Recently I sampled some whiskies sent by the guys at The Single Cask and I decided to find out more about them. If you haven’t already, please check out that review on The Single Cask Vertical. We all love an indie and today I decided to do an interview, for which company director Ben and PR guy Tom gave us all of the insights of this growing brand. I will also be reviewing some recent releases from their collection at the end, but for now let’s see what the boys have to say!
MALT: where did it all begin for The Single Cask?
The Single Cask began with the work of our company director, Ben Curtis, during his time acting as a distributor in South-East Asia for a number of Scottish whisky distilleries. Amongst the brands he worked with was the Glenfarclas. It was the Glenfaclas ‘Family Cask’ range, which introduced him to the unique nature of single cask bottlings. What started out as a personal interest soon grew, leading to the launch of “The Single Cask” brand and the opening of the first “The Single Cask” bar in Singapore and a greater number of our own special bottlings each year.
MALT: tell us a little about your brand and what you do (what makes you guys stand out from the crowd)?
TSC: we are in no hurry to bottle everything we come across; instead we believe in capturing unique spirits one cask at a time, so nothing is rushed! Ben’s background includes acting as a broker in cask trades between different parties, which is something we still do to this day. If we find a cask that our team can’t agree on, we simply pass it on and keep searching for something that really interests us.
MALT: prior to TSC I know that you worked for some time importing in the Asian market. Is this now an important area for you – I assume you have managed to build good relationships?
TSC: we still have a lot of strong ties to the region, not just in terms of the business relationships but also friends and family! The original bar, The Single Cask, is still going strong and managed by our whisky guru, Brendan Pillai. We host numerous events and tastings there, such as our recent contest in partnership with Bruichladdich which put some indie bottlings up against their own expressions! It’s great to bring some of that Scottish whisky magic all the way to Singapore. The interest in the unique single cask bottlings is what is driving the market in Asia, they are always seeking something new and exciting which makes Singapore our shop window to this market, Important absolutely!
MALT: where are you guys based now or is it all over the world?
TSC: it’s pretty much all over the world! We have members of the team across a few different time zones: Ben and Cindy in London, Brendan, YX and Wei De in Singapore, Torsten in Holland and myself Tom in Edinburgh! So we’re quite used to messages pinging at odd times with new ideas.
MALT: I’ve noticed that your company is rather male-dominated at the moment, do you plan on hiring a lovely female member of staff? Women generally have superior taste buds 😛
TSC: we’re always happy to work with anyone who loves good whisky as much as we do! As well as great writers. While she may be outnumbered, Cindy, Ben’s wife is definitely ‘the boss’ in many cases but I’m sure she’d appreciate some extra backup.
MALT: where did your passion for whisky come from?
TSC: we were all fortunate to meet great people in the industry, learn from them and share their passion (which I think is true for a lot of people in this business). Ben worked with Ian McWilliam and George Grant, from Glenfarclas Jonathon Scott of Glengoyne and many other independent distillers and bottlers during his time as their distributor; Brendan’s first trip to Islay included a chance meeting with Jim McEwan followed by drams at Bruichladdich; Tom learned all about the technical aspects of whisky at university whilst studying distillation in Edinburgh… Torsten met Ben when he wanted his own supply of casks for his own bottling’s and is now part of the family also! It’s hard not to love whisky when you get to work with the people who make it what it is.
MALT: what are your thoughts of getting into whisky “so late in the game”?
TSC: it never feels too late! One of the fascinating aspects of whisky is that it is simultaneously growing and changing every year whilst seeming to remain timeless. More and more people around the world are enjoying whisky and learning about it, making it all the more rewarding trying to capture the best examples that the industry has to offer and preserving them as single cask bottlings.
MALT: what is the future of your brand, is it world domination?
TSC: world domination sounds a bit ominous, but sure! We certainly aim to ensure that anyone in the world is able to find an exceptional bottling from their favourite distillery; something that takes them by surprise and makes them see that whisky in a whole new light. More whisky is being distilled every year, so the search for the perfect cask never stops! But ask Ben and Cindy that same question and they will for sure agree that world domination is the only way forward!!
MALT: what was TSC’s first bottle of whisky?
TSC: we released 4 at the same time actually; Glen Grant 20 year old, Aultmore 22 year old, Strathmill 22 year old and a Bunnahabhain 23 year old.
MALT: on your website you say you pick out exceptional casks; what are the qualities you look for in these casks? Who makes these decisions, is it a group effort?
TSC: it’s definitely a group effort, usually involving some healthy debate over email, instant messengers, etc. We look for something that is ‘interesting’, standing out from all the other dozens or hundreds of similar casks from that distillery. We never bottle anything that we wouldn’t be happy to have on our shelves at home to share with friends
MALT: are these casks hard to come by? There are a lot of new indies and distilleries out there, how do you manage the competition?
TSC: it’s certainly harder to find casks from some distilleries than others, but we’re in no danger of running out yet! There really is a phenomenal amount of whisky being made just in Scotland alone, the vast majority of it intended for blends that will ship worldwide; all it takes is for a few to slip through the cracks. The trick is being able to home in on the truly exceptional examples.
MALT: do you think we are experiencing a whisky bubble; if so will it last or be larger than life?
TSC: the global market seems more complex now than ever. There so many emerging markets and changing trends, and they all have their own preferences, so we don’t think of it as being ‘one bubble’. What might not be popular in one region will fly off the shelves in another.
MALT: do you think that all of the new distilleries popping up all around the world is a good or bad thing?
TSC: it can only be a good thing! We’ve been branching out a little ourselves; one of our favourite bottlings in recent years has been the heavily peated whisky from The English Whisky Co., which always takes people by surprise in blind tastings, and we’ve gone through a few American whiskies – even some Caribbean rum!
MALT: whisky with an e or without and why?
TSC: for the most part, it’s Scotch whisky for us! We have added the E and bottled a couple of American whiskies. We haven’t as yet found an Irish at the right price, or a supplier of Single Casks in Ireland! (if anyone can recommend one that would be great!) Honestly though as long as it begins with WHISK we are happy!!
MALT: if you had to drink one whisky for the rest of your life, which one would it be?
TSC: I don’t think any of us could settle on an answer! The spirit of single cask whisky is in finding subtle variations with each one. We never get tired of any one distillery, because we could bottle half a dozen casks, all the same age and of the same type of wood, and enjoy six very different drams. That search for variety keeps us going, so the thought of having just one doesn’t compute!
MALT: anything new and exciting that TSC fans should be on the lookout for over the coming weeks and months?
TSC: we’ve just finalised our next bottling run, so there will be some interesting releases in the next couple of months including more whisky from Islay, some ex-sherry casks, and a few from distilleries we’ve never bottled before… Maybe even a few octave casks that will be a dark as the night!
A big thanks to Ben, Tom and the rest of the team at TSC for providing such thoughtful and insightful answers. If you’re looking to try any of their whiskies, have a look at their website. It is a plethora of vibrant colours and is very aesthetically pleasing. You may even be tempted in buying a few to try yourself! In the meantime here are my reviews of a few of the samples Tom sent over, starting with a TSC favourite mentioned above.
The Single Cask English Whisky Co. 7yo, 64.2% – review
Colour: yellow gold
On the nose: foremost it is smoky with a fishy sea kelp and dried wakame that lingers. Then the smells of cleaning out a fireplace (partially burned soft wood, coal tars) and walking past a burnt out bonfire. The sweetness comes through with icing sugar where it hits the back of your throat and a ripe strawberry tang mixing with malty sourness. Newmake spirit is there with stewed apple. Peated salted lemon rind giving a coastal vibe with the salinic brine. Rubber wellies and cereal notes dusted with black pepper are present. Nose it long enough, your nose feels on fire but in a good way (probably because of the ABV).
In the mouth: instantly salty then becoming sweet with white flesh fruit such as grapes and apples covered in lemon juice. Heat from both white and black pepper and fresh hot chillies play on the tongue. The mouthfeel is quite chewy but bitter tannins come through, slowly drying everything out. Smoky from charred wood and tarred ropes at the seaside then the coastal brine shines through with salted crispy seaweed. The finish is medium with a hot burn on the throat. The salty brine begins to dry out the tongue and there is a feeling like finishing a glass of cold apple juice.
The Single Cask Ledaig 26yo, 45% – review
Colour: yellow gold.
On the nose: sweet with icing sugar, honey and caramel. Vanilla is there with an earthy aroma. Weirdly I get a cheesy hint. It is dry with ash smoke, dustiness and chalk. Big hit of estery travel sweeties then a mish-mash of subtle flavours: full of peaches, hint of petrol fumes, pear drops, crunchy green apples, fleeting fresh citrus scent, a mix of limes and yuzu and watery strawberries. There are cereal notes and yeasty dough in the background with herbs not too dissimilar to stale dried basil and oregano. The hint of cheesiness and the herby yeasty dough makes it not unlike an uncooked pizza. After some oxidisation I get the scents of playdoh and paper towels. A milky lactic and condensed milk aroma is there too eventually.
In the mouth: sweet with sugar syrup and weak honey. Salty brine with a burnt charred wood and well brewed black keemun tea comes through which makes it bitter and tannic. White pepper spice makes an appearance with a drying oakiness and slightly burnt porridge oats. It is cheesy and the mouthfeel is thin yet oily and quite chewy. The liquid dries out the top of the tongue where it is slightly astringent. More tea flavours such as dried oolong tea soaked prunes comes out with tangy dried sweetened plums and finally malted dark chocolate is there. The finish is medium lasting with a pleasant burn. Drying with the aftertaste of eating a bitter gourd then a sweet milky pudding taste at the end.
The Single Cask Ardmore 10yo, 59.4% – review
Color: white wine
On the nose: lightly smoked fish and incense sticks initially then fresh green grass comes through. Inhaling sharply, there is menthol and the feeling of fire on the nostrils with scents of a hot firepit and burnt hay. Sweetness from chocolate powder, barley sugar and honey makes an appearance. Vanilla and citrus rind flavoured porridge comes out with a malty hit. Overtime it becomes quite vegetal with boiled cabbages, broad beans and brussels sprouts giving a sulphurous note and it is somewhat meaty.
In the mouth: fiery hot with white pepper, ash and coal. It is sweet with honey and white grapes (minus the powdery skins). Sugar water linger that coats the throat a little as it goes down. A hint of bitterness with a sulphurous tang play in the mouth. Fruitiness from dried red jujube dates and goji berries with fresh plums and apricots. It becomes biscuity with digestives and then slightly nutty with toasted sesame seeds and sesame oil. The finish is quite hot, but it is not an unpleasant burning fire on the throat and tongue. Bitter tannins line the mouth after a wee while but it is never too drying and remains pleasant. The aftertaste of white grapes lingers on the finish that is medium to long.
These three stood out the most and so I felt compelled to write about them and share my tasting notes. As you can see from my scores I found them all to be above average. The reason I picked the three I reviewed today is not necessarily because they had tasted better, but rather because they had some interesting notes that I wanted to share with Malt’s readers.
Firstly, I have tried a few peated drams from The English Whisky Co and they have been most enjoyable. The whisky may be fairly young but I see the company doing good things. In times like these when there are so many younger aged whiskies, it’s good to know who is producing decent liquid and who is bottling these whiskies.
The Ledaig was a funny one. Every time I went back, I kept getting more and more flavours and it was just wild. I reckon I could write an essay on what I was getting from the nose itself. Lastly, the Ardmore was simply one that I really enjoyed. It was not super peaty, which is my preference, and it had this sulphurous note which sounds unpleasant from my description but was actually really quite tasty. In my experience so far The Single Cask are offering both style (see the aforementioned website) and substance, and I have enjoyed chatting to the boys about the company. Keep an eye out for their bottlings and give them a try if one takes your fancy!
Images kindly provided by The Single Cask.