This feels like an opportune moment to return to Singapore and specifically The Malt Affair for their latest batch of releases. Regulars will know, we’ve been in this neighbourhood previously for a solid, varied selection of whiskies imported and released locally.
Do check out the linked article about for the background on this group of friends who started out with their own whisky festival – which continues to grow – before branching out into sourcing and bottling their own whiskies. Pretty much dream material for 99.9% of you out there, I suspect.
Throughout my whisky years, I’ve always been impressed by those who move into the realm of bottling whiskies. I’ve had discussions with individuals, who’ve taken the plunge and made a real effort to make their range of whiskies a source of pride. I can rattle off a series of examples, but I’d hope it is a quality that unites most. My impression is that many start out not to make their fortune; at best a steady or supplementary income. The whisky, or whiskey, remains of paramount importance.
This reminds me of an interview from the excellent Loch Fyne Whiskies Scotch Whisky Review that predated the current whisky boom. Back when a simple fanzine-like shop publication contained so much information and today, enjoys a prolonged life as a valuable resource.
This gateway to the past is littered with dangers when it comes to pricing that can blow the mind of any reader today. Such as the Centenary Reserves from Gordon & MacPhail in the Autumn 1995 edition. Fancy a bottle of 1980 St Magdalene? Well, expect to pay £26.60 for the privilege. How about that 1966 29-year-old Coal Ila? You’ll have to fork out £45.90 for that bottle.
Crazy times, but in this particular issue of relevance is an interview with George Urquhart of G&M fame who at the time of publication had amassed an incredible 62 years with the company. Even then he was forecasting the wider popularity of whisky across the world. Sharing his concern ‘that some of these companies are bottling whiskies at very young ages and often these whiskies are not their best. It is sad to see so much control of the industry being exercised by companies who have head offices outside of Scotland. This means fewer jobs in Scotland and less of a Scottish influence on Scotch whisky.’
Another phrase you pick up on from the older generation of independents is ‘armchair bottlers’ who even then were beginning to bottle the odd cask now and again. Jumping into 2020, small independent one-man or tiny teams are everywhere nowadays. I ask myself is it a bad thing? Sure, we’re seeing a lot of single malt bottled that could be young, or deficient in some respects. But on the whole, it’s a huge market with something for everyone and room for independents of all shapes and sizes, no matter where they are located.
Their presence shakes up the big boys and competition is good for us the consumer. Whether that’s the more value end dominated by Cadenhead’s, the prestige nature of Gordon & MacPhail, the branded bling of Douglas Laing or the subtle quality of Hunter Laing. Heck, you can even throw in the membership fee-based Scotch Malt Whisky Society. All competition is beneficial and the presence of the internet means we have the opportunity (postage regulations allowing) to purchase and enjoy a wider choice.
The Malt Affair Ardmore 1998 – review
Distilled in May 1998, this Ardmore was bottled in December 2018 after residing in a hogshead #750807 for 2 decades. Bottled at 52.2% strength, this release retails for $280 in Singapore, which roughly converts into £157 in proper money. The label details the Dragon Playground and Big Splash recreation area in Singapore’s East Coast Park.
On the nose: a gentle wood smoke followed by caramel, apples and wine gums. There’s a spicy note, spent wax, a floral vanilla and pear drops. A well rounded Ardmore with some peanuts, straw and time reveals more fruit, wood, orange and lemon oil.
In the mouth: quite delicate initially for an Ardmore. There’s a swirling smoke that comes and goes with aplomb. Vanilla, toffee apples, mace, black tea, peppercorns and cardamon.
The Malt Affair Heaven Hill 2009 – review
This 2nd Year Anniversary Heaven Hill Bourbon bottling is adorned with a Singapore Heritage label, which depicts historic scenes Chinese Opera and retro Capitol Theatre. Bottled at 51.7% strength from barrel #697 this will set you back $180 in Singapore, or roughly £100 in UK money.
On the nose: the holy trinity of bourbon with vanilla, caramel and wafer. I let this sit in my glass for a while and more elements appeared beyond the initial notes of cinnamon, pinesap and cereal. A fleeting pineapple, sourdough, peanut butter and Weetabix assortment were noted down alongside some chocolate and an enjoyable wood sweetness. Water I felt wasn’t of any tangible benefit.
In the mouth: a very easy sipping bourbon; dangerously so. A gentle vanilla, some corn, honey and digestive biscuits. Not a lasting or great finish by any means, but a touch of smoke sits well with a rich caramel and a herbal vibe towards the end. Again, water wasn’t required.
The Malt Affair Jura 1998 – review
This Jura was distilled in September 1998 and bottled in December 2018 at 20 years of age. Fully matured in a hogshead #2137 and bottled at 52.2% strength. Locally, this retails for $350, or £196 in UK sterling and the label showcases Singapore’s historic Boat Quay area.
Colour: gold foil.
On the nose: spirity with icing sugar, apples a light dusting of cinnamon. A gentle marmalade, wet cardboard, oatcakes and Custard Creams. A fleeting waft of white wine vinegar, raw dough, nougat, liquorice and oranges. Adding water brought out a floral freshness.
In the mouth: very drinkable, albeit this doesn’t feel 2 decades in age and a touch youthful, but not flawed like so many Jura’s. Caramel, a pleasing oiliness, pancakes and fresh buttered popcorn. Water reveals more spirit, that classic Jura note, white onion and milk chocolate.
The Heaven Hill is a solid drinking bourbon with a little bit of sparkle. Not too flashy or bogged down in youthfulness, it breaks out of the core bourbon components and offers a little more. I’d be quite happy to have a bottle as a regular go-to option.
The Ardmore is very interesting from the perspective that I was expecting more fruit and layering. We’ve seen some very good Ardmore’s into their 2nd decade recently that heightened expectations. This comes up a little short but has its own playful nature. The swirling smoke is the aspect that I enjoyed, but at the same time, potentially it hides the elements we can truly enjoy. Upon reflection, this could be a whisky that grows in stature as you reduce the fill level of a bottle.
The Jura, well it is a brave soul that sends me a Jura to review. Is there a more disappointing distillery than Jura I ask myself? It has everything on paper to be a wonderful whisky including the history and location that could define the liquid. Yet it is the liquid that almost exclusively prompts its downfall and disappointment from whisky drinkers across the globe. This Jura is an improvement from much of the fare we’ve become accustomed to. It isn’t genre-defining or a scintillating whisky by any means, but a good drinker that still has those fleeting Jura touches in places. Arguably not showcasing its age to any great degree, I feared the worst and was pleasantly surprised.
Overall, a solid selection and outturn from the Malt Affair. The trio are identical on scoring yet retain their own characteristics. A leisurely dram from Heaven Hill, the smoky Ardmore and a perplexing Jura experience; difficult to pick out a winner but I’d go for the Ardmore, which I feel has more secrets to unlock than the Heaven Hill.