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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The Single Cask, Singapore

Let’s face it – whisky in Singapore is expensive. However the range of spirits available vs  my other usual haunts like Jakarta and Mumbai, makes it a favourite spot to try something new and typically pick up an overpriced bottle or two.

So I’m also always seeking out another “watering hole” to whet my whistle and expand my tasting horizons…

Enter The Single Cask at Chjimes…

My whisky tasting companion and I were considering a few different whisky flights, veering towards something lighter and more nuanced. We riffled through page after page of suggested flights and whisky options. Our eyes wandered over the shelves displaying whiskies from near and far.

Then our friendly neighbourhood fellow whisky blogger cum bartender (Brendan Pillai of WhiskyMate) brought out a Bruichladdich Port Charlotte trio for a sniff! Immediately our mood shifted to a peatier predilection…

Our attention was captured by a particular Islay flight that contained names new to us. Now, lest you think any of these are distilleries, these are independent bottlers selecting casks from Islay distilleries, keeping the original whisky unspoken.

This seems to be a growing trend to keep promiscuous single malt drinkers engaged! Tease them without telling the distillery so they are tempted to try and the guess! Yeah… we fell for it too… I like to call it it the “Whisky Guessing Game!

What did we try? Check out what ultimately caught our fancy

The Single Cask is located at 01-25 Chijmes Caldwell House, 30 Victoria Street, Singapore 187996 / info@thesinglecask.sg / +65 6837 0953

PS – They also have an online store and no, this was NOT a sponsored post! 🙂

Other Singapore whisky joints:

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Ledaig 18 year 46.3%

Our June 2015 monsoon tasting trio featured whiskies from Ireland, USA and Scotland:

The Scottish contribution may have been last but was definitely not the least!

Ledaig 18 year (Whisky Lady)

Ledaig 18 year (Whisky Lady)

  • Nose –  Opening up a box of biscuits, the dive  deep into the forest with wet moss, dripping in humidity, whiff of smoked bacon that became increasingly prominent, some fruit cake or Christmas pudding, fresh sawed lumber, sea salt, cod liver oil, musty
  • Taste – A meaty peaty, chewy body… As our host shared, as a vegetarian, the whisky simply doesn’t fall into a vegetarian profile so she had no real reference point! Tumeric, smokey tobacco, smooth and oddly mild, oily
  • Finish – Sweet, salty but significant. Some thought it had a salty bitter quality.
Ledaig is a whisky line from the Tobermory distillery – the only whisky distillery on the Isle of Mull. While it hearkens its origins to 1798, it has a checkered history with a revolving door of owners, times when the doors shut then re-opened and is currently owned by Burn Stewart Distillers who also own Deanston and Bunnahabhain distilleries.
The Tobermory distillery produces whiskies in various avatars:
  • The peated single malt Ledaig expressions
  • Some whiskies – both single malts and blends – under the Tobermory brand
  • And can be found in blends like Scottish Leader and Black Bottle
We previously sampled the Ledaig 1997 (bottled in 2013 i.e. 16 yr)  – this had some elements in common yet the 18-year-old was distinctively more ‘meaty’.
Ledaig 18 label (Whisky Lady)

Ledaig 18 label (Whisky Lady)

Official tasting notes:

A wonderfully smoky island single malt Scotch whisky which balances sweet and floral aromas with the richness and warmth of sea salt and smoke.

This 18 Year Old Ledaig represents the rebirth of the style of malt whisky that would have originally been produced at the distillery.

This sought after peated Hebridean style Single Malt Scotch Whisky balances rich and fruity, sherried smokiness with seaweed and light creosote that allows for a long and quite pungent finish with more smoke and a hint of liquorice and sea spray. Unchill-filtered @ 46.3% ABV.

Each whisky in our June tasting session was completely different from the others. For some, the winner of the day the American Westland – showing what quality, care and creativity can accomplish! For others, it was the Ledaig.
Monsoon trio - Tullamore DEW Phoenix, Westland Cask No 395, Ledaig 18 year (Whisky Lady)

Monsoon trio – Tullamore DEW Phoenix, Westland Cask No 395, Ledaig 18 year (Whisky Lady)

Taste Test!

In our journey to explore interesting whiskies, we often do more than just sample the whisky alone.

In our January session, we started with a little experiment.

Our host reminded us that the sensory perception of taste is limited to just 5 – sweet, salt, sour, bitter and umami.

Do you trust me?

Do you trust me?

He then instructed us to hold our nose, pop a powder from a vial into our mouth and taste it – still keeping our nose plugged.

The immediate taste was sweet like brown sugar.

He then requested we unplug our nose – instant recognition of cinnamon! Which was completely absent without the sense of smell.

All this to remind us just how important the sense of smell is to what we perceive as flavours.

So when we nose our whisky then savour on our palate, what we perceive as ‘taste’ is powerfully influenced by our sense of smell.

Put another way… don’t waste good whisky by sipping it when you have a nasty cold!

Mystery vials

Mystery vials

Whiskies sampled in our January tasting session:

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Welcome!

Once upon a time there was a lass who grew up in the Canadian prairies.

She grew curious about the world and started to go on adventures… eventually calling Bombay, India home… while continuing to work around Asia.

Along the way, a kind soul (or two) introduced her to a single malt (or two or three..). Over the years, she met even more whisky aficionados and together they formed a private monthly whisky tasting club.

No rarified experts pontificating, these folks simply pick up an interesting bottle here and there, sharing a wee dram or two, sipping, savouring and sometimes even describing the samples in terms that resonate to an Indian and international palate.

So welcome and hope you enjoy a few tales and tasting notes for your delight and delectation!

Time to add a wee dram to sample...

Time to add a wee dram to sample…