Singapore’s The Swan Song

Imagine a place that has only one of a kind drams… those rare bottles where there are merely a few hundred or so ever produced. And once gone, they are no more!

That is exactly what you can expect at The Swan Song in Singapore.

It is tucked away behind the main Prinsep Street, up a flight of stairs and open only Thursday to Sunday or holidays. Why? Put simply this is a passion project run by individuals who were brought together by a philosophy that sharing is caring.

Here you can try a rare open bottle from a closed distilleries such as Lochside, Port Ellen and Brora or explore mature marvel from the 1960s.

Kelvin Hoon and Arun Prashant are the men behind this remarkable place. Arun I had met years before when he managed The Auld Alliance where he was responsible for one of my most memorable tasting evenings in Singapore. Amazingly after many years, when we walked in, he remembered that night too.

So under his able guidance, what did we try November 1, 2018?

We began with a Cadenhead’s Linkwood-Glenlivet 28 year (1989/2017) 43.7% with only 289 bottles from a barrel purchased by The Swan Song, The Writing Club, Quaich Bar and Ubin Seafood.

It was rich, complex, one that makes you slow down and unravel its many layers. In short, it was the perfect way to get into the mood for something truly special.

Curious to know more? Just check out Justin Choo’s post on Spirited Singapore with some insider insight.

Then my companion and I each selected one dram:

Lochside 22 year (May 1979/Jan 2001) 50% (Douglas Laing’s Old Malt Cask) 1 of 276

I had such fabulous memories of the Lochside 1981, that this was an easy pick. And it absolutely did not disappoint!

Port Charlotte 12 year (2004/2016) 57.3% (Highland Laird) Bottle 81 of 225

Spot on for my friend – peat, complexity and just a damn good dram!

And an incredible experience in honour of my birthday…

Longmorn 1969 61.5% (G&MP), bottled in the 1980s

Can I just say… words failed me. This was by far the highlight of my entire trip to Singapore.

Huge thank you to Arun and team for your generosity of spirit with your spirits – a unique collection that is there to be enjoyed by the discerning or those who simply want to discover! Bravo to the team and look forward to more opportunities to enjoy a dram there on my next trip to Singapore… before it sings its swan song.

You too can enjoy your Swan Song experience in Singapore at:

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Dubai Dream Drams – SMWS “Harmonious Balance” 19 year 55.2%

We almost didn’t open this bottle… after sampling a quintet of “Dream Drams” in Dubai early 2019, we stopped to enjoy a delicious dinner, socialize with our better halves until someone somehow came to the conclusion that we simply had to open just one more bottle!

So out came this Laphroaig, bottled by the folks over at Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS), fancifully dubbed “Harmonious Balance.” Matured for 19 years in refill ex-bourbon hogshead cask, this whisky truly turned out to be the “show stopper” of the night!

SMWS 29.229 “Harmonious balance” 19 year (13 May 1988) 55.2% (Laphroaig)

  • Nose – A floral perfume, hand spun candies, a hint of tobacco leaf peaking through  honey
  • Palate – A delicious spice, peat yet more nuanced and balanced than expected from a Laphroaig, think a mild sweet cigar not a brash bold bad boy, chased by a bit of sweet salted toffee
  • Finish – What an absolutely glorious finish! By far the longest, lingering and lovely finish of the evening… much after sipping, one could still enjoy the sweet peat and touch of spice with a chocolate minty freshness too

For many, this was the favourite of the evening… even those who purport to not care for peat were won over and we must admit it was aptly named “Harmonious balance” as all the elements came together in the most beautiful way.

When I compared our impressions with the full version of their tasting notes found online, there was a clear resonance in experience. Here is what the SMWS folks had to say

Imaging waking up, looking out the tent door pitched on the beach and seeing a glorious sunrise over the sea. We then made breakfast on a driftwood campfire by toasting bread and having it with salted butter and thick set honey. To taste, cigar smoke sweetness at the start, ashy with a hint of tar in the mid palate and a slightly herbal/peppermint finish – all in perfect balance and harmony. When we reluctantly added a drop of water the sun continued getting higher in the sky and the scent of fresh salty sea air made us feel ready for whatever the day had in store for us.

It was one of only 234 bottles produced from the cask, last seen online selling for approx EUR 200.

Our Dubai host put together a remarkable collection of “Dream Drams“:

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Dubai Dream Drams – Kilchoman Sherry Single Cask 59.5%

Started in 2005, Kilchoman was the first new distillery on Islay in nearly 125 years. More importantly, the distillery crafted a distinctive “Islay character” style that challenged assumptions that quality required age.

Recently in Mumbai, I had the pleasure of chatting with Kilchoman’s founder Anthony Willis in the Spirited Stories tent at The Vault Biennale, where he shared with pride their journey into the world of whisky making.

There will be more on that another time, for now let’s focus the whisky! This particular single cask release featured as the 5th whisky sampled early January 2019 in Dubai.

In keeping with our “unique” theme, this bottle was one of only 42 produced to be sold from the Kilchoman distillery shop. It is approximately 5 years of age and according to Whisky Base, last sold for EUR 161.

Here is what my tasting companions found…

Kilchoman Sherry (8 Nov 2007/22 Feb 2013) Cask 447/2007 59.5%

  • Nose: Wet wood, campfire, burnt sugar cane, cinnamon, black pepper
  • Palate: The peat from the fresh bottle was quite pronounced, edgy, taking time to settle down and reveal the sherry dimension
  • Finish: A sweet peat cinnamon
  • Water: Tamed it considerably but for some it still remained a bit brash and unbalanced

I could swear one of the guys called it an “utara” whisky… which in Hindi literally means “descend” or “bring down” but is also slang for what you drink the next morning to take the edge off a bad hangover… like “hair of the dog.”

For a few of my sampling companions, this was simply too powerful and peaty for their palate – which is perfectly fine as half the fun of tasting a range of whiskies is discovering your personal preferences. That said, moving to a fresh pour of a cask strength at nearly 60% after the Longmorn 25 year or Strathclyde 38 year was certainly a shift in approach!

For these gents, perhaps something like the rich fruity Kilchoman Sanaig 46% might have been a more natural progression in our sampling journey. For a strong expression like this, having the right setting, time to ease into its personality, slowing down and settling in, makes all the difference.

Here is what the folks at Kilchoman have to say in their tasting notes:

  • Colour: Rich golden
  • Nose: Nice, combines peat and sherry, typical Kilchoman cloves and cinnamon
  • Palate: Soft peaty aromas with overtones of sherry, slightly dry on the palate. A good example of Kilchoman in sherry wood.
  • Finish: Clean, long and rich

If you are curious about other Kilchoman tasting experiences, check out:

The other Dream drams generously shared by our Dubai host included:

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North Star Spirits Series 5, Regions 5, Bottles 5

Once a year, two of our Mumbai whisky groups come together to celebrate our mutual passion for a fine dram. This time, I selected the whiskies – ordered online and brought in by another member for our sampling pleasure. I was inspired by an earlier introduction to North Star Spirits and honed in on their series 5, tending towards the more affordable options available with a nice cross-section from different regions.

While the Whisky Ladies sponsored the whiskies, the gents hosted our evening in a gorgeous South Mumbai home with a most civilized sit down tasting followed by a brilliantly paired dinner. To put it mildly, the bar was set high!

And did the whiskies deliver? Read on to discover…

Our 5 Region North Star Spirits cask strength quintet from Cask Series 005 included:

Each was distinctive, unique and completely worth trying!

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North Star’s Caol Ila 12 year (2006/2018) 54.6%

Our final North Star Series 5 whisky was from the Islay region with a Caol Ila whisky. While it was the last, it was an entirely appropriate tasting order with this peaty robust dram coming after some lighter, flirtatious whiskies.

Here is what we discovered with the North Star Cask Series 005 Caol Ila…

Caol Ila 12 year (April 2006/May 2018) 54.6%

  • Nose – Hello peat! Sweaty, yheasty, medicinal… quite ‘wintry’, pine nuts, spirit of “peat fun”, some salt, kept evolving with the peat much less pronounced, giving way to other aromas, green asparagus, young potato starch, burnt maple bacon, sweet citrus, lightly smoky sweet grass, burnt sugar, sour cherry
  • Palate – Proper peat, some spice and everything nice. Crêpe Suzette with cherry liquor flambé, perhaps with a touch of citrus too
  • Finish – Green chilli and wasabi, sweet grapes

For those of a peatier persuasion, quite enjoyed this one. The bottle shared a few more details – noting the Caol Ila was bottled from a refill hogshead, un-chill filtered and natural colour.

As for what Iain Croucher had to say about it in his North Star’s tasting notes?

  • Nose: An Oligarch’s humidor… a big dusty one
  • Palate: A peated Sherbet Lemon, doubled-dunted with a peated Soor Ploom
  • Finish: Reminds me of well-seasoned hardwood burning near a new carpet… all subjective of course

Now I must share, we had the most hilarious response and commentary on this one – thoroughly enjoying the reading of the tasting notes… including having to look up what exactly is a “Soor Ploom.”

In case you are curious, a “Soor Ploom” according to Wikipedia is

a sharp flavoured, round, green boiled sweet originally associated with GalashielsScotland.

A “childhood favourite,”[3] they are pale green and “slightly acid in flavour”.[2]

Overall it was terrific having a chance to try such distinctive drams – well worth exploring.

For those curious about cost, this whisky was purchased online in July 2018 from Master of Malt for £76.36 / USD 100 / INR 7,215 and was opened in November 2018.

Don’t miss the other Whisky Ladies guest reviews of North Star Series 005 whiskies covering 5 Scottish regions:

Or check out the Original Group’s North Star Discovery:

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LMdW Artist #8 – Bunnahabhain 35 year 47.9%

La Maison du Whisky’s Artist Series 8 is all about exploring unique casks which represent the artistry and character of their distilleries – be it in a non-Sherry or Sherry matured avatar. The Sherry range was adorned with most gorgeous labels created by Japanese artist Takehiko Sugawara.

At our Whisky Live Sinagapore 2018 tasting, this Bunnahabhain was the ‘penultimate’ dram in the series – both the oldest and most certainly the most expensive at SGD 1,999.

While we had only a wee nip, were left with the following impressions…

Bunnahabhain 35 year (1979/2018) Sherry Cask#9521 47.9% (472 bottles)

  • Nose – A lovely soft understated quality, complex with many nuanced layers – a bit medicinal, a bit floral, a bit of fruit, a hint of spice, even a herbal quality with a tinge of saline
  • Palate – Very soft and light, incredibly smooth, the palate was completely in character with the aromas – beautiful
  • Finish – Long yet subtle

Don’t laugh but what first struck me is how “nice” this whisky is! Exceedingly nice. I’ve been disappointed with older Bunnahabhain’s before but not this one.

What do the folks at La Maison du Whisky have to say about this whisky?

  • Nose – Voluptuous, concentrated. Irresistible notes of emery cloth, tincture of iodine, heady flowers (purple lilac, geranium), cocoa beans and leather provide a lot of fabric and depth to the first. At aeration, it becomes more fruity (orange, fig, apricot), spicy (cinnamon, grated ginger) and exotic (passion, mango). Balsamic, it extends on eucalyptus, cardamom and even basil
  • Palate – Creamy, smooth. True delicacy, the attack in mouth oscillates between the candy with the violet, the blood oranges, the dark chocolate, the liquorice and the dried fruits (date, nuts). With a lot of freshness, the mid-palate is fruity (black grape), liquorice (stick) and honey (linden). These tones precede little bourbon vanilla, ripe bananas and cloves.
  • Finish – Long, fluffy. It preserves and preserves intact every flavor unveiled by the mouth. Then, as and when, she fully satisfies her desire for exoticism (passion, mango, guava). In retro-olfaction, coffee with milk, crushed strawberries, blueberries and ginger permeate the palate. The empty glass is resinous (pine, sweet of the Vosges) and empyreumatic (eucalyptus).

—- From LMdW website with an imperfect google translation from French.

La Maison du Whisky Artist #8 with Sherry

If you are curious, here are a few more Bunnahabhain‘s sampled over the years…

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LMdW Artist #8 – Bowmore 15 year 55.3%

Our skip through La Maison du Whisky’s Artist Series 8 continued with another Sherry dram – this time progressing to combine with peat!

Bowmore 15 year (2001/2018) Sherry Cask #108 55.3% (679 bottles)

  • Nose – Light peat and sweet with vanilla, fruits, nuts, honey
  • Palate – Very balanced, wonderful interplay between the dry fruits, nuts, sweet spices and light peat with a dash of salt
  • Finish – Nice cinnamon sherry spice finish that really stays

A solid dram just bursting with character… full flavoured and really quite fabulous.

And while it was a fleeting, passing sample… this whisky was a tough act to follow. We needed to take a wee break after the Caol Ila and this one before continuing our sipping journey…

As for what this Bowmore would put you back if buying in Singapore? Don’t fall off your seat…. SGD 820. And exactly why it is terrific to try in such settings Whisky Live as waaaay beyond my pocket book!

Want to know more? Well I only had a wee nip, however this is what the folks at La Maison du Whisky have to say about this whisky:

  • Colour – Intense golden yellow
  • Nose – Elegant, precise. Delicately placed at the top of the aromatic palette, a peat both herbaceous (lichen), salty, smoke, iodine (spray), vanilla, floral (carnation) and fruity (pear) provides a lot of rhythm and race at the first nose. After creation, it becomes exotic (passion, guava) and medicinal (tincture of iodine). Further on, candied lemons, fresh walnuts and acacia honey underline its extreme sweetness. A fine smoky pungency highlights its remarkable fullness.
  • Palate – Rich, concentrated. With the same elegance as the nose, the attack in the mouth is peaty / smoke, saline and mineral (chalk). More and more milky (coconut, almond). It gains unceasingly unctuousness. In the middle of the mouth, hay cut, green walnuts, almonds, candied lemons and noble spices (ginger, saffron, clove) bring a second breath to a palate that is growing in power. Very untied, the back-mouth invites us to savour a succulent rice pudding perfumed with verbena. Magnificent.
  • Final – Long, fluffy. The start of we bite into a juicy pear. Very quickly, however, notes of ashes, soot and smoke take over the initiative with great delicacy of expression. Oily, earthy, marine (seaweed, kelp) and animal (bacon, smoked salmon), the retro-olfaction sees malted barley pointing the tip of the nose. The empty glass is herbaceous (cut hay), spicy (ginger), vegetable (tobacco), earthy (dry peat) and vanilla.

—-From LMdW website with an imperfect google translation from French.

La Maison du Whisky Artist #8 with Sherry

If you are curious, here are a few more Bowmore‘s sampled over the years…

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The “Sublime” One – TBWC’s Octomore 6 year 50.4%

Our host decided to pay tribute to whisky veteran Jim McEwan with an interesting line-up bottled by “That Boutique-y Whisky Company.”

Truth be told, had our explorations of the 3rd whisky been wildly successful, we likely would have stopped there. Three really is a perfect tasting number. However the Bruichladdich was such a peculiar one that our host brought out one more…

And…. we were so LUCKY that he did!

So, why did Jim McEwan create Octomore? Here is what he has to say:

‘I was tired of people saying that Bruichladdich wasn’t a true Islay as it wasn’t peated. From 1881 to 1960 it was peated. I resurrected a peated malt and called it Port Charlotte to stop those people. Then I decided to make Octomore to shut everyone up for ever.’

We sampled the Octomore blind, followed by the surprising reveal…

Octomore 6 year, Batch 1, 50.4% (TBWC) Bottle 608 of 796

  • Nose – Wonderful! Oil and peat, lemon, wet fur, a wild marine sea spray, some sea weed, shifting into a rich sweet spice, roasted cinnamon
  • Palate – Ooooooh! Gorgeous and just simply – beautiful. It rolled around like silk, with such a lovely balance, something to savour…
  • Finish – What a pleasure! A long delicious spice

We loved the peat as it was perfectly balanced, not too heavy, none of that asphalt or ashtray peat… just salt sweat and peat in delightful harmony. In short it was sublime!

The debate began – leave perfection as is? Or add some water…

We gave in to temptation… and discovered it was even better?! Bringing out a lovely earthy quality on the nose, initially so much yummy spice on the palate, then settled down to become even more enjoyable, shifting between cinnamon toast, salty toffee, simply delicious!

It was absolutely unanimous – we all agreed this was a brilliant dram. One to just enjoy. We ran out of words as we sat back and simply indulged, feeling exceedingly pampered.

Octomore B1.jpg

Here is what the folks over at That Boutique-y Whisky Company have to say about their 2nd batch as the notes for the 1st batch are no longer available:

The discovery of our bottling of Octomore single malt is displayed on its label in three acts. Act I: Research. Act II: Revelation. Act III: Request. A timeless tale for the ages. The most heavily-peated whiskies from Islay-based distillery Bruichladdich are released under the name Octomore, and they have a reputation for being particularly intense…

Tasting notes:

  • Nose: Medicinal peaty notes with polished leather. Liquorice toffees, charcoal burning smoke and sea spray.
  • Palate: Sweet white grapes, prickly pepper, with a woody bonfire smoke and a pinch of salt. 
  • Finish: Dry, spicy, and that hint of salt is still there while the smoke lingers

And what would this Octomore set you back for a 50 cl bottle? The recommended retail price is £144.95.

What did we sample in our tribute to Jim McEwan?

As for other Octomore explorations? Here are a few highlights:

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TBWC’s Bruichladdich 13 year 47.6% “It’s a weird one!”

Our host decided to pay tribute to whisky veteran Jim McEwan with an interesting line-up bottled by “That Boutique-y Whisky Company.” And what could be more quintessential than a whisky from Bruichladdich?

We sampled blind before the reveal…

Bruichladdich 13 year (May 2018) Batch 11, 47.6% (TBWC) Bottle 199 of 478

  • Nose – A peculiar sour, metallic copper, mineral, sharp, rubbing alcohol, quite odd…. as we gave it more time, started to find liquorice, salt, light hint of bitter orange peal, wondered if there was a bit of tobacco leaf? A bit of spice then shifted back to an eraser or rubber.
  • Palate – First reaction was “water from a copper pot”, quite oily, bitter cloves, wood char, different and changing
  • Finish – Limited

One remarked it was initially like a “chemist gone mad!” Overall it was quite distinctive and different. Most of us struggled with this one. We couldn’t put our finger on what it reminded us of and were frankly “flummoxed.”

So we added water and gave it some more time…

  • Nose – Much better… while the mineral element remained, it shifted more into a nice sea salt with some sweetness too
  • Palate – Was that a light fruitiness now emerging?
  • Finish – Still limited

One of the best quotes is this whisky was like “Art Cinema!” A bit difficult yet worth exploring.

That is exactly what is wonderful about the world of whisky – with such a range to click with practically every palate preference. And sometimes it is good to have a more challenging whisky – something a bit weird just to shake things up and make it interesting.

Bruichladdich-both.jpg

That Boutique-y Whisky Company

Here is what the folks over at That Boutique-y Whisky Company have to say:

The wonderful Bruichladdich distillery on the Isle of Islay was founded back in 1881, and for a long while they happily produced tasty whiskies for the enjoyment of all. In the latter half of the 1900s, the distillery was closed and reopened a number of times, though the doors are firmly open these days, with some phenomenal and inventive whiskies flying out of them (well, not actually flying – they’re probably transported on a truck of some description). 

They’ve produced a number of stunning expressions, and often they’ll let you in on the thought that goes into the direction they wanted to follow with the whisky. This has resulted in some intriguing ranges with all sorts of weird and wonderful names – many of which are referenced on the label of our Bruichladdich bottling.

Tasting notes:

  • Nose: Caramelised dates, polished oak, a hint of oatcake and white wine.
  • Palate: Continued wine-like fruitiness, followed by a crack of black pepper.
  • Finish: Mineral dryness and strawberry laces.
And what would this Bruichladdich set you back for a 50 cl bottle? The recommended retail price is £76.95.

What else did we sample in our tribute to Jim McEwan?

As for other Whisky Lady Bruichladdich explorations? Too many to count… yet here are a few highlights, including Whisky Live Singapore 2016 and an amazing Peat Progression Evening!

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TBWC’s Bowmore 27 year 47.6% aka The “Green Pepper” Dram

There are times when a whisky sings a particular note… with such clarity and consistency that your impression of that dram is forever associated with that note.

I must admit, until this Bowmore, green pepper was never such a singular stubborn element.

We sampled it blind before the reveal.

Bowmore 27 year, Batch 5, 47.6% (TBWC) Bottle 94 of 285

  • Nose – Peat and how! Crazy sweet peat, bit of funk, fruit, some phenols, medical, surgery, bill capsules, VERY sweet, mulberry
  • Palate – Fresh capsicum which seamlessly follows through on the finish, a bit of green tea…
  • Finish – Dry and pure capsicum

After the 1st sip, it was pretty clear this whisky needs some time to settle down…

  • Nose – How interesting… the peat ran off, barley sugar, toffee, something almost like apple sauce, lemon curd tart, and apricots
  • Palate – A bit of spice, cinnamon, a bit bitter at the front
  • Finish – A nice cinnamon

We set it aside and what did we find?

  • Nose – Green capsicum
  • Palate – Goodness! Green capsicum
  • Finish – And…. gee….. Green capsicum

Now before you start to think green capsicum is a bad thing, it was actually quite good!

Giving even more time, we could detect a hint of ash. Even later… pickle? Yup… pickle.

This is one of those whiskies which is worth checking out but…  certainly not an every day dram. Instead one of those whiskies that works best when you are in the mood for it… particularly if you happen to enjoy…. yup… Green Capsicum!

What do the folks at That Boutique-y Whisky Company have to say?

The massively well-loved Bowmore distillery has resided on the Isle of Islay since 1779 – it’s the oldest Islay whisky distillery and it’s still going even today! The distillery is home to its very own malting floor, an eight ton stainless steel mash tun, six wash backs and two pairs of stills, which actually produce enough heat not only to make their lovely peated whisky, but the waste heat from the stills heats the nearby pool! The label features a young lad with a freshly-swiped bra from the pool’s changing rooms legging it from one of the pool’s lifeguards.

Unfortunately the Bowmore batch 5 / 27 year has been replaced by batch 12 / 19 year on the TBWC website, however you can read what the chaps at Master of Malt have to say:

  • Nose: Salted butter, aromatic cedar, a whiff of floral malt developing beside classic coastal air.
  • Palate: Good cider, slightly vegetal at points, smoke meat and fried banana.
  • Finish: Slightly oily. Sea salt, lemon-flavoured boiled sweets.

So they didn’t discover any green capsicum, but can see some of the elements they found in there too.

What else did we sample in our evening tribute to Jim McEwan with whiskies bottled by “That Boutique-y Whisky Company”?

Clearly no stranger to Bowmore, here are a few sampled over the years…

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