers on With water: It’s much sweeter, with a stronger cinnamon spice

 

Chivas 21 year old The Lost Blend

This is a rather “rare and ghostly” version of the Chivas 21yo, but with an age statement! This Chivas 21 Royal Salute blend features some silent distilleries in the mix! Of the information I could get, there were two malt distilleries and one grain distillery: Imperial (mothballed in 1998), Caperdonich (closed in 2002), and Dumbarton (shut down in 2002). Although I didn’t have as many flavour notes to write about for this dram, I really enjoy the luxuriously high calibre of maturation. This is the best Chivas blend I have had! If only it was at cask strength……

Nose:  The smell is full of musk, leather, old books, and slightly waxy notes. Some hints of citrus gets through, with time it is more old and elegant oak

Palate: Musk somewhat reminiscent of the “old bottle effect”, earthy notes, mineral notes, scent of stone walls from a dunnage warehouse, old libraries! <3

Finish: Leather, old books, and limestone.The finish is surprisingly long and musky!

 

Compass Box No Name No. 2

One of my favourite blending companies coming with a strong blend! As usual, Compass Box has been very transparent with his recipe. This blend is made of:

75.5% Caol Ila matured in refill sherry butts

13.5% Clynelish matured in rejuvenated white oakhogsheads

10.5% Talisker matured in rejuvenated white oak hogsheads

The remaining 0.5% is a vat of 3 highland single malts finished in French oak barrels! This dram is a peaty beast initially, but the Clynelish sweetness slowly emerges with time.

 

Nose:  A strong initial peatsmoke, like a tight and warm embrace! bonfires, lemon zest, earthy vegetal notes, hints of yuzu. With water: more of that honey and vanilla appears and fruity sweetness and more citrus fragrances.

Palate: A strong arrival of peat smoke, smoky, earthy, BBQ grilled meat and honey sweetness With water: more vegetal note, and hints of apples, With time, plums, unripe strawberries, green apples

Finish: Earthy, and long lingering peatsmoke finish With water: The smoke stays, but lingers alongside sweet fruity notes, and waxy candle notes!

Jura 20 year old One and All

FIVE cask types! 5!!! 2 more cask types and I would be telling you the different casks types to the tune of Mambo No. 5! That is the work of none other than Jura’s Master Blender Richard Patterson. This dram has in it a bit of ex-bourbon, sherry oak, Pinot Noir barriques, Sparkling Cabernet Franc casks, and Cabernet Sauvignon casks. This Jura bottled at 51% works well. Due to its age and calibre of maturation, some people could not tell that it was peated!

Nose:  Cherries, cherry stones, soft hints of smoke like a extinguished campfire in the morning, eucalyptus, coastal notes. With water: The european oak shows as whiffs of roasted coffee, almonds and cinnamon come into play

Palate: A balanced cinnamon arrival with musky and earthy notes. Cherries, lemon zest, old oak and old books. With water: The chocolate becomes more apparent

Finish: The strong cherry note lingers with hints of cinnamon and musky earthiness.

 

Royal Brackla 20 year old 1998 Exceptional Cask

This mahogany beauty spent 9 years in an American white oak cask before spending 11 years in a Tuscany (Italian Red Wine) cask! Luckily, this is bottled at a higher strength of 50.6% to showcase its complexity. This for me was definitely more oak focused from the start but with water, the personality started to shine through!

Nose:  Treacle, chocolate, mellow cinnamon notes, walnuts, followed by notes of raisins, dried prunes With water: Floral notes appear, like a desert flower in the rain! This is soon followed by spicy cinnamon, strawberries and cranberries!

Palate: Cinnamon arrival with this savoury note, coffee note, dark chocolate bitters With water: A bit more sweetness and the flavours are a bit more balanced

Finish: Cinnamon chocolate and coffee finish With water: The dark chocolate note got more intense!

A 1L version of the Port Charlotte 10 year old is also available, so if you fancy a bigger PC10, you can get the upsized version at DFS!

Hope you get to visit the bar! Slainté!

Special thanks to DFS Singapore for the invite to the media launch 😀

DFS Whisky Festival 2019: The 4th Edition

The DFS Whisky Festival is back, this time with their first ever pop-up bar at Terminal 3. The beautiful pop-up bar features some new DFS whisky releases, so you can drink that travel anxiety away with the ambience of live jazz performances. If you are travelling anytime between 1st May to 10th June, you can visit the bar  from 8am to 12 midnight. The bar is located at T3 in the concourse space near Gucci and Burberry. Alternatively, you could just follow the sound of live jazz~

This pop-up bar is inspired by a whisky’s maturation journey in its cask. The oak used in the decor of the bar were ex-whisky staves to provide the bar with its aesthetics. The jazz is layered and complex just like whisky, creating a comfortable ambience for any whisky drinker.

In the 4th Edition of the Whisky Festival features some very exciting whiskies, and some surprisingly good drams! Some new releases include Glenmorangie 14 year old Single Cask #1399, Chivas 21 year old The Lost Blend, and Compass Box No Name No. 2! You can read some of my thoughts about the drams and tasting notes here!

The DFS Whisky Festival itself will last till 30th June, and brand ambassadors will be invited down to talk about their products! Travellers can get a complimentary whisky tasting as well!

Whisky Festival Promotions

There will also be festival exclusive promotions at T2’s Whiskey House Duplex, The Raffles Long Bar at T3 and The Whiskey House at T4. During the festival, a minimum purchase of S$250 on any whisky from the Departure store will come with a branded Glencairn whisky nosing glass. As for the Arrival stores, from 8th May to 30th June, spend a minimum of S$140 per passport that includes any whisky product(s) to receive a pair of ferry tickets and city tour to Batam (worth S$70).

But the Festival isn’t just happening in Singapore, check out this information released by DFS Singapore:

DFS Whisky Festival around the world:

1st May to 30th June:   

  • Singapore Changi Airport
  • Hanoi Noi Bai International Airport
  • Ho Chi Minh Tan Son Nhat Airport
  • John F Kennedy International Airport
  • Tom Bradley International Terminal

1st June to 31st July:  

  • Hawaii Honolulu International Airport
  • San Francisco International Airport

1st July 1 to 31st August:   

  • Abu Dhabi International Airport

Travellers planning their vacation in May or June might want to allocate some extra time at the pop-up bar to savour that sweet liquid gold! Special thanks to DFS Singapore for the invite to this event 😀

New Bar Alert: The Exciseman Whisky Bar

Photo Credits: The Exciseman Whisky Bar

There are never enough new whisky bars in Singapore, despite our perceived “smallness” in size and population. The most recent whisky bar that we have been to is none other than The Exciseman. The whisky couple behind this bar are well-known figures in Singapore’s whisky industry, and they are known to carry quality whiskies.

The couple is Lewis Mitchell and Patricia Britton, the owners of Le Vigne Wine and Spirits. After running the shop successfully for 16 years, opening a whisky bar seems to be the next step in the natural progression of things.

WhiskyGeeks headed to The Exciseman to catch Lewis for a drink and a chat about his passion for whiskies and his vision for the bar.

The Exciseman

Photo Credit: The Exciseman Whisky Bar

If you think that The Exciseman is yet another “atas”, expensive and intimating whisky bar in Singapore, think again! The interior of the bar is warm and friendly, with a cosiness to it that invites you to melt into the beautiful armchairs and take a break from life itself.

The whisky selection is vast, with a menu that is bound to grow thicker as the bar matures. The quiet atmosphere, the warm lights, and the comfortable armchairs relax us as we waited for Lewis. The friendly bartender also made us some excellent Oolong tea, with the right temperature. 🙂

Inside the bar, there is a fireplace and a 140 years old piano! We were told that patrons who know how to play the piano are welcome to give it a go, but only after they ask for permission. Customers who wish to play the piano are also kindly requested to play only soft music and to treat the piano with care. After all, it is much older than all of us!

It is a Whisky Heaven

Photo Credits: The Exciseman Whisky Bar

Most of us know that Le Vigne is the importer for various whisky brands. The most famous is the Douglas Laing (DL) selection. The bar currently stocks many of DL’s collections, including the five popular blended whiskies in cannons! There are also premium whiskies such as the Xtra Old Particular that is sold by the dram. On top of their selection, The Exciseman is also looking at other brands of whiskies that are of excellent qualities. Once Lewis satisfies his strict selection process for each whisky, you will be able to get your hands on more whisky brands at The Exciseman.

Besides the great number of whiskies you can find, I think that The Exciseman satisfies my quest for peace. The whisky bar has on low music and invites its patrons to enjoy their whiskies in peace and quiet. If you do not wish to chat, Lewis and his team will leave you to enjoy your whisky privately.

In fact, the bar even states what it is not in their menu! By doing so, Lewis hopes that he can protect the peace of the bar and allow his customers to appreciate and enjoy their whiskies.

Photo Credit: WhiskyGeeks.sg

In a way, The Exciseman is a whisky heaven and a safe haven for those who wish to get some peace and quiet. Nonetheless, Lewis still encourages his patrons to chat softly amongst themselves and to ask questions about whiskies and spirits.

Charcoal-filtered Water

If you are one of those geeks like us, you may drink some of your whiskies with a few drops of water. At The Exciseman, you do not get the regular tap or distilled water. What you get is charcoal-filtered water. A clean, crisp water that does magic to your whiskies if you so fancy it to be.

However, what I really love is the tap! Just check it out!

Photo Credit: The Exciseman Whisky Bar

You can even fill water on your own, without asking them. Just go to the bar counter and operate the tap! Of course, if you prefer to be served, the team at The Exciseman will gladly serve you.

Lewis Mitchell – The Whisky Man

We have a little chat with Lewis while we were there at the bar and this was the result of our chat – an informal interview! We understood from Lewis that opening a whisky bar is the next progression he envisioned for Le Vigne. While the bar has an additional partner, Lewis is the man who oversees and runs the operation of the bar. When I asked him why he opens a whisky bar instead of a wine bar, he answered candidly, “Because I am a whisky man!”

Indeed, Lewis has his passion for whisky for a long time. He revealed that his love for the water of life started in his early days, and the love increases as he tried different whiskies. When he met Patricia, she was just the woman he needed to carry his passion forward into actions. When Lewis and Patricia started Le Vigne Wine and Spirits, both of them are professionals in their individual roles. Patricia is a wine lover and knows her wines; Lewis, the whisky man, knows his whisky!

Lewis is a straight-forward whisky drinker – he loves all kinds of whiskies. He judges whiskies not by the distillery, the brand, nor the age of the whisky. He ranks each whisky by the nose, palate, finish and balance. A good whisky needs not to be an old whisky; a good whisky can be young. The character of the whisky is vital in Lewis’ point of view. Without character, the whisky is boring.

Don’t Judge a Whisky by its Age

Lewis encourages his customers to look beyond the age of the whiskies that he carries at the bar. It is not the age that matters, but what goes on behind the production that matters. The care of each production cycle is crucial for every whisky distillery. It includes the type of barley used, the time for fermentation, the distillation methods, the cask selections and finally, the taste profile of each whisky made. While it is true that some whiskies are better with age, it does not mean that every whisky is better when aged.

Lewis concluded with a call to everyone to try whiskies and other spirits with an open mind. When we do that, we discover new profiles, and who knows, we might just like it better than we thought!

Visit The Exciseman Whisky Bar

If all these chat about whiskies is making you thirsty, head over to The Exciseman Whisky Bar and check them out! The address is 8 Raffles Avenue, Esplanade Mall #02-27, Singapore 039802. If you go up the escalator from the mall side, make a U-turn, and walk all the way to the back to find the bar!

Remember to ask Lewis for a recommendation if you are lazy to go through his extensive menu, he is more than happy to do that for you! The Exciseman also offers beer and other spirits such as gin and grappa. Ask Lewis for your favourite drink!

 

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New Bar Alert – The Cooperage @ 42 Hong Kong Street

Picture from The Cooperage

We have many whisky-centric bars in Singapore. The vast choice creates a headache for the whisky lovers sometimes when they need to choose a bar to hang out with like-minded friends. As many whisky bars open, the need to be different becomes essential as each bar strives to build its clientele. We have recently come across one bar that brands itself rather uniquely from the rest, and we jump at the chance to have a chat with bar owner – Paul Tan.

The Cooperage Whisky Bar

One of the newest whisky bars in town, The Cooperage is a bespoke bar located at 42 Hong Kong Street. Paul and Ryan are the guys behind The Cooperage. We spoke to Paul for an exclusive interview with WhiskyGeeks.

Paul and Ryan often felt that whisky bars are intimating in terms of both environment and pricing. It puts beginners off whisky because the setting is not ideal for learning. The price of whisky is also steep in some instances, which makes beginners less inclined to try. Therefore, the duo set out to change that.

The Birth of The Cooperage

Paul and Ryan decided to open a bar that will encourage the general public to come and try a wide range of whisky at an affordable price. They also want to make whisky approachable through a friendly environment where patrons can speak comfortably to any of their servers and get to know more about whisky.

With the concept in mind, The Cooperage is a haven for the common man to start his whisky journey. On the menu, there are whiskies which are offered at friendly prices of $12, $15, $18 and $21. Each of these prices corresponds with a 12, 15, 18 and 21 years old whisky. We could even say that The Cooperage is the place where you bring a non-whisky drinker so that he or she can try a dram for as low as $12.

Whisky Flights that Paul recommends for the adventurous

For the more adventurous, there are various whisky flights available for order. One of the most popular whisky flights at the Cooperage is the Glendiffich Experimental Series. It features the Glenfiddich IPA, the Project XX and the creme of the crop, the Winter Storm. The Cooperage is the first bar to serve the Winter Storm by dram, and so far, this whisky flight has been very well-received.

The other two popular whisky flights are the Macallan Edition Series, featuring Edition No. 1, 2 and 3 as well as the whiskies around the world. The second flight includes the Tomintoul 12 years old, Iwai Mars Maltage Cosmo and the Limeburners Single Malt Port Cask. There are three more whisky flights available at the Cooperage, so if you want to know the whole range, you need to visit the bar!

The Vision for the Bar

In today’s business world, it is easy for an owner to lose the human touch in the F&B industry, especially when the establishment is bigger than what one can easily take care of. However, that is not a problem at the Cooperage, because Paul and Ryan believe in the human touch. Paul explained that having human contact in everything that a whisky bar does is vital as that creates engagement with the customers. If there is no engagement between the whisky bar and the customers, it is harder for the bar to help customers learn more about whisky.

“Some things just need to be traditional,” said Paul.

What is Different at The Cooperage?

Various elements are different at the Cooperage. First of all, the bar offers a “cage system” for its customers. A minimum spending within a month will open the door of a cage where you can put the bottles that you purchase at the bar safely without worry. Return to the bar for a dram or two, and the service crew will help you to retrieve your bottles. You can keep the bottles up to 6 months without charge!

Unlike a typical whisky bar, The Cooperage also offers a decent range of wines and beers to patrons who do not fancy a whisky. Nonetheless, the thing that impressed us the most is that The Cooperage serves excellent food! Now, how many whisky bars can you count that serves food? Besides The Wall SG, the Cooperage is the next one!

The Food at The Cooperage

You get an excellent selection of food at the bar. From canapes to cheese and cold cuts for a snack to a full meal of pasta, donburi and main courses, there is something for everyone.

Left: Salmon with spicy Mentaiko sauce topped with Ikura donburi, Top right: Black Angus Tomahawk, Bottom Right: Spicy Prawn and Scallop Aglio Olio

We had a try of the Salmon with spicy Mentaiko sauce topped with Ikura donburi, and it was simply excellent. The experienced chef cooked the salmon to perfection, and the ikura enhances the flavour in all the right amount. We also heard that the Truffle Black Angus Beef with Foie Gras donburi is fantastic and hence, we will be going back to try that soon! At $22 a bowl, it is an absolute steal!

As foodies ourselves, we had to ask for all the top sellers and here is a list of them! (You are welcome!)

Top Selling Canapes:

  • Lobster Bisque
  • Duck Rillettes
  • Honey-glazed Chicken Lollipop

Top Selling Donburi:

  • Truffle Black Angus Beef with Foie Gras

Top Selling Pasta:

  • Spicy Prawn and Scallop Aglio Olio

Top Selling Main Course:

  • Duck Confit
  • Black Angus Tomahawk (Serves at least four pax; requires reservation)

The Cooperage welcomes children to dine with their parents and is a family-friendly bar. One thing to note is that the whisky bar does not have baby chairs, so young children who need baby chair may pose a slight challenge.

What to Drink at The Cooperage as a Beginner?

We asked Paul what he would recommend to a complete beginner who steps into his bar, asking for a whisky to try. He thought about it seriously, and finally, he said, “well, I would suggest three expressions for this person to choose from. These choices are based on taste and price. First, a Glendronach 12 Years Old because it is approachable and sherried (sweet). Next, it would be a Dalmore 15 Years Old, which is fruity and easy to drink. Finally, for someone who likes heavy flavours, I would recommend the Balvenie 14 Years Old Carribean Rum Cask.”

Sounds about right, don’t you think so?

Plans for the future

We always ask this question to all our whisky bar owners, and we popped the same question to Paul – what are his plans for the future?

Paul has quite a plan, in our humble opinion! His intention of opening the bar is to encourage more people to try whisky and hence, his first long-term plan is definitely to get more people to start trying whisky. He hopes to build a reputation where everyone knows that they can seek an approachable and affordable dram to drink at The Cooperage.

Paul also hopes to make whisky more accessible to the general public so that everyone can drink without hurting their pockets. He wants to eliminate the idea that whisky bars are only for the rich and famous, which I believe that some bars in Singapore are doing the same.

Paul also plans to expand their range of whiskies as they move along. The ideal plan is to change their range once every quarter so that there is always something new for their clients to try.

Events and Whisky Tasting

As an advocate to approachable whisky, The Cooperage is also looking into hosting events and whisky tasting for the general public. Such activities promote education as well as engagement for the general public, making whiskies less intimating. For October, the bar currently has two events coming up.

  1. Introduction to Welsh Single Malt Whisky – Penderyn. This event is a tied up with the distributor of Penderyn whisky in Singapore and will be held on 6 October 2018 from 7 pm onwards. The event will showcase three expressions of Penderyn single malt whisky, namely Penderyn Madeira Finish, Penderyn Sherrywood and Penderyn Portwood.
  2. 100 Years Dalmore Tasting. This event will be hosted by the global ambassador of Dalmore and will feature the 25 years old, 30 years old and 45 years old expressions. It will be held on 19 October from 7 pm onwards.

If you are free on either or both days, why not check out these events? A new whisky experience with Welsh whisky Penderyn is likely to open up yet another horizon while the 100 years Dalmore offers you luxury on an entirely different level!

 

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New Whisky Bar – Tipple and Dram

 

Have you heard from Tipple and Dram Bar? Located at 24 Ann Siang Road, the appearance is that of a wine bar when you first walk into the bright and cheery place with rows upon rows of wine. However, if you go down the stairs to the basement, you walk into a completely different place. Tipple and Dram Bar hides its whisky bar from view, which gave it an air of secrecy and a sense of cosiness when you sip a dram there.

Visiting the “Underground Whisky Bar”

Once you step off the staircase and around the corner, there is a big table with armchairs just inviting you to lounge in them with a Glencairn glass in hand. Continue to walk in, and you will find another table and armchairs to your right, and the bar right in front of you!

Behind the bar, there is yet another table and armchairs just waiting for whisky lovers. If you are not in a big group, the best place to sit is, of course, at the bar. You get a full view of the bottles, and you can just pick the bottles that you want by looking instead of using the menu!

Whisky Selection at Tipple and Dram

Tipple and Dram Bar has a wide selection of special official distillery bottling on offer by the dram. Think of special releases like the Laphroaig Cairdeas (meant only for Friends of Laphroaig) and Bowmore Islay Festival bottling (the bar has an entire range from 2014 to 2017). There are also a series of Cadenhead bottlings to whet the appetite of those who prefer independent bottling.

Geek Choc had a couple of drams from Islay – a Bowmore Islay Festival 2014 and the Laphroaig Brodir. I had an Edradour Fairy Place and a Cadenhead Bladnoch. Our friend, Fab, who went along with us despite a tiring day, comforted himself with a Cadenhead Cragganmore. While we did not get to try a lot of whisky due to time, the drams we had were excellent.

Food at Tipple and Dram

We cannot have this post without talking about the bar food available. We ordered a “Half Half Platter”, which consisted of some hams and cheese.

These were some of the best hams and cheeses I had, especially the cheeses! The French Brie was my favourite as it was incredibly creamy with a super soft and smooth texture. I like the spicy salami as well. The spiciness is well-balanced and pairs well with whisky.

Then, there is the complimentary bread bowl. Flora loves French pastries so you can imagine her excitement at the sight of the bread bowl! Hahaha…The bread complimented the cheese beautifully!

 

What We Hope to See in Future

Tipple and Dram is a very new bar with barely just two months in operation. There is room for improvement definitely, such as leaving the whisky bottle with the customer for a short while so that we can take a picture. It is unfortunate that we only managed one picture of the whisky bottles, but seeing that it is our first time at the bar, we did not wish to encroach on their policies of not having bottles at the bar too.

The selection is broad but not extensive. There is also room for improvement on this one, but the current collection is enough to please a whisky drinker who loves to try the special releases from official distillery bottlings. We understand from the bar manager, Chris, that more will come shortly. They are also working hard to make the whisky bar a haven for everyone to relax and enjoy a dram!

We look forward to seeing whisky flights and more whisky selections at Tipple and Dram. For now, we encourage you to visit them and see the place and the fantastic offer of special distillery bottling that they have available by the glass.

Nordic Passion: Box, The High Coast Distillery

Many of us have not heard of Box Distillery in Singapore. Hailing from Northern Sweden, it is a distillery that showcases the Nordic passion for whisky like no others. The distillery changed its name from Box to High Coast Distillery on 30 June 2018. The decision came about as a practical solution to a complaint filed by Scottish brand Compass Box.

“The name changes links our distillery more closely with the High Coast region and the fabulous place that we live and work in.” Said High Coast distillery CEO Thomas Larsson, in an interview with ScotchWhisky.com. It makes sense for the distillery to create a stronger tie to the land with its name.

Early History of High Coast Distillery

If you wonder why the owners christened the distillery as Box initially, you need to go back to its roots. The site of the High Coast distillery is sitting beside the Ångerman River in Ådalen. It is about 100km north of Sundsvall in Northern Sweden. This area was the heart of the Nordic forestry industry in the past, with sawmills and other timber-related businesses lining the banks of the river. One of these buildings was Box AB, a wooden box production company.

A terrible fire broke out in 1890 and burnt the factory, warehouse and workers’ accommodation to the ground. Unfortunately, the owners could not rebuild Box factory, and by 1912, the building became a wood-fired power station. The power station provided electricity to a nearby timber floating station until 1924. The owners then turned the building into a storage area until timber floating operation ceased in the early 1980s.

The Building of a Dream

The building fell into ruin after the early 1980s. A new lease of life began for the building in 1991, when current distillery owner, Mats de Vahl, took over the old power station. He renovated and transformed the station into an art gallery. The building changes its course again when Mat and his brother Per, visited Scotland. Impressed with the distilleries that they saw, Mat and Per decided to build their passion for whisky into a distillery. After several years of intense planning, the distillery opened in December 2010, and the first barrels were filled before Christmas Eve.

What is Special about High Coast Distillery?

The environment is a unique part about High Coast distillery. Nestled in a remote, rugged landscape with icy-cold water, the dense forest, open areas and clean air contribute to the production of the whisky. The distillery experiments high variation in temperature due to its geographical location and it helps the maturing spirits to attain its flavours through the active interaction with the cask faster. In such an ideal situation, whisky from the High Coast distillery does not need an extended maturation period.

The water that the distillery uses is also a point in contention. High Coast uses water from Bålsjön, a spring-fed lake as it is clean and soft – a perfect combination. Additionally, the distillery filters the water through sand and carbon filters to remove any last bits of impurity.

High Coast’s Production Methods

Mats and Per de Vahl know what they want to achieve right from the start. They want a full-bodied and malty new make, so they make use of pilsner malt. They also take careful consideration to ensure that the wort is clear during the mashing process. A clear wort brings a fruity flavour and hence, they are particular about it. During fermentation, they use only French distillery yeast to bring forth more fruitiness. The fermentation period is also longer to allow production of acids, aldehydes and alcohol sugars for a beautiful, fruity and well-balanced whisky.

Distillation is the most vital part of the production. Careful to take in the fruitiest esters that come off early from distillation, the first cut of their unpeated distillate is around 13 minutes. The second cut of 67% is also earlier than other distilleries to ensure a clean and light whisky. For their peated version, they take the first and second cut 30 minutes longer than the unpeated version.

What is Available at the Distillery?

There are many different activities that you can do at the High Coast Distillery. If you want to know more about the distillery and what they do, take the distillery guided tour for a chance to see it for yourself. The distillery also host a whisky festival on the last Saturday of June every year, where visitors get to sample their products and other liquids from the nearby regions.

There is also the Box Whisky Academy, where visitors stay one week at the distillery and works together with the team. You can learn the craft and knowledge of whisky-making through the different processes and of course, get to taste the whisky from the warehouse!

Finally, you can also become a cask owner by buying a cask from the High Coast Distillery. Known as 39.25 Box Ankare, visitors are welcome to choose a barrel and to buy it as their own. The cask will continue to mature in the warehouse, and you can visit the distillery anytime to try the liquid. To find out more about cask ownership, email the distillery at caskownerservice@boxwhisky.se.

Private Bottling of Box Whisky

To finish up the article, we would like to share that HNWS Taiwan brought a cask of Box Whisky. Bottled at 62% abv, this 5.5 years old whisky is from a 40 litres cask. Fruity and feisty, the liquid is perfect for almost any occasions. 😀

 

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What does it mean to “open up” your whisky?

Seasoned drinkers often like to use the phrase, “open up”, to express their challenges in getting the subtle nuances of the whiskies they drink. What exactly does “open up” means? To explain this in layman’s terms, it merely refers to the patience that a drinker needs to have when drinking whisky, especially older expressions. A whisky deserves to sit in the glass for a while to allow it to reveal the secrets it is hiding inside. The aeration of older whisky is similar to that of old vintage wines. By allowing air to interact with the liquid, a drinker enables the complexities to surface.

Aeration of Whisky

Let’s explore deeper into this idea that whisky needs aeration. Some seasoned drinkers believe that old whiskies slumber long enough in the cask and should be drunk straight away from the moment the liquid hits the glass. These drinkers feel that a 30-year old whisky should not get aired because it has been aired for 30 years in the cask anyway.

However, other drinkers are more patient with their whiskies. They sip and wait while allowing air to interact with the whisky in the glass. Jim McEwan, the legendary master distiller, said, “I advocate letting a whisky sit for one minute for every year of its age. It’s a bit like wine; it needs to breathe. Give it time to open up. You don’t need to let it sit the whole time without touching it, take wee sips along the way, and you’ll notice the difference. It can be quite dramatic.”

Jim went on to say that he had a fantastic time with a Glenfarclas 50-year-old, which surprised him so much with the evolution of its flavours and profile, that he scored it 110/100. “It was so good. I kept coming back to it, and it kept coming back to me, it was incredible,” he said. “Enjoy it, savour it, and you’ll be rewarded.”

Adding Water to Whisky

Adding water is another way to help the whisky to give up its flavours to you. It accelerates the process as the water dilutes the alcohol percentage and dissipates the fumes to help you get to the characters. Nonetheless, it is probably sacrilegious to add lots of water to an old whisky instead of allowing it to sit out in the glass. You are likely to lose the core flavours of the whisky if too much water gets into the glass. “By adding water carelessly, you’re not being clever enough, you’re not thinking about what you’re doing,” Jim said.

Yes, we agreed. Due to our curiosity, we had, on occasions, added copious amount of water into our whiskies (of course, they are not old; they are not our favourites) to see how water changes the profile of the whisky. In some whiskies, the water dilutes the flavours to the extent that only the bad aromas linger (think extreme chilli spice and baby vomit). In others, the water dilutes all the characteristics.

The trick to adding water is a drop at a time. Adding a drop of water to the whisky and allowing it to sit for a minute or two before nosing it again will help you to get the aromas. The water dissipates the alcohol fumes and encourages the underlying flavours to surface.

The Science Behind “Opening Up” the Whisky

To fully understand how to “open up” a whisky, we seek to understand the science behind it. It appears that science supports both approaches discussed above.

An article from Unfiltered, the undisputed whisky magazine from SMWS, refers to Paul Hughes, assistant professor of distilling practice at Oregon State University in the USA. He explains that the main difference between the two approaches is time. The patience of allowing the whisky to open up through aeration uses time as the main component to “unbound” the molecules in the liquid. It results “opening up” the aromas of the whisky gently and naturally. Conversely, adding water to the whisky dilute the alcohol contents in the liquid, “unbound” the molecules quickly and forces the underlying aromas to surface quickly.

“There is good scientific evidence to suggest that compounds clustered when extracted from wood, so they seem to add structure to whisky. A more aged whisky, at least regarding the mass of extractives, might reasonably open more slowly, with wood extractives glueing the clusters together,” said AP Paul Hughes. “The gentle evaporation of alcohol after pouring is preferable to the ‘forced breakdown’ of ethanol clusters by adding water. However, waiting for a 40-year-old whisky to open up might test the patience, so maybe some natural evaporation with a little water would be a good compromise.”

Conclusion

It is still debatable whether you should drink your whisky immediately, allow it to air or to add water to it. There is no right or wrong way. It is ultimately, your preference. We had experiences where a whisky gives up its flaws after aeration instead of giving up its subtle aromas. It deteriorates so quickly that we had to pour it down the sink.

We conclude that whisky is dynamic and that only through experiments can you indeed discover the precious aromas of a particular dram.