Tucked away in the heart of Singapore lies La Maison du Whisky, a satellite of the institution that first arrived on the scene in Paris in 1968. This was my first time in Singapore, but I could see why so many people stay. The holiday had sat there on the horizon in my calendar for the past few months, the far-off oasis from the desert of London city life. Beautiful sunshine, delicious cuisine, a friendly local and ex-pat community, short flights to beautiful beach destinations and a thriving nightlife all make up one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. Moreover, everything was so clean, organised and efficient, I was left in awe when I compared it to my daily life in London.
Now that you’ve heard my ode to Singapore, on to the whisky. You will have read Jason’s interview with The Malt Affair about the Singapore whisky scene. My adventure started a bit differently. Whisky was almost (almost) an afterthought on this trip. With a bit of time to spare on my first night out in Singapore, I convinced my friends to stop at La Maison du Whisky for one drink before moving on for the night. Other Singapore staples, like The Auld Alliance and The Single Cask, would have to wait. What followed, however, was unexpected…
I introduced myself to the head of bar, Jonathan, who, along with his colleague, Charlotte, graciously showed me around the extensive selection of whisky. My friends, who had kindly entertained this one stop, were happy to get involved.
Now, what made this such a special experience? In this case, I delegated my whisky guide duties to Charlotte and Jonathan. My request? To choose what, to them, truly represented the La Maison du Whisky standard of passion and excellence for whisky. Their first pick was the Ben Nevis 21-year-old (distillery bottling for La Maison du Whisky) and their second pick was… the Port Ellen 35-year-old (the Signatory 30th anniversary bottling). Wait, what? Yes, you heard me right.
Ben Nevis, one of those distilleries that has, until recently, never received much recognition, but is looking to change the status quo. The demand for this Highland malt has increased year-on-year and for good reason – the quality of both the distillery and independent bottlings has really caught the eye of drinkers around the world. Now, while some of these LMdW special release bottlings may adorn the shelves of collectors, it is actually reasonably priced (EUR 189 at the time of this article). That hopefully means that the trend of lots of bottles of Ben Nevis open for enjoyment continue.
Port Ellen… What can I say, really? Lauded as one of those distilleries that we see on the top shelf at any bar and can never really bring ourselves to shell out on. I have been told this is something special but have always wondered what it brought to the table. You heard me correctly, this was my first Port Ellen. This is a dram I had searched out for years and here, in Singapore, two very generous people made my holiday even more extraordinary. So, the first choice had my interest, James and Charlotte’s second choice had my attention.
Ben Nevis 21-Year-Old 1996 – review
Colour: Roasted chestnuts
On the nose: Orange peel kicks things off. This is engulfed by dark chocolate and caramel. Some red berries complement all of this (mostly raspberries with slight notes of cranberry). Then, a hint of lemon drops – this develops into aromas of liquorice and light menthol.
In the mouth: Booming cacao notes. The orange in the nose has shifted to lemon peel – a bit more bite but still a lovely and soft citrus note. A bit of sour candy as well as some red currants accompany these flavours. The essence of the Ben Nevis spirit still comes through a bit, even in this more mature whisky. Finally, a bit more fruit – pears and apples – drift into the liquid. The smooth texture makes this a lovely drinking experience. The long finish that adds a bit more ripe fruit, oak and sherry notes makes it even better.
Port Ellen 35-Year-Old 1982 – review
On the nose: nice meaty start – steak and beef drippings. Light firewood smoke gives this a bit of balance, but a lovely maritime feel develops alongside with the presence of seaweed and saltwater. Herbs and barley come through with hints of tar to develop the complexity. Finally, some medicinal notes close out a beautiful nose.
In the mouth: The light smoke comes first and the tarry notes follow on from the nose. Then, this dram adds some minerality to the mix. But this is all completely in tune with the salt and beef barbeque flavours. Dashes of strawberry appear with touches of citrus – a splash of lemon juice. A medium-long finish for a dram where everything can be strong and subtle at the same time – delicious, intricate and in balance.
The Ben Nevis was a charming whisky. Again, it demonstrates the quality that many distilleries have been missing for so long (and that we have missed out on for just discovering it now). The sherry influence was just slightly overpowering. Ideally, a bit more time in a less powerful sherry cask would do the trick. Therefore, in my opinion, not the foremost example of the distillery’s character or potential. But, overall, it was delicious. So how can I complain? It just lacked the extra complexity to put this at a 9.
The Port Ellen? Sacré bleu! This was encroyable. Truly something special and it clearly lived up to the billing. Very curious that this came from a refill sherry butt, which is why these tastings are so interesting. Do you have £1,575 lying around? Nor do I. But, if you do or you can try a dram at a more reasonable price, then by all means please do!
As for the rest of the tasting, my friends had to “settle” for the following: Chichibu Paris Edition, Kavalan, Amrut and Blanton’s exclusive bottlings for LMdW. Oh, I tried those as well. So, this article might see a sequel (foreshadowing).
After this experience, there will no doubt be a return to Singapore (for longer this time). As part of that, given my experience here, that will certainly include further exploration of the Singapore whisky scene.
A big thank you to Charlotte and Jonathan for their lovely hospitality. Lead image from The whisky exchange.