Whisky is a worldwide phenomenon and a passion that overcomes mere boundaries and time zones. The eternal greeting and gesture of opening a bottle, sharing with friends, helps breaks down barriers and smooths the road ahead.
This is underlined to the MALT team as we receive comments and interact with our readership from across the world. On a personal level, when I travel, whisky remains a constant source of delight and discovery. Meeting friends old and new, receiving kind words about the efforts we put into this online resource. The sense that a mere drop of liquid can be a conduit to so much more than its physicality. Even now, as I prepare my home for the annual visit of Andy from the Tormore4 for the Fife Whisky Festival. I also have the prospect shortly afterwards of welcoming friends from California to the whisky nirvana that is Scotland.
Whisky continues to amaze. Last month I helped organise a low-key charity tasting that raised £462 for a Glasgow homeless charity. Yes, we could have raised much more by selling the bottles online but that’s not what whisky is for. The interaction, discoveries and delight attendees experienced were tangible and rewarding. You cannot put a price on this nor the collective joy of trying and exploring whiskies. Whisky should be fun and not merely a commodity.
I was recently contacted by Billy from the Malt Affair, via my Instagram channel, about a sending over a couple of samples from casks they had bottled and released in Singapore. An interesting proposition and rather than just talk about either of these distilleries, I felt the opportunity to explore the local scene in Singapore was too great and of interest. The allure of whisky and the lengths that some will go to share their passion…
Malt: What is it about whisky that attracted you and your friends?
The Malt Affair: The vast profiles that resonates differently with every individual. The innocence of it all when we get together and “geek out” on whisky.
Malt: Can you give us some background to the Malt Affair, the team, its inception and how it came to be what it is today?
The Malt Affair: Co-founded by Lucas, Jacky, Kris and Billy, the 4 of us are first and foremost friends. Getting together for regular sessions, we sought to share our passion for whiskies by sharing our personal collection with others. There was an enormous amount of whiskies that we had opened and we’ve learned so much through sharing. We wanted to create a stage where we could share this passion with the broader whisky community and our friends.
Malt: How would you describe the whisky scene in Singapore currently?
The Malt Affair: It’s a relatively mature scene that is still growing at a rapid pace. 2018 alone saw the opening of 20+ new whisky bars. We have bars catering to almost every whisky drinker you can imagine. Whisky drinkers are almost spoilt for choice.
Malt: Word of mouth is a key thing personally for discovering great or interesting whiskies. As an onlooker from afar what resources do you rely upon? Is MALT known in Singapore?
The Malt Affair: With information readily available today at any place and at any time as long as you had an internet connection, resources such as reviews, scores and price guides are at your fingertips before you try or buy a whisky. Of the many great online resources available, MALT is certainly one which have heard referenced time and time again. Ultimately though, our experience has been that your own palate is the best gauge on what is a great whisky for you. Word of mouth is important, and we think that having a group that you can drink whiskies with is equally important as there is a trust factor especially when a recommendation is made by someone you know, and whose palate you trust.
Malt: How easy is it to source and purchase whisky in Singapore? Does a good selection of importers and stores exist? Or are you more likely to band together and import as a group from shops abroad or auctions?
The Malt Affair: The whisky retail scene in Singapore has been, in past years, fairly mainstream where the majority of retailers were “generalists”, retailing wine and whisky etc.. The offering was fairly standard, apart from La Maison du Whisky which imports and retails a good selection of whiskies. More often than not, it made more financial sense for a buyer to pick up the same whisky online from an overseas retailer, although this would only really apply to a small select group of drinkers who are familiar and comfortable with overseas retailers or auction houses. That said, we have recently been witnessing the rise of small but ambitious local outfits who import and retail some interesting whisky from esoteric bottlers and labels. We are fortunate to call many of these retailers our friends, and we are proud to have showcased their fine selection of bottlings at our events.
Malt: The Malt Affair organises its own festival during the prime time whisky month of May. This year will be your 4th show, how has it grown and what future plans do you have?
The Malt Affair: We believe that whisky drinkers in Singapore have been missing out on accessible, no-frills whisky festivals where whisky is the sole focus. Historically, only option was to travel overseas to Japan or Europe for one of these festivals, which really is not feasible for most. We started this festival with only 4 local exhibitors with 100 attendees and 120 whiskies. We now have overseas private collectors exhibiting at our event together with many major local bars in Singapore.
We believe in staying true to the cause, ensuring that all whiskies exhibited are carefully curated in terms of pricing and selection. This has helped us attract a growing attendance in each of our past 3 shows.
We hope to partner with more bars and private collectors, both locally and overseas, so that we can continue to offer a carefully curated range of amazing whiskies at affordable prices.
Malt: From your event photo galleries the shows seem to be very relaxed, informal and featuring a wide selection of whiskies. How important is keeping a sense of fun around whisky for the team and are the vendors mostly comprised of local enthusiasts?
The Malt Affair: We think that in recent times, whisky has gotten a little too “technical”. Everyone is now obsessed with scores and telling people what they think is the best whisky in the world. Frankly, it doesn’t really matter that much – one man’s meat is another man’s poison. We think that the true joy in whisky is found in the earnest bantering with fellow enthusiasts and friends, or seeing the look on one’s face when they tried something truly amazing for the first time. These moments are what drive us, and we hope, will continue to keep the community together.
As to our vendors, we have been supported by both local and overseas private collectors, as well as major whisky bars in Singapore. Our relationships with our vendors are good, and we are fortunate that we have a mutual understanding that the event must be about the whisky, with the exclusion of egos and profits. We think this spirit is reflected rather organically in the event photos!
Malt: In the UK and internationally, I’ve seen collectors and vendors chasing – for want of a betterphrase – ‘new money’ which often means extremely financially endowed individuals from the Far East or beyond. Are these individuals reflective of the local demographic in your whisky community?
The Malt Affair: There will always be pockets of individuals who have such extreme financial capacity, regardless of where they’re from. We personally know of some really avid collectors and amongst these collectors, their collections vary tremendously. We have interacted with many attendees at our events, each at different stages in their whisky journey, and we can safely say that not all have the financial appetite to buy any bottle they want, as and when they want to. We think it is also key to note that sometimes, an individual might seem to have paid more than fair value for a certain bottle. However, it could be due to the fact that this individual has tried the whisky and has valued it much more than others – hence we believe it is always important to see both sides.
Malt: At MALT we seem to spend a great deal of time criticising the quality of whisky we’re seeing. How do you view today’s whisky versus bygone releases?
The Malt Affair: Well, it’s going to be a miracle these days if we are going to see a newly released equivalent of a Bowmore Bicentenary or a Bowmore Bouquet. Although if some time is taken to explore, one would be encouraged to know there are distilleries that have been quietly distilling some great whiskies at very decent prices. Springbank, Clynelish and Port Charlotte, to name a few distilleries, have been doing a really good job with their late 90’s and 2000’s distillate bottlings. Interestingly, we had the privilege of tasting a 50’s distillate Springbank at our second event. We found traces of that distillate in some of today’s modern releases, which speaks volumes about Springbank as a distillery.
Malt: In the Singapore market is there any particular distilleries, brands or styles of whisky that are popular?
The Malt Affair: We have such a diverse community now in Singapore so there is really no particular favourite distillery or style. However, the usual suspects such as Macallan, Laphroaig and a whole slew of Japanese distilleries still appeal to most of the casual drinkers – many of which are still not comfortable with cask strength whiskies.
Malt: Moving on let’s talk about your own releases including the 2 samples you kindly sent over. What motivated you to release your own cask selections and how difficult is it to source and import whiskies into Singapore?
The Malt Affair: We wanted to commemorate our 1 year anniversary together with The Swan Song, which coincidentally was also celebrating their first anniversary and our favourite whisky bar in Singapore, something we can call our own.
Sourcing was relatively difficult, given how geographically distant we are from the various sources. However, we managed to pull through and got rather lucky with these 2 on our first blind tasting. Importing into Singapore is always going be fairly straightforward, given how efficient the local tax structure is set up for importation of spirits.
Malt: I’m sure some onlookers will ask about the prices of your releases and how these are comprised – I presume this is as a result of the costs involved, but potentially taxation laws? This perhaps brings about the query how expensive are releases in Singapore generally compared to the UK?
The Malt Affair: Unfortunately, as all things that are imported into Singapore (especially from the western side of the world), shipping and operational costs (lack of scale) are the two main contributors. Taxes also play a part in the overall cost of the bottle. It is true that releases are generally more expensive in Singapore, which is why most retailers do not see any benefits in bringing a wide selection of whiskies from various IB’s or distilleries when one can simply purchase them online.
Malt: Your 3 current releases are distinctly different and showcase different countries (Ireland, America and Scotland) is a deliberate ploy, or just pick the best cask?
The Malt Affair: We did blind tastings before we decided on the bottles. Our top pick was unanimously the Tennessee Bourbon. We wanted a bottle that fitted the “daily dram” category and the Caol Ila did just that – fuss-free and dependable. The 1993 Irish was a little different, as it was bottled with one of the founder’s sons (the popsicle label design was requested by his son).
Malt: I appreciate a good label like many others, do you work with the Whisky Agency design team or utilise your own artist for the concept?
The Malt Affair: For this series, we worked with their design team by contributing our ideas. We wanted to reflect the diversity of the whisky community in our labels with a little punt on some of the stereotypes that most people have of whisky drinkers. It was rather easy as we only had to run through 3 to 4 iterations to be happy with our final designs.
Malt: Do you have any future releases lined up at all or plans to visit Scotland and pick out something yourselves?
The Malt Affair: We plan to do this annually to mark our anniversary. But it will be subject to the quality of the whisky as we do not want to be bottling something for the sake of it. Should there be an opportunity to do so, you can count on us to be there.
Malt: If you could bottle a specific distillery which one would you pick and why?
The Malt Affair: Clynelish. For the quality of the whisky, there’s hardly anything close at the moment, especially those from the late 90’s. But hey, that’s just our opinion.
Malt: How do you view the future of whisky as a whole and for Singapore?
The Malt Affair: I think we’re going through a particularly interesting phase today, with an exponential increase in people getting into whiskies for a whole variety of reasons. However, like all things that are of limited in supply, it is inevitable that prices go up. The only fear really is that it will get to a point where it becomes rather inaccessible for new whisky enthusiasts – the community dwindles, less whiskies get tasted and knowledge starts to get lost over time.
This applies not only to Singapore, but globally as well. All that doom and gloom aside, we believe that a vibrant whisky community which gives its best will help to stem the tide, and it is our hope that whisky events such as ours will continue to guide the conversation in the right direction.
Malt Affair Caol Ila 2007 – review
This release is available online for $250 Singapore dollars.
Colour: Sun bleached pebble.
On the nose: Yep typical Caol Ila. A spent bonfire and coastal brine dominates with lashings of spray and sea salt. Kindling, smoked apples, lemon oil and a biscuit base. All wrapped up in a puff of smoke.
In the mouth: Not as forceful or robust as some Caol Ila’s of a similar age. Juicy fruits with the emphasis on apples, a mineral note then an earthy aspect before it goes smoked apples on the finish. Ham hock, a sugary sweetness, pine cones, cardboard and crushed grapes.
Malt Affair Tennessee Bourbon Whiskey 2011 – review
The mystery whiskey will set you back in Singapore dollars $220 online.
On the nose: More subtle than most bourbons I’ve endured lately. A cinnamon swirl, caramel and gooseberries followed by fennel and a rich butterscotch. Of course, there’s vanilla but more restrained with a touch of varnish towards the end.
In the mouth: A very calm and approachable whiskey. A good mix of wood spice and traditional homemade caramel; more vanilla and cinnamon flavours. Allspice, mace, maple syrup and a peppery toffee on the finish.
Firstly, my thanks to Billy for taking the time to answer my questions. Hopefully, it has given you a little more insight into the world of whisky from another continent and maybe a new festival to visit should you venture to Singapore.
As for both of their whiskies, these are good selections and scored as such. I’d always refer you to our Scoring Guide as we don’t hide behind the 100-point scale and we use every number on our 1-10 scale – remembering 5 is average. Also, I would have deducted a mark for the price of these whiskies if they were from the UK, but they cost what they do because they are sourced and shipped to Singapore. A logistical challenge and something we touched upon during our conversation.
Clearly, whisky is a worldwide passion and as someone living in Scotland, I’m extremely proud to see how our national drink (after Irn Bru) is adored in all corners of the globe.
The photographs kindly provided by the Malt Affair.