Whisky Live Singapore – go no go?

I need to make a decision… To go or not to go… that is the question.

It would seem obvious that a whisky lover would take advantage of every opportunity to explore. And with Whisky Live in Singapore convenient to us Mumbaikers, in a city that I’ve often called my “alternate home“, it seems a no brainer.

My first Whisky Live Singapore experience in 2016 was brilliant!

But here is where the challenge comes…. my 2nd experience in 2017…. wasn’t. I sincerely WANTED to enjoy it as much or even more than the previous year however…

What changed? In my exceedingly biased opinion…

  • Range – Less… far less…. mostly repeats… fewer “wow!” options. Granted I was a year further into my whisky explorations but surely the same distilleries would bring different expressions a year later? Not nearly as much as I had hoped…
  • Industry connect – Also far far FAR less… most booths were populated by local bartenders not folks actually directly associated with the distilleries or brands. Surface level schpeels which added little value to those keen to go beneath the marketing. There were a few with direct representation and some enthusiastic exceptions from the local team, but there is something completely different to chatting with someone actually FROM where the whisky is produced that makes all the difference. For me, that is the real advantage of such events… travelling to one place instead of many…
  • Crowds – Don’t get me wrong… there were crowds the previous year too however there was simply more room to wander around, to find a quiet corner to relax before heading back into the fray
  • Viva la venue? I really like the Robertson Quay area… once upon a time it was practically my home away from home… yet the venues alternated between sweaty outdoors and sweaty indoors as the A/C couldn’t keep up with crowd capacity then empty stretches of ‘gallery’ where you could neither sit and relax nor be more sociable… just stand… alone… and stare… at nearly blank walls
  • Cocktails king – Loads of opportunities to try different cocktails… which is certainly an industry trend. However call me a purest, I’m there to sniff, swish and savour my way through discovering the original dram not disguise it in a cocktail, however creatively that may be.
  • Drunken debauchery – You would think this is simply what to expect at a liquor event… however the emphasis and attendees seemed to care less about discovery and more about just drinking to get drunk. Not my cup of tea (so to speak). Clearly few followed a Whisky Live “Survival Guide” approach!
  • Collectors room – The separate seemingly rarified atmosphere of the 2016 collectors room contrasted completely with a sweaty bar just outside a raucous VIP room. And the collection seemed much smaller and pricier too. Dare I speculate the robbery that hit La Maison du Whisky in Paris not long before Whisky Live Singapore impacted the bottles on offer?

I could go on but you get the gist… it simply wasn’t for me… much as I would have wanted it to be.

Don’t get me wrong. I get that so much sincere intentions, work and sweat goes into pulling an event off like this. And am a huge fan of what La Maison du Whisky continues to contribute to the world of whisky – particularly through their Singapore store anchoring Asia.

However on a personal level, I still need to decide.. should I go to the 2018 event just a month away???

Time for a little website homework…

  • Hotel = A/C YEAH!!
  • Brands much the same but I’ve calibrated expectations and remain optimistic there will be some new and/or unique expressions not previously featured…
  • Introduction of a new 10 coupon limit… hmmmm…. While I would never over the course of a wander through the whiskies ever actually consume 10 drams, I’ve always enjoyed the lack of limit. You can find me shamelessly sampling some 20+ exceedingly small pours… speed “tasting” through a sniff, swish and spit of a few precious drops. I do appreciate needing some mechanism to reduce consumption to more reasonable levels… however it is a significant change to think of making a nodding acquaintance with a mere 10 options.
  • No collector’s room on the venue map…. surely that can’t be right?
  • And the master classes? While I’d welcome a chance to enjoy Old Pulteney, Bruichladdich & Octomore again, the one that caught my attention was the “Rare Malts” for a mere $250! (yikes!)

Decisions, decisions, decisions…. Hop on a plane in a month… “Should I stay or should I go now??” 

You can read more about my different Whisky Live Singapore adventures…

Whisky Live Survival Guide (2016) vs Whisky Live Singapore 2017

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Whisky Live Singapore 2017

So here we are in February 2018… and I’m only now getting around to sharing observations from November 2017 Whisky Live Singapore….  Why the delay?

Because I found it really hard to put into words that after such a terrific experience at Whisky Live Singapore 2016, the 2017 edition simply wasn’t for me. Which seems exceedingly churlish to admit when the organizers were kind enough to extend a day pass.

However rather than dwell on disappointments, let me focus on the key benefit of attending any Whisky Live anywhere in the world – the whisky!

There definitely were highlights and I captured a few fleeting notes on my sniff, swish (and mostly spit) experiences… And before you gasp in dismay about not savouring and swallowing, I firmly adopt a “Survival Guide” approach to explore to the max and over-indulge to the min.

There is a price to such a “speed dating” method. Notes cannot be complete and lack in-depth insights. Instead, they are just quick surface impressions… like a teaser… merely giving a sense of what might come… if only…

So with that caveat in mind, welcome to explore with me Whisky Live Singapore 2017:

Whisky Live Singapore’s Collector’s Room picks for 2017:

And what did I walk away with? You may be surprised:

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Is Single Rum the new Single Malt?

Recently while in London, my friend and I were conversing with Sukhinder Singh, owner of Specialty Drinks and The Whisky Exchange about what is new and interesting in the world of spirits. Without hesitation, a discussion commenced on single rums and more specifically Luca Gargano – a remarkable figure who has brought rums from around the world from the category of something to mix with coke for a cuba libra to stand on par with exceptional whiskies.

Clearly, this was a sign to finally share insights from my experience at the 2016 Singapore Whisky Live Master Class with master of all things malt – Dave Broom and the unforgettable character – Luca Gargano.

Before us were four brown spirits and one bonus white spirit. The question was to discern which was whisky, which was rum, gaining appreciation into each. Before serving, the rums and whiskies were carefully watered to be the equivalent of 46% to bring parity in strength between each.

1. Habitation Velier Forsyths White (2005) 57.8% (watered to 46%)

Quite clearly rum… and yet clearly no ordinary one…

  • Nose – Pear, apples, bright then becoming more sour
  • Palate – Marvellous spice, fruits, a slight tin or metallic quality, lots of oils, quite soft yet sumptuous in its dancing elements
  • Finish – After the initial burn, leather and pineapple, over-ripe fruits

There was an appealing, genteel yet quirky quality to this rum. Dave Broom observed it has an “Elegant, wonderful fruit… “ with a “funky character.” As it aired, it revealed increasingly sour elements yet still sweet.

The distillery closed in 1962 and then re-opened, remaining completely independent.

2. Balvenie 12 year Single Cask No 12742 47.8%

Whereas the 2nd sample was clearly whisky, yet had some qualities in common with the rum just tasted.

  • Nose – More sweet soft apples, an almost candy floss sweetness, floral, gentle honey, thinned bannana
  • Palate – Spiced yet soft, a kind of juicy fruity character, lots of creme caramel
  • Finish – Clean, soft and sweet

The overall pronouncement? One heard the exclaim – this is a “disgracefully drinkable dram!” And an excellent example of Balvanie character from a single ex-bourbon barrel, released in 2013.

3. Edradour 10 year (2006) 46%

Again, distinctly Scottish whisky yet with character…

  • Nose – Initially had a clear sherry stamp. As it opened, much more sour than the earlier two. Dried fruits, light “new shows” leather
  • Palate – Very smooth with a spice body, rich, powerful and slightly oily,
  • Finish – Sweet spices like cinnamon, all spice, shifts into liquorice, becoming dry, sweet, spice

Quite a beautiful sweet spice whisky and again falls into the category of “terribly drinkable.”

4. Hampden 2010 HLCF 68.5% (watered to 46%)

No doubt this was rum, of an exceptional character.

  • Nose – Darker sugars, spiced caramel, pineapple, egg nog… a symphony of aromas
  • Palate – Such flavours! So multilayered with spice, toffee, cream, roasted nuts, an almost malty quality
  • Finish – Delicious…

As we sipped and appreciated this remarkable single rum, Luca described with graphic imagines the conditions under which this rum is produced. He shared how they still use 18th century methods, in wooden vats, open with flies, horrible breadfruit, bacteria, in an environment that creates something “beautiful” with “fermentation that is magical.”

5. Clairin Vaval 58.1% (watered to 46%)

This last rum is quite distinctive and memorable. I could immediately place it as the Haitian rhum auricle, 1st sampled back in 2015 at La Maison du Whisky.

  • Nose – Very organic like new make spirit
  • Palate – Overripe fruit, tropical and distinctly different. Like sunshine in a bottle. Light sweet spices, a hint of vanilla, then warms into fruits, berries and even a hint of nuts.
  • Finish – Sugarcane, long and sweet

Luca spoke of history of sugar, from Java in 1770s to Haiti, no hybrid sugar cane, transported by donkeys, fermented and distilled in small pot still, then the evolution of multi-cultivation sugar cane.

Dave added his thoughts about the role of artisanal small stills “in conditions that make you humble“… full of “heart, as good, as clean terroir as one can get.”

In comparing the impact of tropical temperatures in which rum is typically produced vs whiskies in Scotland, Luca explained the correlation between evaporation and remaining spirit… pointing out how in just 6 years, spirits aged in tropical climates have only 610 ml remaining, comparing it with 25 years in Scotland with 600 ml.

In speaking about “Pure Single Rum” vs “Pure single Malt”, Luca shared his emphasis on transparency, giving information on the label, educating producers, retailers and bartenders, rather than pushing for imposition of regulatory rules… demonstrating a passion to bring unique, quality rums to the world.

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Whisky Live Singapore – Gordon + MacPhail

I’ve admitted it before and will probably admit it again – I have a total school girl whisky crush on all things Gordon & MacPhail. They don’t just bottle the stuff, they find something with potential and nurture it along carefully in their own barrels, crafting a whisky that is somehow ‘even more’ than what the distillery alone produces.

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The whiskies on offer at Whisky Live Singapore featured:

A most enjoyable collection of which I had a nip of the Blair Athol… and intended to come back to the Macallan and Ardmore, skipping only the Caol Ila and Highland Park as sampled these before. Alas I kept no tasting notes however was not disappointed.

Just a few of the Gordon & MacPhail whiskies sampled on Whisky Lady include:

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Whisky Live Singapore – Balvenie

I’m nearing the end of my Whisky Live Singaporespeed dates‘… I made zero attempt to get to all booths, instead I wandered, meandered, stopping where fancy struck. In a few cases, I planned to return but didn’t yet there was no regret… all that means is more to explore at the next one!

Next up is a wee nip of Balvenie…

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I will admit to skipping over the 12 year and Caribbean Cask 14 year to go straight to the Doublewood 17 year.

2016-11-12-balvenie-17-yrThe DoubleWood 17 Year Old has a lovely honey vanilla nose, crisp orchard fruit, spicy,  toffee… in short lip smacking good!

And then Neil Strachan, Regional Brand Ambassador SouthEast Asia intervened with this secret little beauty…

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Balvenie (1994/17 Nov 2015) 56.1% Cask No 4013

This was a dram savoured and enjoyed without scribbles… just because sometimes one just needs to stop and experience.

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Other Balvenie’s sampled include:

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Lost Distillery 2 – Jericho, Gersten, Lossit, Auchnagie

Whisky Live Singapore 2016 featured many a fine dram! Plus discovering new experiments in the world of whisky.

The Lost Distillery Company set out to create “modern interpretations of lost whisky legends.” My 1st sampling set began with the lightest style profile from the “Classic Range” with Auchnagie, Towiemore then Stratheden, gradually gaining momentum towards more robust profiles.

I continued my explorations with three more whisky distillery recreations of days gone by from the Classic range (all bottled at 43%) then closed on one from their Archivist range (bottled at 46%)…

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Jericho Distillery (1824-1913) Classic 43%

  • Nose – Sherry bomb! All those Christmas plum cake elements with an overlay of sweet perfume
  • Palate – Full sherry, lots of rum raisins
  • Finish – Dry sherry

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Gerston Distillery (1796-1882 & 1886-1914) Classic 43%

  • Nose – Briny spice, maritime character, windswept freshness
  • Palate – Toffee, rum caramel, edge of peat
  • Finish – Carries on with smokey elements

I don’t know why, but this whisky reminded me of Kolkata – India’s early British colonial capital. It was a nice surprise… Do also check out the Whisky Lassie review.

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Lossit Distillery (1817-1867) Classic 43%

  • Nose – Lots of smokey peat, salt more than sweet peat, softer bacon, pear drop
  • Palate – A contrast with a softer more delicate creamy profile, hint of pepper
  • Finish – Mellowed out completely

What a contrast – quite pronounced peat on the nose, yet was much more soft and creamy on the palate then a mild finish…

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Just when I thought my sampling as over… out came another Auchnagie at 46% from batch 2/11, bottle no 709, part of their “Archivist” range.

  • Nose – Soft fruits and spice with a slightly tart citrus twist
  • Palate – Then rich, sweet, round full body… in short, delicious!

I sampled seven Lost Distillery whiskies, all ‘speed dating‘ sampling rather than a ‘proper’ sessions, however still gave a sense of quite distinctive styles. Enough to conclude these folks are certainly expanding the horizons of what is possible. The passion and enthusiasm of the team was palpable and I was delighted to have a chance of making their passing acquaintance and wish them well!

Other Lost Distillery whiskies sampled at Whisky Live Singapore include:

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Lost Distillery 1 – Auchnagie, Stratheden, Towiemore

Whisky Live Singapore 2016 had such a dizzying array of whisky options I knew from the start I would survive only by sniffing, swishing and spitting… and by not getting to every single booth.

One that was intriguing was a venture by Lost Distillery Company to recover ‘lost distillery’ styles. Is this the authentic original whisky produced under the distillery name? Certainly not. However is it an archivists equivalent to recreating lost legends? Yes indeed, with meticulous attention to detail. My old academic historian avatar was keen to know more..

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I sampled seven whiskies in two different sets… While I have shared my tasting notes below, keep in mind this was ‘speed dating‘ style sampling rather than sitting down for a ‘proper’ session… hence more a hint of impressions rather than full consideration of the whisky characters.

Ewan Henderson, Global Brand Ambassador, began the 1st set with the Classic Selection – going from lightest style profile gradually building towards the more robust whiskies.

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Auchnagie Distillery (1812-1911) 43%

  • Nose – Lots of cereals, organic, citrus tending more towards grapefruit than orange, light floral
  • Palate – Very smooth & soft, sweet and fruity
  • Finish – Longer than expected, bit spicy – pepper?

The Lost Distillery gent shared there were a number of owners over the years and called this a “Highland masquerading as a Lowland” whisky.

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Strathden Distillery (1829-1926) 43%

  • Nose – Immediate sense of minerals, salty rock, briney, citrus spice
  • Palate – Orchard fruits, chocolate, slightly heavy, was there sweet peat and perhaps a dash sherry too??
  • Finish – Dry, slightly bitter

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Towiemore Distillery (1898-1931) 43?%

  • Nose – Apple crumble, sherry, vanilla, light almonds
  • Palate – Classic speyside
  • Finish – Quite light, hint of spice

It was indeed an intriguing start and proved these folks aren’t just doing some weird gimmicky scheme but sincerely attempting to craft interesting drams. Who am I to say if they are accurate representations of their previous avatars? Yet worth checking out more!

I’ve not included a synopsis of their stories – just click the link on the whisky name to find out more! Makes for a good read.

Coming up next, more Lost Distillery whiskies:

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Whisky Live Singapore – Amrut

Whisky Live Singapore had many wonderful highlights! Some terrific discoveries, great opportunities to revisit familiar whiskies in a distillery progression, chance to meet some wonderful new folks part of the whisky fabric, passionate about the art and craft of producing quality whiskies for our enjoyment.

However there were some disappointments. Alas Amrut was one.

Let me be clear – I’m delighted Amrut have grabbed global attention and put India on the whisky map. Heck this blogs all time top ‘hits’ whisky post is about – believe it or not – Amrut’s MaQintosh whisky!

However my direct personal experiences have largely been wanting.

The evening with Jim Murray was rather mixed.

The lack of access in India to their niche releases garnering international attention is frustrating.

Only in Singapore did I have a chance to try the Fusion 50% and admit – yes it is better than what we’ve tried in India. Even the unique Spectrum which, while very interesting, isn’t my kind of whisky.

Only recently courtesy of Malt Maniac Krishna Nakula did I finally meet an Amrut whisky that I genuinely was impressed with… and it was a sample from a limited edition, only for the Taiwan market whisky.

Seeing Amrut was part of Whisky Live Singapore, I hoped for something special to make its way to the event. A chance to finally properly see more of what is getting the whisky world excited.

Nope.

The standards.

And worse?

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The entire two days of the event their booth was mostly empty, the people staffing it seemed completely bored and totally disinterested in being there.

One had to wonder – really – what a missed opportunity!

Let me re-iterate, I want to be a well wisher. Yet not with this experience…

Other Amrut experiences:

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Whisky Live Singapore – Dalmore 18 year 43%

At Whisky Live Singapore, Dalmore was one distillery I fully intended to come back and spend a bit more time with… So when I first waltzed past, I had no intention of stopping as planned to return in earnest later.

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Except I simply could not resist a nip of the 18 year… who could?

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Dalmore 18 year 43%

  • Rich raisins, dark fruits, chocolate, with a truly lovely finish!

As always, at Whisky Live it is but a fleeting impression rather than full focus proper tasting.

And yes – that is Jonathan Driver behind the Dalmore 18 year.

In the end, I  only made this one short pit stop with a quick sip without an opportunity to return. Another on the list to hopefully catch another time.

For those interested, here is what the folks over at Dalmore have to say about this whisky:

An evolution of The Dalmore house style, this 18 year old expression harnesses bolder notes.

A robust and formidable whisky, The Dalmore 18 year old showcases the result of extended maturation and the influence of the wood.

Matured initially for 14 years in American white oak ex-bourbon casks, the spirit is then transferred to 30 year old Matusalem oloroso sherry butts for a further four years.

These sherry butts from the world-renowned sherry house Gonzalez Byass are selected exclusively for The Dalmore.

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Whisky Live Singapore – Old Pulteney

A highlight from 2016 was attending the Old Pulteney Masterclass at Whisky Live Singapore.

Andy Hannah, Global Brands Development Manager of International Beverages, took us on a journey… providing my 1st sip of their new make spirit and an opportunity to revisit the 12, 17 and 21 year side-by-side.

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New make spirit 69%

  • Nose – Very organic, meaty, vegetative, light sulfur, walnut, leather, clean and robust
  • Palate – An initial sting, then rich, quite remarkable how fruity it was on the palate
  • Finish – Oily, lasts and lasts

Very forward, bursting with character.

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Old Pulteney 12 year 40%

  • Nose – A suggestion of salt, sugared nuts, vegetative, returned to find a splash of sweet spices
  • Palate – Easy, light citrus, honey sweet, floral, smooth
  • Finish – Short, snappy finish

Andy called this their everyday “all round dram” – easy to see why with such an approachable whisky. He also noted that if you are in the US expect to find it at 43% vs the balance of the world bottled at 40%.

2016-11-13-old-pulteney-17Old Pulteney 17 year 46%

  • Nose – Delightful citrus, tropical, peaches, guava, toffee
  • Palate – Full and chewy style, more substance, soaked rains, lots of pears, More complexity, full mouth feel, more pronounced and intense, apricots, lots going on
  • Finish – Dry and spicy
  • Water – Can open up but don’t drown! (my personal preference is without water)

Andy described the 17 year as the “brother – forthright with lots to say” noting it is matured in oloroso sherry with a different style than the 12 or even 21 year Old Pulteney.

Old Pulteney 21 year 46% 

  • Nose – Soft, light, fresh fruits – particularly apple, pear, warm
  • Palate – Coats the tongue beautifully, creamy spice yet soft. Wonderful, elegant, creamy mouthfeel with a hint of smoke
  • Finish – Dry finish
  • Water – Again can add but… really… why mess with a good thing?

Andy described the 21 year as the “refined, elegant sister.” Some comments around the table noted that it is far too easy to drink and hence quite dangerous!

Andy also shared this was the 2012 Jim Murray Whisky Bible world whisky of the year, with the influence of sherry, yet in a different direction than the 17 year.

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Discussion then turned to queries about the Lighthouse range – Dunnet HeadNoss Head, Duncansby Head. Andy shared while all are NAS, they typically are 8-10 years.

Then queries about what makes the 89 Vintage so special? Andy called it a “happy accident” as it was matured in a cask that previously held Islay whisky so there was a soft peat touch.

When asked if there are likely to be more single casks released – he confirmed quite likely as and when something interesting is found.

Overall it was a mighty fine way to experience Old Pulteney with their affable knowledgable global brand manager.

Old Pulteney

PS – I was fortunate to be a guest at Whisky Live Singapore, courtesy of InterBev

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