Whisky Reviews

War and Whisky Part 2: MacLev Distillery, L’viv

I had the incredible opportunity to continue my journey in part 2 of my trip to Ukraine! The gracious owner, Pavlo Panasuik, of MacLev Distillery in L’viv, invited me to witness and understand their remarkable process.

Preface about the city

Before I get into the details of whisky production, I would like to comment on my experience of the city of L’viv. I had certain expectations about a city in an active war zone, but what I encountered was profoundly different. The resilience and unwavering spirit of the people of L’viv left me in awe. Despite the challenges they face, they refuse to let the war that Putin waged upon them define or hinder their lives.

Photo of the streets of L'viv
Photo 1: The streets of L’viv (circa July 2023)

The grocery stores are still lined with food, and the malls in the city are very modern! The Сільпо (Silpo) Supermarket was still lined with cured meats, cheese, fresh veggies and more!

Photo 2: A Сільпо (Silpo) store, which is a Waitrose or Cold Storage equivalent

And the craft beer labels have been kept up to date as well!

Photo 3: Some craft beers on the shelves of Сільпо (Silpo)


The malted barley and malted wheat are from Belgium, and the milling and mashing are done onsite.

The wort undergoes a fermentation process with distillers yeast from Lalamend, lasting 4-5 days. The resulting distillation passes through a tall and thin pot still, inspired by Glenmorangie‘s pot still shape. Subsequently, the second distillation continues in a short and low-rectification column still, producing a light style of spirit.

Photo 4: The stills used at MacLev Distillery currently

One of the highlights of the visit was observing the ageing process in bespoke casks, expertly handmade by Arpad himself (featured in the post about his coopering in part 1). The dedication to craftsmanship truly shines in every aspect of their whisky-making.

Moreover, MacLev distillery is actively exploring the use of Ukrainian malt and peat. Additionally, I had the opportunity to taste the result of their trial run of malt smoked with Ukrainian peat to 15ppm, showcasing an exceptionally distinct and exciting flavour profile. They have released make an unpeated Popgold whisky as well as a lightly peated Old Copper whisky!

Photo 5: Casks used at MacLev Distillery


During my enriching experience in Ukraine, I came across the Ukrainian word “ремісник”. The closest translated meaning in English is “artisan craftsman who have honed their skills to the utmost ability”. After spending time with Arpad at the cooperage and Palvo at the distillery, I can confidently say that they epitomize the essence of ремісник! Their dedication to their craft and the level of skill they have honed are genuinely exceptional and awe-inspiring.

It was an eye-opening experience to witness how the pursuit of excellence in whisky-making can transcend challenges, and not even an ongoing war will stop them. I am honoured to have been part of their journey and cannot wait to see what they accomplish next!

Photo 6: Pavlo Panasuik, owner of MacLev Distillery, and his wife, in the mountains of Zakarpattia (Photo Credits: Kateryna Panasuik)


I would like to thank Kateryna Panasuik for arranging and making this trip possible for me: the accommodation, the documents needed for the visa and the never-ending translator role!

The end of an era

So I did lose my panda in Ukraine before visiting the distillery. It happened 6 hours after the missiles hit L’viv, killing 6 people. Slept through air alarms. I would like to think that Panda took that for me. But Panda had a glorious end, in L’viv, Ukraine of all the places in the world it’s been to. I will be toasting a dram to my old friend!

Farewell, my friend. Rest in power; in Ukraine.

War and Whisky Part 1: The one-man Ukrainian cooperage

Whiskygeeks had the incredible opportunity to witness the craftsmanship of an artisan cooper Mr Arpad Laslo. He specialises in creating barrels from local Ukrainian oak. This one-man cooperage in Zakarpattia Oblast, Ukraine, supplies casks to local wineries and a whisky distillery in L’viv. It was fascinating to learn about the meticulous process involved.

The wood

The oak used in the barrels is seasoned in bolts for approximately 1-2 years. This seasoning is vital in stave production as various species of fungi will break down lignin and other flavours. This will subsequently lead to a better flavour profile when maturing spirits.

Photo 1: Bolts and Logs of Ukrainian white oak seasoning in the Cooper’s backyard

Almost all the oak used is Ukrainian white oak, but the exact oak species is hard to determine. In Ukraine, the main species of are Sessile Oak (Quercus petraea) and European Oak (Quercus robur). The occurrence of hybridisation between the two species further muddies the water regarding the determination of exactly what species it is. That said, folks usually lump Quercus robur and Quercus petraea together as European oak in the world of whisky.

Photo 2: Ukrainian White Oak Staves

The metal

The cooper utilises a collection of traditional tools, some of which are over a century old. These tools include axes, blades and other metal tools, to shape, carve and refine the wood. The old axe below has some Scandinavian origins.

Photo 3: An axe that is over a century old

In photo 4, the etched word ‘Wien” can be seen in the middle, giving away its Austrian origins. Coopers use this tool to shave the curved internal edge of the cask body such that the cask head can fit nicely into it. You can see this tool in action in photo 9!

Photo 4: An tool with Austrian origins

The cooper brings the staves together and uses metal bands to form a “skirt” shape, as seen in the photo below. However, in this state, the cooper cannot shape the staves or risk breaking them.

Photo 5: Staves made into a “skirt” held together by metal bands

The fire

Toasting or charring is necessary for cask making as this heat treatment leads to the caramelisation of some wood sugars and the creation of desirable flavours like vanillin. These congeners in the wood could contribute desirable flavours to the spirit later using maturation. In the photo below, Arpad is using spare pieces of oak to start a fire that becomes the heat source for the cask toasting process.

Photo 6: The toasting process (Photo Credits: Kateryna Panasiuk)

The water

During the toasting process, Arpad exposes the internal side of the cask to fire and occasional splashes of water. He usually uses less water for charring compared to toasting, so that the cask can reach higher temperatures in the former process.

Photo 7: Arpad adding water to the cask (Photo Credits: Kateryna Panasiuk)

This combination of water and heat makes the staves more malleable and easier to bend into shape without breaking. The gradual tightening of the ring around the staves slowly bends them into the desired shape. I had a go at it, where I turn a screw, and this would tighten the metal band on the bottom of the “skirt”.

Photo 8: The author having a go and shaping the cask

Once Arpad bends the cask into shape, he flips the cask for even toasting, ensuring optimal flavour development.

Photo 9: Arpad expertly shaves the toasted cask with the tool from Photo 4

Afterwards, the cooper meticulously shaves down the edges to fit the cask head and presents a beautifully crafted exterior. When the staves are in place, the cooper replaces these old placement rings with new shiny hoops.

Photo 10: Arpad branding his casks

Lastly, the cooper makes the final touch by stamping his signature on the cask with a heated metal stamp.

The Ukrainian terroir and wine

This talented individual not only runs a one-man cooperage but also grows, ferments and bottles their own homemade wine. After walking us through his coopering process, he treated us to a lovely traditional meal and wine.

Photo 11: A selection of wines made by Arpad, the Artisan cooper!

I am grateful for the opportunity to witness the artistry and passion that goes into creating these exceptional barrels. It was a true privilege to experience firsthand the skill and dedication of this artisan cooper.

Photo Credits for the first and eighth photos go to Kateryna Panasiuk, my friend, translator and host!

Slava Ukraini!
Heroyam Slava!

Further Reading

Conner, J. (2022) ‘Chapter 16 – Maturation’, in Whisky and Other Spirits. Third Edition. Elsevier Ltd, pp. 291–311. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-822076-4.00013-9

Prida, A. and Puech, J.-L. (2006) ‘Influence of Geographical Origin and Botanical Species on the Content of Extractives in American, French, and East European Oak Woods’, Journal of agricultural and food chemistry, 54(21), pp. 8115–8126. doi:10.1021/jf0616098.

Beer conversations with John Pemberton

Whiskygeeks went to the Heart of Darkness taproom at Keong Saik Road to have a chat with Founder & CEO John Pemberton to talk about everything under the sun!
Heart of Darkness is a Vietnam based brewery that has taprooms all over Asia, and has landed in Singapore in 2019! As Singapore is opening up, I was first curious about their strategy for surviving COVID because the F&B scene underwent many hardships due to regulations.

Before COVID, John focused on their taprooms to sell craft beer and the B2B sale of kegs. However, in the last 2 years, when the pandemic hit the local F&B scene, Heart of Darkness moved towards canned beers for better distribution. This helps to maintain sales revenue rather than F&B B2B sales. This amongst other internal changes, John explains, helped Heart of Darkness ride through COVID.

Singapore and Stouts

I got into craft beer with a Russian Imperial Stout, so I have a soft spot for stouts and other dark brews. John remarked that Singapore has an unusual thirst for the dark stuff. He almost could not believe his team when they told John that Singapore needed more kegs of dark beers! I also asked John about his collaboration with Teeling he did for St. Patrick’s Day 2022. The Ghost is Barrel-Aged Stout that aged in whiskey casks from Teeling, at a whopping 12% abv! John spoke about how open Teeling distillery is to collaboration and sent them barrels, and even sherry butts! So the Ghost will not be the last cask-aged beer from Heart of Darkness anytime soon!

The Ghost: Barrel-aged stout, a collaboration between Heart of Darkness and Teeling Whisky

Recently, they released Eloquent Phantom Imperial Stout, which is oak conditioned using oak chips. Sure, oak chips get a bad reputation; but many distinguished winemakers use them and keep it hush like a family secret in Encanto. Speaking as someone who has played with oak chips for fun and party tricks, I reckon oak chips offer better control. Especially in this tropical climate.
So please put away the prejudice and try this dark beer if you see it!

Nuggets of Philosophy in running a brewery

John Pemberton emphasises that he wants to make a beer people would come back again for. His team strays away from one-and-done, night-ender beers that may be majestic but could destroy the palate after a pint.
Heart of Darkness wants to break away from the snobbishness and pretentiousness they see in other areas of craft beer. They want to be innovative, break the norms and try unconventional beers. This could be in terms of flavour like the Cucumber Pilsner and Pomelo IPA; or in terms of method in beers such as the Phantom using oak chips. John also gives his brew team a good measure of creative control. He usually doesn’t veto a decision on a brew unless he knows it’s a brew that is going to sell.

When it comes to his taprooms, John tells us that he does not care about the 1 and 2-star reviews, stating that they weren’t going to like it anyway. He is more concerned about the 3- 4 star reviews. John remarks that this represents people who want to enjoy what Heart of Darkness has to offer, but there are a couple of pointers holding them back. It is much easier to find constructive feedback in 3 and 4-star reviews to better improve his taprooms. And honestly, this way of thinking could also be useful for many of us.

The man himself

I was surprised to learn that John was a vegetarian growing up as well and that he still is. So vegetarians, rest assured that there will be some fantastic dishes/tapas on the menu to pair with their craft beer. John has also spent quite a lot of time in Hong Kong and China, and his Mandarin is definitely better than mine.

John Pemberton with everyone else there, including Enya and Panda!

I would like to thank John Pemberton for his time out of his busy schedule, the Heart of Darkness team at Keong Saik Road and Mikki for the invite!

BenRiach’s New Range

BenRiach has always been GlenDronach‘s shy sibling, but not anymore! Dr Rachel Barrie has shaken up the core range and BenRiach is getting more of the spotlight!

BenRiach – The Chameleon Malt

BenRiach is a distillery in Speyside, known for its experimental distillation and maturation ever since Billy Walker bought over the distillery in 2003. Why do I spell BenRiach with a capital R? It’s Billy Walker’s signature mark to capitalise a letter in the middle of the name, like GlenDronach or GlenAllachie. Pretty much like the late Stan Lee’s cameos in Marvel movies. Being one of the first few distilleries in Speyside to triple-distil their spirit shows how willing they are to break regional stereotypes and experiment! They even started distilling peated spirit since the 1970s!

In some whisky circles, BenRiach single malts have been known as the ‘chameleon malt’. To clarify, this means that the spirit character adapts well to various casks and cask finishes. What is cask finishing? It is taking a matured whisky in a more gentle cask, usually American white oak casks and transferring the whisky to another cask to add a layer of flavours. And just how adventurous was Billy Walker with cask-finishes? Well, just for example, if you would look into the archives, BenRiach has gone into Madeira casks, Sauternes casks, dark rum, tawny port and wine casks! The spirit worked well, fitting into various casks of different flavours, like a chameleon changing colours based on its environment. However, some people find it difficult to pin down BenRiach’s signature spirit character.

The baton is in good hands

Dr Rachael Barrie, Master Blender and Keeper of the Quaich. Photo Credits to Brown-Forman and MaltWine Asia

So, how has Dr Rachael Barrie changed the new range? In my opinion, I think that she played to the strengths of BenRiach’s chameleon character whilst addressing its confusing nature. That is to say, the new bottlings feature BenRiach matured in ex-bourbon barrels and finished in casks like Jamaican rum, Port, or Marsala and blends it with full-term matured Benriach to create unique flavour combinations. In my opinion, this is absolutely genius! It showcases BenRiach’s chameleon nature with cask finishes whilst securing a consistent house-style with ex-bourbon maturation. In addition, Brown-Forman, who owns several American Whiskey distilleries, is also providing BenRiach with quality ex-bourbon casks!

The new packaging is ironically a call back to the packaging of BenRiach in the 1990s, when BenRiach was owned by Seagram’s.

Photo Credits to Brown Forman, Malt Wine Asia, and WhiskyBase

BenRiach The Original Ten

Photo Credits to Brown Forman and Malt Wine Asia

The Original Ten is a combination of peated and unpeated spirit. As a result, the blend produces a lightly smoky malt, which was what some Speyside whiskies were like in the past. Bottled at 43%, the label declares the casks used, namely, Bourbon casks, Sherry casks and Virgin casks. This is largely ex-bourbon dominant, so this bottling has a more fruit-forward character with a trace of smoke that becomes a little more distinct with time and a couple drops of water!

Out of the four new releases, I really enjoy this the most! I was surprised by the blending expertise that ensured the balance between peated and unpeated Single Malt. It gave me flashbacks of the Arran Smuggler’s Series. Although, I would love to see a version of this at an abv of 46% or higher someday!

BenRiach The Smoky Ten

Photo Credits to Brown Forman and Malt Wine Asia

The Smoky Ten is a revamp of the 10yo Curiositas, but a little funkier! This 10-year-old single malt features some peated BenRiach with a Jamaican rum cask finish, giving it more fruitiness! With the Virgin oak contributing more to the body, I would say that this would be a delightful daily dram for a peat lover!

BenRiach The Twelve

Photo Credits to Brown Forman and Malt Wine Asia

I expected this unpeated 12yo to be pretty popular in the room for the media event, and it was. Being based on the previous sherried BenRiach 12yo bottlings, this now features a combination of full-term sherry matured single malt with some Port-cask finished stock. In my opinion, this brings about more of that bourbon-cask fruity house style. For any sherried malt lovers, this bottling would be something you might want to try!

BenRiach The Smoky Twelve

Photo Credits to Brown Forman and Malt Wine Asia

This is a rather interesting entry, as it offers the BenRiach peated experience with a bit more European oak spice notes from the sherry and marsala casks. I like it that the core features casks from more unique fortified wines!

Concluding Thoughts

As a person who causally blends whiskies as a small party trick or for my own enjoyment, I can feel the expertise and mastery of the art Dr Rachel Barrie has put into this core range. And I know it’s out of her control, and I know Brown Forman does want to make BenRiach appealing for the mass market, but I do wish some of these entries were unchill-filtered so I could really get the full character of BenRiach. Maybe we need to start educating more whisky drinkers to understand the beauty of scotch mist!

If you’re interested in the new bottlings or the old unchillfiltered bottlings, do check out MaltWineAsia with this link! They have both! There are some cask strength single cask BenRiachs under S$200 as well!
Special thanks to MaltWineAsia, Brown Forman and Stewart Buchanan! Look out for the BenRiach distillery article next week!

Have you visited the redesigned Malts Whisky Bar yet?

Malts @ Marine Square (Photo Credits: Malts)

Many of us probably have walked along Level 1 of Marine Square on our way to various destinations and noticed Malts. The whisky bar sits next to the entrance of the mall quietly, serving its own private clientele for the past couple of years. Recently, due to a change in management, the bar is now looking to welcome new customers to visit its well-stock whisky vault.

Malts @ Marine Square is an upmarket whisky bar serving a wide variety of whiskies, ranging from Scotch to Japanese. You could literally find all the regions in Scotland represented within Malts. The bar team is experienced and knowledgeable, so you know that you will be in good hands once you walk through the door.

Whiskies to look out for at Malts

Looking at the range available, you know that there is always something for you to try there. It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner or seasoned drinker, there will be something that appeal to you at Malts. We also heard that they are planning to offer up special menus that includes unique cocktails, independent bottles and even cognacs in the future, so you just gotta check them out.

Where to find Malts

Malts is located at 6 Raffles Boulevard, #01-07/08 Singapore 039594. Due to Covid-19 social distancing measures and limited space available, you are highly encouraged to make a reservation by calling 6252 8002 before heading over to check the bar out! The bar is opened Monday to Saturday from 3pm to 10.30pm.

Remember that all bars need to close at 10.30pm, so please be considerate and allow the bar staff to do their due diligences when it is time to go. We can all do our part to fight Covid-19 and look forward to resuming all activities in the near future.

Like what you have just read?

    Join WhiskyGeeks.sg as a member for FREE and receive our curated articles and videos in your mailbox every month!


    Dram on, Dràm Mòr

    The first big tasting of Dràm Mòr in Singapore and their second ever release of bottles in Autumn of 2020! Dràm Mòr is an Independent Bottler in Scotland that is owned by a husband-wife duo, Kenny and Viktorija.
    Many of the bottles in this second release were finished in fortified wine or wine casks for 4 months! This decision for a short duration finish was not unfounded as well! Kenny sought the advice of Whisky legend Jim McEwan and told Kenny to watch closely over 1st fill wine casks. This is most likely due to the spicy notes the active wine cask might impart on the whisky if it aged any longer.

    Glen Garioch 8yo 2011 (Cask #2697) 55%
    Glen Garioch 8yo 2011 (Cask #2697)
    Glen Garioch 8yo 2011 (Cask #2697)

    We started the night with a full-term refill bourbon. There was a time I used to find full-term bourbon maturation like from Cadenhead to be boring. What a fool I was #cringe. What I know now is that a light bourbon maturation can allow the spirit character to develop and shine through!

    For this Glen Garioch, I’m glad it did! I get the herbal orange peel that I associated with the Official Bottlings of Glen Garioch, but with so much more characteristics! There’s a toasted cereal note, peaches, a hint of salinity, with a mouthfeel you can chew on! It’s a lovely anytime kind of dram!

    Aberlour 7yo 2012 (#F800914) 54%
    Aberlour 7yo 2012 (Dràm Mòr)
    Aberlour 7yo 2012 (Dràm Mòr)

    This Aberlour spent 7 and a half years in refill bourbon with a 4 month dry Madeira finish. The Aberlour A’bunadh series inspired Dràm Mòr to do a young cask strength Aberlour! This decision for a short finish was an excellent one. In 4 months, the influence of the wine is clearly much stronger, with only a touch of spice from the oak. This works well because the strawberry jam preserve notes of the Aberlour spirit character works with the dry cranberry notes, pepper and raspberries, along with the honey and floral notes from the prior bourbon maturation.

    Glenrothes 9yo 2011 (#2850)
    Glenrothes 9yo 2011 (#2850)
    Glenrothes 9yo 2011 (#2850)

    One of two Glenrothes in this Autumn release, this spent 8 years and 8 months in refill bourbon, before finishing in Spanish Red Wine casks for 4 months. This was a beautiful balance between the influence of the red wine and the European oak. Even the folks at Glenrothes distillery gave Kenny the stamp of approval!
    In my personal opinion and preference, this dram probably needs some time to open up. Initial top notes of gunpowder which will fade away with time, so if you love your sulphur notes, you might not want to wait. This Glenrothes offers notes of honey, a whiff of chocolate, with oranges, red berries, figs and nuttiness!

    Glenrothes 9yo 2011 (#2851)
    Glenrothes 9yo 2011 (#2851)
    Glenrothes 9yo 2011 (#2851)

    This Glenrothes spent 8 years and 8 months in refill bourbon, before finishing in Moscatel Wine casks for 4 months. If it feels like Déjà vu, that’s because both Glenrothes are sister casks! Moscatel Wine casks are not as popular in whisky, but this is a damn good example! People who know me know that I do not particularly enjoy the spirit character of Glenrothes, but this dram is probably the first young Glenrothes that I have thoroughly enjoyed!
    This dram offers golden pears, with honey and vanilla sweetness coming from the bourbon maturation. Moreover, the wine cask influence is very nuanced, with hints of toasted nuts, tart apples and a whiff of Nutella! One of the participants in the tasting even got Jasmine flowers! This is definitely a beautiful dessert dram.

    Tomintoul 15yo 2005 (#32)
    Tomintoul 15yo 2005 (#32)
    Tomintoul 15yo 2005 (#32)

    This gentle dram spent 15 years and 4 months in a rather shy refill sherry butt, and 4 months in a 1st fill Sauternes Wine Cask! These 15 years in the refill sherry butt gave a gentle maturation, and most importantly, it cultivated the gentle spirit character of the Tomintoul. Distilleries Director of Angus Dundee, Robert Flemming, who oversees Tomintoul and Glencadam, loved this dram when he asked Kenny for a sample of this! If the people who make this whisky liked it, then you know Dràm Mòr did Tomintoul right!
    This gentle dram offer notes of sugary sweetness, freshly cut grass in spring, pears, white raisins, tart apples and pears, notes of a buttery pie crust and hints of salinity.

    In this Autumn release, Dràm Mòr shows that flavourful whisky doesn’t necessarily need to be peated, or heavily sherried or old. I also do enjoy their stance on not chill filtering and not adding colour! If you wish to purchase these bottles, do give Spirits Castle a visit, and if you wish to find out more about Dràm Mòr and their latest December 2020 Christmas release, check it out here!

    Singapore Distillery Gin Launch!

    Early October 2020 saw the launch of Singapore Distillery’s Gin range and Whiskygeeks sat down with head distiller Ashwin for a chat about the distillery, the gin and future plans!

    It’s a bold and risky move for a launch amidst the COVID phase 2 in Singapore. That said, I am glad there are more players in the local spirits scene in Singapore! I mean, I know this is Whiskygeeks; but hey, a malternative once in a while is great. Bruichladdich started making gin for a reason too! 😉

    The Six

    It was astonishing to see a full range of 6 gins launched in one sitting. And much like popular Kpop groups, there is something for everyone! Off to the gins!

    Singa Gin
    Singa Gin

    The flagship, Singa Gin is a London Dry style gin. And right there, I see the visible confusion on some of your faces. A Singaporean London Dry Gin? Is that distilled in London or Singapore?
    The full legal definition can be found here at Annex I, Category 22. But the crux or TLDR of it is that it is a style of gin, not restricted by location.

    The Sing Gin comprises of 13 botanicals, which includes Grains of Paradise from Africa, Malaysian Sarawak Pepper and Ceylon Cinnamon from Sri Lanka!

    Personally, I found it of a medium Juniper strength, earthy, sweet, with a mild but noticeable note of Angelica root and an overall balanced flavour when drunk neat!

    Singapore Distillery Coconut Pandan Gin
    Coconut Pandan Gin

    This fun yet amazing Coconut Pandan Gin would excite any South-East Asian Gin drinker! The Pandan and Coconut flesh vapour infused, along with background botanicals of orange and other spices.
    Not gonna lie, the smell took me by surprise. It smells like coconut cream or milk that is thiccc (with 3 Cs), but I was staring into a colourless liquid!

    The palate was where the Pandan flavour took the spotlight, but in the finish, the coconut cuts in again for one more encore.

    Although it might be a bit sacrilegious, I mixed this gin with two other gins, Stolen Roses and Lime Garden. The result was absolutely divine!

    Singapore Distillery Stolen Roses
    Stolen Roses Gin

    A gin, red as roses. But still at 42.5%! This expression is sweetened in the Old Tom style of gin. And before you ask yourself that question, no, it is superior to any rose syrup or rose liqueur. Fight me. There’s more depth to the rose flavours in this gin, with hints of juniper and citrus zest in the background. It would make a killer Valentine’s Day G&T or a Martini!

    Mixed in with the Coconut Pandan Gin, it became a lovely Bundung concoction. Luckily, Head Distiller Ashwin did not take offence to this.

    Singapore Distillery Singapore Sling
    Singapore Sling Gin

    This is not based on popular Singapore Sling with a bajillion ingredients, but it was inspired by the Straits Sling, the alleged predecessor of the Singapore Sling as we know today. Records show a Straits Sling recipe that predates the supposed invention of the Singapore Sling, which comprises of gin, cherry brandy, Bénédictine D.O.M., lime and some bitters.
    To achieve those flavours, cherries, angelica root, and limes serve to represent the cocktail’s ingredients, alongside some pineapples and oranges to give the gin more vibrancy.

    This gin is pretty stunning when drunk neat, would probably do wonders in a Negroni or a Martini!

    Singapore Distillery Kyuri Gin
    Kyuri (きゅうり) Gin

    きゅうり or Kyuri is Japanese for cucumber! In this gin, Japanese cucumbers are left to macerate or soak in Neutral Grain Spirit NGS) for a full day before distilling. In addition, more cucumbers and sakura flowers are placed in gin baskets for vapour infusion.

    Kyuri gin is pretty much Hendrick’s Japanese cousin, and I found it very refreshing and floral, along with hints of lemon zesty and juniper earthiness. This would definitely make a lovely summer G&T!

    Lime Garden Gin

    The name of this gin is perfect – distilled with 3 different varieties of South-East Asian limes: Calamansi, Key Limes, and Kaffir Lime. The limes are placed in the distillation stills and the vapour baskets to double down on their flavour and to extract their essential oils.

    I was especially impressed by the distinct almost Lavender-like floral notes from the Kaffir lime. Might I add, (before I get punched by Gin connoisseurs), that the addition of the Coconut Pandan gin results in something reminiscent of Thai cuisine. You gotta try it to know it!

    The technical titbits

    The alcohol from gin usually comes from commercial available neutral grain spirit (NGS). Ashwin uses NGS from France, as he believes that to be the softest and best for his gins!

    42 and a half?

    The keen-eyed amongst you might have noticed that all their gins are bottled at 42.5%. Now, why is that?
    Head Distiller Ashwin determined that this abv helps the gin maximise flavour and accessibility. More a slightly higher abv generally means a higher propensity to hold more flavour. But then again, nobody would be in the mood for high strength spirits all the time. With these two factors playing tug of war, Ashwin found the sweet spot that is high enough to capture the botanicals and yet soft enough abv for most drinkers to access the gin’s plethora of flavours.

    The Stills

    The stills at Singapore Distillery. Source

    When I first saw a photo of the distillery set up, I thought it was crazy! According to Ashwin, that picture shows ONE set up. The NGS and botanicals go in the Pot Still through a gin basket, and 2 column stills, then another gin basket before reaching the condenser.

    Chill filtration at Singapore Distillery

    Singapore Distillery does not chill filter their gins, and yet the gins do not go cloudy in the bottle. How did they do it? According to Ashwin, by controlling the various aspects of distillation, he is able to adjust the distillate such that it maximizes flavour and yet doesn’t cause noticeable clouding when diluted!
    What’s the difference you might ask? It’s that the gin still retains flavour components that wouldn’t cause cloudiness but would have been taken away by chill-filtration!
    I can tell you as a Chemical Engineering degree holder that this is a painstakingly tedious feat! Kudos to Ashwin for his skill, patience and persistence

    Future Plans

    Ashwin plans to try his hand at vodka next, and a navy strength version of one of the gins we have talked about 😉 I am absolutely excited to taste what this distillery does next!

    Many thanks to Singapore Distillery and Ah Sam Cold Drink Stall for organising the industry launch and special thanks to Head Distiller Ashwin for sitting down with us to talk about his vision and All bottle photo credits go to Singapore Distillery.

    Meeting the man behind a Kombu Whiskey: Origin Spirits

    Earlier in August 2020, Whiskygeeks had a chat with Managing Director of Origin Spirits Patrick Shelley. Origin Spirits has in its portfolio the Ornabrak Single Malt Gin, Kalak Single Malt vodka and the Currach Kombu Irish Whiskey.

    Currach Whiskey, Kalak Vodka and Ornabrak Gin
    Portfolio of Origin Spirits. Source: Origin Spirits

    How it Started

    Back in 2010, Patrick was living in Russia, working for LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE) which owns Glenmorangie and Ardbeg distillery since 2004. And of course, in Mother Russia, the vodka culture is strong there. But the vodkas out in the market then was not to his taste. To get him through these times, he had drams of peated Scotches. *coughArdbegcough* This later inspired Patrick to want to design a vodka with personality, texture and flavour; a vodka he could enjoy! His love for peated Scotches later inspired the peat cask vodka!

    With his time in LVMH, he gained much wisdom and experience which would help elevate Origin Spirits to where it is today. Patrick had three cornerstones in Origin Spirits:

    • Quality Product with its own unique personality.
    • Striking visual identity.
    • Compelling brand story.

    What it became

    Patrick works with West Cork distillers to create unique products that Origin Spirits offers. Patrick talks fondly about Director of West Cork Distillers, Dr John O’Connell, who holds not just one but two PhDs! Dr O’Connell saw some potential in Patrick’s ideas and was eager to help make Patrick’s ideas a reality!

    Under LVMH, some of the brands Patrick used to work for had decades of history with tales abound. As a fresh new company, Patrick had instead created a story around the product, Kalak, weaving Irish folklore and gods with this beautiful spirit. You can read more about here!
    Patrick wanted to use 100% Irish malted barley for several reasons. Even though malted barley cost around three times as much as other grains, Patrick wanted a quality product with personality. It also pays homage to the terroir of Irish local barley and a quality ingredient.

    How it’s made

    West Cork Distillers. Source: Origin Spirits

    In West Cork distillers, malted barley is milled on site. This grist meets 63°C water in the mash tun and spends 2 hours mashing for sugar extraction. Heat exchangers then cool down the sugary liquid called wort to 27-29 °C. Distillers yeast is then added for inoculation. The fermentation lasts 96 hours, which is twice the amount of time as some Scotch whisky distilleries. This longer fermentation time allows for ester formation and lactic acid fermentation which produces fruitier and more complex flavours in the spirit. After 4 days of fermentation, the strong beer, or wash is at a whopping 11-12% abv.
    The wash then goes into copper pot stills for distillation.. 3 times distilled for the whiskey, 4 times for the gin and 5 times for the vodka!

    How it’s aged

    The casks used for Origin Spirits are not used for maturation more than twice. So far, Origin Spirits are only using American White Oak for their cask maturation. The casks Origin Spirits uses comes from the Kelvin cooperage in Kentucky.

    Virgin Oak cask charred with Kombu
    Virgin Oak cask charred with Kombu. Source: Origin Spirits

    Patrick stumbled on the idea of using seaweed to char the casks, which serves as a fuel source for the charring and imparts umami flavour to the oak. This marks Currach, the Kombu Irish Whisky, with the terroir of both the sea and land with Irish seaweed and barley. For Currach, Patrick prefers using virgin oak to bourbon casks as the bourbon flavours in the cask might interfere with the delicate umami flavours from the seaweed. Aged in ex-bourbon for 3-4 years then 3-month finish in virgin oak, as it maximises the kombu flavour, mellows the spirit and ensures the whiskey does not get too oaky.

    What’s next for Origin Spirits

    Drying Kombu. Source: Origin Spirits

    The kombu used for the charring for Currach is a type of brown seaweed, and Patrick intends to experiment with other kinds of seaweed, like with red seaweed and green seaweed. Currently, Origin Spirits are using American White Oak, either virgin or ex-bourbon oak. Patrick wanted a mellower oak influence to allow the spirit character to shine. But Patrick has a never say never attitude, so sherry fans, stay tuned!

    Patrick is going to experiment a lot more with food pairing, but progress has been slower due to the pandemic. But in general, Japanese cuisines, and umami dishes like steak or mushrooms works well with Kalak and Currach. Patrick describes those spirits as gastronomical and I would have to agree!

    Origin Spirits has shown a lot of innovative products which excel in form and function. I am looking forward to their next release!

    A guide to understand Mars Whisky

    Mars Whisky!
    Mars is one of the oldest whisky companies in Japan. Even though Mars started distilling in 1960 in Yamanashi, the buying and selling of whiskies date back to 1949! For a whisky company with 2 distilleries (Shinshu Distillery and Tsunuki Distillery ) and 3 maturation sites, it could be confusing sometimes! So with the help of Hombo Shuzo and Barworks, here’s a guide!

    Note: The names of various locations are in colour because it can indicate which distillery or ageing site it is from, similar to Uigeadail or Inchmoan.



    Shinshu Mars Distillery

    The distillery is in Miyadamura, Nagano prefecture at the foot of Mt. Kiso Komagatake. Shinshu distillery started making whisky in 1985 and was mothballed from 1992 to 2011. Mars whisky uses both peated and unpeated concerto barley from CRISP maltings in the UK, with 4 different peating levels at 0ppm, 3.5 ppm, 20ppm and 50ppm. After milling the barley, the grist goes into a stainless-steel 8000L lauter mashtun, along with a stream of hot water to extract barley sugar. The sugary and clear liquid that the mashtun extracts is called the wort. The wort is cooled down and subsequently enters a 7000L washback with a combination of distiller’s yeast, ale yeast and slant yeast.

    Washbacks in Shinshu Distillery. Photo courtesy of Hombo Shuzo Co. Mars Whisky.

    In before 2016, the fermentation period was 3 days long, however, this fermentation period was increased to 4 days, so as to allow more flavours to develop. Shinshu has 5 cast iron washbacks and newer 3 Douglas fir wooden washbacks. After fermentation, this strong beer called wash at 7-8% alcohol by volume (abv) goes into a 6000L wash still for distillation. Both distilleries use indirect heating for their stills as it is energy efficient. The distillate is called low wines with an abv of 21-22% and is cooled in a shell & tube condenser before going into an 8000L spirit still for the second distillation.

    The Pot Stills of Shinshu Distillery. Photo courtesy of Hombo Shuzo Co. Mars Whisky.

    This distillate goes through a worm tub, which will contribute to the robustness of the spirit character! The new make strength is around 70% and diluted to 60% before filling.

    Tsunuki Distillery

    Tsunuki Distillery. Photo courtesy of Hombo Shuzo Co. Mars Whisky.

    Mars Whisky’s second distillery started in 2016 and lies on the southwest side of Kagoshima called Tsunuki. Similarly to its sister distillery, Tsunuki Distillery uses both peated and unpeated concerto barley from CRISP maltings. The milled barley goes into a slightly smaller 5000L lauter stainless steel mashtun with hot water to produce a clear wort. This wort goes to one of 5 wash stainless steel washbacks in the distillery. The same yeast varieties and fermentation times are utilised, therefore, Tsunuki Distillery produces wash with a similar abv as its sister distillery.


    Washbacks at Tsunuki Distillery. Photo courtesy of Hombo Shuzo Co. Mars Whisky.

    The distillation is somewhat similar to Shinshu distillery, except that both stills in Tsunuki Distillery use a worm tub condenser. The new-make spirit has the same abv range, and similarly, Mars whisky keeps the filling strength consistent at 60% abv.

    Pot Stills at Tsunuki Distillery. Photo courtesy of Hombo Shuzo Co. Mars Whisky.


    Ageing Sites

    Racked Warehouse in Tsunuki Distillery. Photo courtesy of Hombo Shuzo Co. Mars Whisky.

    There are three ageing sites, two of which are onsite at the distilleries and a third ageing site at Yakushima! Having three ageing sites would mean that there are three different climates for ageing Mars whisky. Climate affects the rate of maturation and therefore, the annual whisky loss per year, or angel’s share. One could easily compare these rates by looking at Scotch, Taiwanese and Indian whisky distilleries. With three slightly different rates of maturation, there are many more possibilities in flavours for Mars whisky. Humidity is also significant for estimating the drop in abv of the ageing whisky over time. A higher humidity would mean a slower loss of water than ethyl alcohol, which could lead to a faster decrease in abv, and vice versa.

    Komagatake Cellar (Shinshu Distillery)

    A cask ageing onsite at Shinshu Distillery. Photo courtesy of Hombo Shuzo Co. Mars Whisky.

    The surrounding temperature ranges from a subzero -15°C in the winter to over 30°C degrees in the summer, and an annual average temperature is around 12 degrees. The at an elevation of 798m, the humidity around the distillery is 65-67% and has an angel’s share around 3-4%.

    Tsunuki Aging

    Rows of PX casks in the warehouse at Tsunuki Distillery. Photo courtesy of Hombo Shuzo Co. Mars Whisky.

    Kagoshima has warmer climates with an annual average temperature of 18°C, with a temperature range of -2°C in the winter to a blistering 36°C degrees in the summer. The humidity is slightly higher than its sister distillery at around 70-72%, with a higher angel’s share at approximately 5-7%.

    Yakushima Cellar

    The Mars Yakushima Aging Cellar is on an island bearing the same name. Yakushima Island is a world natural heritage site and located southwest of Kagoshima and still almost three times as wide as Singapore though. This dunnage warehouse stands near the coastline, so the ageing casks breathes in the coastal air. The temperature on the island ranges from 5°C to 35°C in with an average annual temperature of 19°C. With a higher humidity at 74-76%, the angel’s share is higher as well, at 7-9%.

    The Casks

    PX Cask. Photo courtesy of Hombo Shuzo Co. Mars Whisky.

    The casks at Mars Whisky are used 4 to 6 times. The Yakushima Aging Cellar contains ex-bourbon casks and ex-sherry casks. The two onsite racked warehouses at the distilleries contain other unique and exciting casks resting away. Other than Madeira casks, Port casks, and French oak wine casks, there are Mizunara oak casks, umeshu white oak casks, shochu white oak casks and even sakura casks!

    Ex-Bourbon Casks. Photo courtesy of Hombo Shuzo Co. Mars Whisky.

    Hopefully, this article has shed light on the different variations of Mars whisky.

    If you’re interested in getting yourself a bottle of Mars, you can head to Barworks. In addition, there’s also a 33% discount on the Annual Limited Edition 2019 bottling of Komagatake (from Shinshu Distillery) which you can get here!

    Mars Single Malt Komagatake Limited Edition 2019. Photo courtesy of Barworks.


    Mars Single Malt Komagatake Limited Edition 2019


    These are the tasting notes from the producers.

    Nose: Ripe persimmon, apricot, and orange marmalade

    Palate: Elegant and mellow taste like Chinese quince, melon and milk candy

    Finish: Clean and comfortable aftertaste




    Special thanks to Hombo Shuzo and Barworks, the official Mars whisky distributor in Singapore for the information and the photos!

    Mizunara Matured Malternative

    Back in December, Whiskygeeks was invited to an exclusive Cognac Park tasting. After trying some non-traditional Cognacs, I found an excellent malternative.

    What is a malternative?

    As enjoyable as whisky might be, having too much of a good thing could get boring or burn you out. It’s essential to give your palate a break sometimes, and a Malt Whisky Alternative, or Malternative, could give you such a change. 

    Good whisky Malternatives should be quality spirits as well, and one such example is Cognac.

    What is Cognac and how is it made

    Cognac is an aged grape spirit from the region of Cognac in France under a specific set of rules called the AOC designation, dictating how it can be made. You can find the document (in French) here

    White grapes will ferment for 2 to 3 weeks till it reaches 7-10% abv. Cognac distilleries use Charentais copper pot stills for double distillation in a similar fashion to Scotch single malt. In the first distillation, the white wine becomes Brouillis, equivalent to low wines in Single Malt distillation. The brouillis, at approximately 30%, undergoes a second distillation, also known as Bonne Chauffe. The distillates then split into heads, hearts and tails, just like whisky. Only the heart portion goes into French oak barrels for maturation. The distillery will not throw out heads and tails. Instead, they will add the head and tails back into the wine or brouillis for the next distillation. Both distillations require about 24 hours in total, so the Charentais pot stills are running 24/7 during distillation. 

    The cognac “new-make spirit” or eau de vie goes into French Limousin oak casks for maturation. The angel’s share is around 3% on average, slightly higher than Scotland.


    How is it different from Whisky?

    In whisky, producers use a wide variety of barley strains, but Cognac distilleries primarily use Ugni Blanc after the phylloxera mould crisis of the 1960s. The grape is disease resistant, high in acidity and low in sugar. Such properties make Ugni Blanc a suitable grape for making Cognac. Cognac Park uses approximately 60% Ugni Blanc for their Mizunara range. Imagine if the SWA proposed that rule to use barley varieties like Golden Promise, Triumph or Bere Barley. 

    The Charentais stills for cognac distillation use must be direct-fire heating as well. Many Scottish distilleries, on the other hand, that have switched to steam coils.

    Unlike Scotch and many other spirits, Cognac distillation, with accordance to the Cognac Appellation, can only occur around late November to March. 


    What makes Cognac Park different?

    Cognac Park is in the Borderies, the smallest growing cru in the region, just 4,000 hectares under vineyard cultivation. The soil in the Borderies is prized for its limestone and chalky properties. This terroir could be the reason why cognac from this region has characteristic floral notes of violet. Cognacs in the Borderies region also have a reputation of requiring a shorter maturation time for the same quality. The entire Cognac Mizunara collection are all Single Cru Cognacs meaning that the grapes used are exclusively from the Borderies region.

    The Mizunara casks used for Cognac Park must be virgin casks; which means that it cannot have aged spirits before, similar to bourbon. The Mizunara cask finish also cannot extend beyond 12 months. Otherwise, the cask could lose its appellation, and the cask cannot be considered a Cognac anymore.

    Tasting the Cognac

    Now to the Cognac! The Cognac Park Mizunara matures in French oak for 4 years before a  6-month finish in virgin Mizunara casks. This NAS was one of my favourites before the I tasted Single Cask. With the 10-year-old Mizunara, it generally has more Cognac characters with a nice layer of Mizunara complexity. However, due to the longer 10-month finish in virgin Mizunara casks, the patient drinkers amongst us will be rewarded. Regardless, I would definitely recommend this to anyone who enjoys Cognac previously.

    The vintage 2006 single cask was extraordinary, primarily due to its higher alcohol strength that allows the cognac’s complexity to shine. This single cask portrays many flavours similar to a youthful yet tender single cask whisky. The last Cigar Blend was mindblowing as well in terms of age and taste. The Cigar blend contains cognac ranging from 25 to 32 years old that has leather and tobacco flavours similar to sherried single malt in its mid-twenties or older!

    Many thanks to Spirits Castle for the invite to this exclusive tasting. These bottles can be bought locally here! If you are interested in the tasting notes, I have left my opinion down below!

    Cognac Park Mizunara Finish

    Nose: Notes of raisins, dried fruits. Insense notes, a hint of black pepper and sandalwood. With water, notes of brioche started to appear. 

    Palate: Orange peel, sandalwood, incense, herbal note, earthy notes. With water, oak spice and sandalwood.

    Finish: Herbal note, vegetal notes, sandalwood, With water, cinnamon spice and black pepper.


    Cognac Park 10yo Mizunara Finish

    Nose: Soft nose, rich raisins, figs, red apples, black pepper, umami note, floral notes, milk chocolate. With water, cinnamon, star anise, brioche, oak and honey.

    Palate: Floral note, orange peel, parfait armour, ripe red apple. With water, vanilla, cinnamon and toasted oak.

    Finish: Incense note, black pepper spice, raisins and walnuts.


    Cognac Park 9yo 2006 Single Cask Mizunara Finish

    Nose: Green Pears, hints of orange, honey, herbal note, black pepper, vanilla, lemon zest. With water, more confectionary sweetness and green apples

    Palate: sandalwood, vegetal note, earthy notes, umami notes, confectionery sweetness, With water: green apple, herbal sweets, minty cooling sweets

    Finish: sandalwood, black pepper, incense note. Water: more minerality, raisins.