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.

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Red Casks – Linkwood 16 year (1998) Côte Rôtie 45%

From Gordon & MacPhail’s Private Collection, this special wine cask finish expression was released in the US.

We sampled this whisky blind without bias… knowing nothing about it beyond our immediate experience… until our host revealed it!

Linkwood 16 year (14 Dec 1998/Oct 2015) Côte Rôtie 45% (G&MP)

  • Colour – A gorgeous almost unreal ruby red
  • Nose – Starts as a delightful Christmasy rum raisin with varnish… full on fruity, berries, very sweet, plum cake… loads of caramel, vanilla, soaked dried fruits, red apples, cinnamon brown sugar, malt, herbal green tea, burnt syrup, oily, coconut, calvados, a bit of spice from the oak, some rose petals?
  • Palate – Soooooo sweet! Enough character to bring one back, a lovely mouthfeel, some oils on the palate yet still had a lighter body, green apples, delicious with a hint of tannins, sweet berries
  • Finish – The oil continued… ever so slightly bitter … more creamy nutty… gorgeous
  • Water – While not needed, it opened it up to make the whisky even sweeter and more oak forward on the palate

This one was certainly a shift from the 1st… we struggled to reconcile the rich colour with the lighter body, sparking considerable speculation – how could it be such a bright red? Surely it wasn’t natural! To which our host shared the whisky was not chill filtered and completely natural colour. Hmm….

This confirmed our suspicions of a red wine cask however it didn’t quite fit with previous experiences with whiskies matured in port, pinot noir, bordeaux… so then which red wine? How long was it finished for?

And the reveal? Delighted to see we had a treat from Linkwood – a distillery our collective experiences has given rise to an impression of an underrated whisky well worth catching – particularly if seen fit to be bottled by the folks over at Gordon & Macphail.

As for the wood and finish? The notes on the bottle revealed it was aged for 15 years to then be finished for 23 months in the Côte Rôtie – which is considerably longer than most finishes.

We set the whisky aside for some time and revisited – absolutely exquisite! Definitely one to slowly sip and enjoy.

While further details are not available in the Gordon & MacPhail website, there were short tasting notes on the bottle:

Sweet and cream accents with rich summer berries and green apples, which are complemented by a smooth milk chocolate edge.

Last seen in the US online for approx $160.

What did we try in our special “red” casks evening?

Other Linkwood experiences?

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Tragedy Struck! Gordon + MacPhail’s Linkwood 1998 46%

Once upon a time there was a Linkwood that was poured into a bottle in 2012… to make its way from Scotland to a World of Whisky store to a home in Mumbai, India. And then find its way into our glasses in October 2018…

We sampled it blind and here is what we found…

Linkwood 13 year (8 Dec1998 / Jan 2010) Cask No 5014 Refill Sherry Hogshead 46% for World of Whiskies

  • Colour – Very yellow
  • Nose – When first opened it was so fruity – particularly jackfruit, cashew fruit then red fruits… then as strong as it came on, the basket of fruits slipped away… Particularly after the first sip. Instead there was biscuits, cereal notes with hay, grass… more and more it became dusty, musty, woody… after even more time there was a light coconut and even some marshmallow but… something wasn’t quite right….
  • Palate – Sharp, initially fruity, then musty, sour, earthy, bitter, very woody, some spice, quite thin with little body, wet fallen leaves
  • Finish – Very short finish
  • Water – Some found it horrible, bitter vs others finding it became tart with lemons then sweet, the fruit came back with some spice yet was still very musty with dry coconut husks

We struggled with this one… it seemed oddly incomplete or off… something or other wasn’t quite right. Over and over we kept remarking on the peculiar musty element.

With the reveal we were all surprised.

Linkwood.

Gordon & Macphail.

Really?? The character wasn’t in keeping with our past experience with Linkwood whiskies and certainly not Gordon & Macphail bottles.

And that is when our host revealed that the reason he served this single malt from a lovely decanter was the cork had crumbled completely. He further shared he had purchased this years ago – likely not long after it was released in 2012.

It seemed that tragedy had struck. What could have once been a fine dram was given no favours by being stored in a Mumbai cupboard for years. There actually have been studies on the impact of storage conditions on whisky bottles. Mumbai’s heat isn’t kind to bottles… and this seems to have happened in this case. Sigh….

What about other Linkwood experiences?

Our original tasting group continued in our “classic” evening with two other Scottish single malts:

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Scottish Trio – Linkwood, Old Pulteney, Royal Brackla

Sometimes you just want to enjoy classic styled whiskies… with a flight that has a straight forward age progression from younger to older… no experimentation, just a standard combination of ex-bourbon cask and ex-sherry maturation.

That is exactly what we did this month, sampling each malt blind… And yet it wasn’t entirely as “traditional” an experience as one would think…

Our original tasting group went “traditional” with a Scottish trio:

Curious to know more about what we found? Just click on the whisky links above and get all the juicy details!

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Whisky Live 2017 – Signatory’s Linkwood 8 year and Cambus 24 year

The last in the Whisky Live 2017 sniff, swish and move on was a stop by the Signatory booth. While they had a range of offerings, two caught my eye…

Cambus 24 year (1991/2015) Cask No 55891, Bottle No 431/447 51.9%

  • Nose – Subtle, nuanced, floral with a light perfume, citrus, salted caramel
  • Palate – Simply delicious, nothing harsh, a lovely softness, perfectly executed, honey, vanilla
  • Finish – Herbal spice

Cambus is a discontinued distillery from the Lowlands… one I hadn’t before encountered but would be keen to try more…

Linkwood “Very Cloudy” 8 year (14 May 2008/15 Jun 2016) Bourbon Cask No 800029 – 8000031 40%

  • Nose – Don’t laugh but this had a fruity bubblegum aroma, then light oak, honey
  • Palate – Some spice, ginger bread
  • Finish – Woody, spice

While fleeting impressions, particularly the Cambus stood out… yet both where worthy drams.

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Whisky Live 2017 – Gordon + MacPhail’s Balmenach, Linkwood, Ardmore

Gordon & MacPhail never disappoints. And while it would have been nice to have someone from the team at WhiskyLive Singapore like in 2016, their whiskies spoke loud and clear. While just a sniff, swish and move on, it was still terrific to have a quick insight into a trio of lovely drams.

Balmenach (2008/2016) 46%

  • Nose – Grassy, perfumes, crisp apples
  • Palate – Straight forward, spice, fruity, simple yet quality.
  • Finish – Really nice spice finish

Linkwood 15 year 43%

  • Nose – Sherry, floral and fruity
  • Palate – Creamy, well rounded, smooth, accessible. Very smooth… a nice “lazy” dram
  • Finish – Such a delightful happy finish

Ardmore 1997 45% 

  • Nose – Vegetal, leafy tea, light pepper and smoke
  • Palate – Forest, sweet, while not complicated, has a nice easy drinkable quality.
  • Finish – Easy dram

A nice diversion… and a reminder Gordon & MacPhail delivers.

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On a Linkwood roll…. Whisky Live’s Linkwood 25 year 40%

Next up from the special Collector’s Room at Whisky Live Singapore 2016 was a whisky selected so that my sampling companion could try an older Linkwood from Gordon & MacPhail.

I was quite impressed with the Linkwood 25 year from Gordon & MacPhail and less so by a Linkwood 24 year from Signatory.

2016-11-12-linkwood

Alas, the La Maison du Whisky ‘Rarities Tasting Book Edition 2016’ did not feature this Linkwood and my separate scribbles went missing with all my subsequent travels.

Given the black and white label and the strength of only 40%, my guess is this may be from the 1980s. However that is pure speculation on my part.

So rather than tasting notes, details on the rare whisky imbibed, this is merely a testament to my chronicling follies. All that remains is a photograph and fuzzy recollection that this Linkwood did not disappoint.

2016-11-12-collectors-quartetOther whiskies sampled in the Collector’s Room included:

PS This whisky came compliments of my Whisky Live Singapore traveling companion – you know who you are and you know how much I appreciated experiencing these discoveries together!

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Whisky Live Singapore – Collectors Room

Whisky Live Singapore has a special ‘Collector’s Room’ where the unique, rare and exclusive whiskies reside.

2016-11-12-whisky-collectors-room

Which ones did we chose?

Then had a bonus Bruichladdich 10 year 58%.

2016-11-12-collectors-quartet

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Linkwood 24 year (1991/2015) 53.8%

Our quest for great cask strength whiskies around 100 pounds began with a Linkwood…

Interestingly, our last session also featured a Linkwood – a rather delightful 25 year old from Gordon & Macphail. So hopes were high!

linkwood-24

Linkwood 24 year (16.061991/04.08.2015) 53.8%

Cask No 586497, 268 Bottles, Hogshead  (TWE The Single Malts of Scotland)

Here is what we found:

  • Nose – Quite summery, grass, vanilla, flowers, sweet, light, hay, light toast. As it opened further a little spice, honey, sweet tree sap. Post our initial sips, took on more wormwood, resin and the sweetness subsided
  • Palate – Great kick, a blaze of unexpected spice, big mouthful
  • Finish – An elongated burn
  • Water – With a few drops, spice and more burn… added more and started to open up

In short, this one needed water. A very generous dollop not a mere drop or two… bringing closer to 46% seemed a more balanced level.

I couldn’t help but wish we had the the Gordon & Macphail 25 year bottling to compare. At 43%, that Linkwood was truly superb. Fabulous value for a quite lovely whisky.

Whereas this one, at cask strength, had terrific promise on the nose but no follow through on the palate. It wasn’t that the whisky was ‘wrong’ it simply wasn’t really ‘right’ either.

We gave it even more time and returned after sampling the other whiskies… once again a lovely aroma yet just didn’t deliver on the taste. One even remarked this was a ‘heartburn’ whisky?!

Our quest was clearly off to a shaky start…

What else did we sample in our trio?

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Cask strength quality? Linkwood 24, Longmorn 24 and Balmenach 26

Thanks to mad travel schedules, the Bombay Malt & Cigar club held our session early November… this time on a quest for cask strength quality below 100 pounds. All were from the prodigious Speyside region yet none were distillery bottles – two were from The Whisky Exchange with their Single Malts of Scotland series and the last from Signatory.

linkwood-balmenach-longmorn

Here are the bottles sampled in our quest:

As for whether we were successful in our quest? Jut click the links above to read about our experience…

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