Today, I’m continuing the sharing of bits of my Singapore trip. After visiting a rum bar, I returned to one of the most beloved whisky bars there. This is The Single Cask in Chimes. This isn’t the first time The Single Cask, as a company, has been featured on Malt. Dora interviewed their director Ben and then-PR guy Tom in 2019.
However, Dora and Ben are based in Scotland. It’s also been close to four years since that interview. So. I thought it would be nice to feature their Singapore branch and the person in charge of it. The Single Cask Singapore’s head honcho is Brendan Pillai.
Brendan is one of Singapore’s most well-known and popular whisky personalities. He’s known to be a huge fan of Bruichladdich. I know his whisky knowledge is among the best. Most of all, he’s always up to educating those who want to learn.
Image courtesy of whiskygeeks.sg
Malt: Hi Brendan, thanks for agreeing to do this. Can you introduce yourself and The Single Cask to us?
Brendan: Hi John, thank you for the opportunity to get involved in this! My name is Brendan, and I am one of the owners of The Single Cask, which is an independent bottler, bar operator ,and cask broker headquartered in the UK, Singapore, and Japan, and with flagship bars in Singapore and Athens. As the name suggests, The Single Cask focuses on sourcing and bottling good quality and unique spirits in single barrel form, and these spirits are sourced from brokers and distilleries around the world. Our main focus is Scotch Whisky, but we have also bottled English Whisky, American Whiskey, and Rum thus far.
Our purpose is to source, assess for quality (this process being mostly done by my fellow co-owners Chee Wei De and Kwek Yi Xian and I, alongside our founder Ben Curtis), and bottle these spirits once we believe that they are ready. We are in the midst of completing our bonded warehouse in Glenrothes, Fife, and once we are operational in the second half of this year, we will be able to conduct all operations (storage, bottling, labeling, and logistics) from this single point of origin. Truly exciting times!
Our mission is to bottle “unique spirits one cask at a time” and, while we adore our blended whiskies and single malts, we believe that single cask expressions provide a different experience due to their singular nature and the amount of variance that it provides when compared to their single malt counterparts from the same distillery. We celebrate this variance by selecting casks to be bottled that provide consumers with a different interpretation of what they might already be used to. We are staunch believers that everyone has a favorite whisky; they just might not have found it as yet. It is our job to help them find it.
Malt: How did you get into whisky?
Brendan: My journey began many years ago, when I came across a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label. It is my dad’s favorite whisky, and we usually had a bottle in our liquor cabinet, so this was my first foray into whisky. I can’t say that I immediately fell in love with whisky, but it definitely grew on me and, as I made my way through the various blended whiskies and read up on them, I realized that the next frontier in my education would have to be single malt.
My first foray into single malt was an unconventional one to say the least: I was at a restaurant in Singapore celebrating my 19th birthday with my folks, and went up to the bar area to pick a dram for myself. Instead of going for the typical choices (e.g. Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, or Macallan), my attention was swayed by a rather unusual looking bottle with the Egyptian “Ankh” symbol on it. This of course was the Isle of Jura Superstition and, while I know that the Jura brand is somewhat unfairly maligned, it was the Superstition that got me hooked back then. I even went to purchase a bottle of it from a local retailer the very next day.
Malt: Years ago, you told me that you’re from Australia. Can you share with us how you ended up in Singapore and with The Single Cask?
Brendan: Ah yes! Truth be told, I was born and raised in Singapore but studied in Melbourne during my High School and University studies. My sister was the first to have been offered the opportunity to study in Melbourne back in 2001, and family holidays there became the norm. I soon followed in 2005 when I went over for my High School studies. Melbourne (and Australia in general) was a huge culture shock when compared to Singapore, and I realized that I much preferred the more laid-back way of life. Even though I am Singaporean by birth and nationality, I do feel a certain kinship to Australia and tend to see it as “more home than home.”
After graduation, I came back to Singapore and was working in a different industry for two years. It wasn’t a fulfilling endeavor and as time went on, I felt that getting into the spirits industry was something which appealed to me immensely. I began searching for job opportunities from bar to brand level, and also spent time at The Auld Alliance, Quaich Bar, La Maison du Whisky, and the newly opened The Single Cask.
It was at The Single Cask that I met Fab Arm as well as the founders Ben and Cindy Curtis (shoutout to Joseph Seah and Aziz, who were also part of The Single Cask team in the beginning) and I found myself frequenting the place on a regular basis. When the opportunity arose to join The Single Cask, I sent in my resume, was called in for an interview with Ben, and was offered a part-time position handling wholesale operations (with some experience behind the bar for good measure) in late Feb 2016.
A few weeks into my tenure at The Single Cask, the opportunity to progress to a full-time role behind the bar alongside my then colleague (and dear friend) Prathip Nambiar became available, and I accepted the offer. Over the last seven years much has changed and, the while the brand has grown considerably in that time, the bar has also evolved. Together with my business partners Wei De and Yi Xian, we see ourselves as custodians of The Single Cask, and our intention to provide education and engagement to our patrons remains as strong as ever.
Malt: You mentioned you used to handle wholesale operations. Does this mean that The Single Cask bottlings are available to try outside of the bar? When in Singapore, I spend more time in cocktail bars. So, I don’t really get around the different whisky bars. So far, I only tend to return to Swan Song and The Single Cask.
Brendan: Definitely! We can be found in a handful of establishments ranging from Cocktail-centric (D’Bespoke) to Beer (Orh Gao Taproom), and we have also supplied our bottles to whisky bars such as The Swan Song and the (sadly now defunct) The Wall. Wholesale remains a small part of our overall business model, but we believe that it will expand in line with the new ranges which we have already introduced, such as the Family Series, and other ranges which we are still keeping under wraps for now.
Malt: Aside from Singapore, the UK, Japan, and Athens, are The Single Cask bottlings available in other countries? It seems like you guys have your own niche market. The brand has been around for a while, but it doesn’t seem to be an independent bottler that’s always talked about.
Brendan: We’re available in many markets globally and our UK website (thesinglecask.co.uk) is able to ship to many markets across the globe. We have strong distribution ties in the UK and the EU region, with active distributors located in countries such as South Korea, China, Malaysia, and New Zealand. We are very much a young brand in the grand scheme of things, but we intend to be a global presence in the years ahead.
Malt: Are there things The Single Cask does different from other independent bottlers?
Brendan: Not many independent bottlers are able to say that they have flagship bars in Asia and Europe, and we believe that our brand message is quite unique in the sense that we’re quite a noticeable presence at whisky events and shows due to our bright orange jackets and related merchandise. We’re also quite a global brand in the sense that we have a network (or Family) of individuals spread out across the globe, with each person having a unique part to play in making the brand what it is today.
Malt: When I was at the bar, Ben told me about the new types or new themes of The Single Cask bottlings? I forget what they’re called now. But the labels have more elaborate designs. Can you talk about those? How are they different from the regular bottlings?
Brendan: We released our new core range known as the Family Series in the middle of last year and these single cask releases allow us to express our creativity in terms of the label design as well as the liquid within. While our main core range of The Single Cask bottles have seen a fair bit of evolution in the design aesthetic over the years, the Family Series is meant to be a conduit for us to showcase our individual characteristics by having labels designed according to specific themes or ideas. All of our labels are designed in-house by our extremely talented designer, Diana Lee, and we can’t wait to showcase some of the upcoming releases that we have in store.
Malt: A lot of IBs these days are coming up with their own blends or blended malts. Will The Single Cask release any in the future? Single cask blends and/or single cask blended malts sound interesting.
Brendan: We’ve definitely discussed these ideas in detail within the company, but we believe that it will be some time before either or both of these ideas come to fruition. All I can say is: Good things come to those who wait!
Malt: Aside from going to the bar, how can interested enthusiasts acquire bottles?
Brendan: We tend to do most of our sales via the bar as it allows us to engage directly with consumers and provide them with a variety of options for their consideration, but beyond the bar, we also sell bottles directly from our UK website as well as other online retailers such as Master of Malt.
Malt: Any departing message for the readers?
Brendan: For an independent bottler that has been around for only 13 years, we believe that we’ve achieved a lot of progress in such a short period of time. That being said, we’re constantly learning and keeping tabs on what is happening in the whisky industry on both micro and macro levels, and we hope that we’ll be able to consistently innovate and put forward good quality whiskies and spirits up
for everyone to savour. Whisky is meant to be enjoyed amongst friends and family and, as I tend to say on a more regular basis these days: Life is short, drink more whisky!
Thanks again to Brendan for his time and shedding more light on The Single Cask. What I’ll be reviewing today is one of their 7 year old Dalmores which was finished in a rum quarter cask. While the distillery bottlings of Dalmore don’t have a good reputation among discerning drinkers, independent bottlings of them tend to be underrated and well-received. I initially ordered a dram of this at the bar. But, due to having had a different order before and having other bars to visit that day, I asked if I could have it to go. Luckily, Brendan had empty sample bottles, so filled one for me.
The Single Cask Dalmore 7 Year Old – Review
Cask # 8000147A. Finished in a rum quarter cask. 59.7% ABV.
On the nose: I initially get mild aromas of apples, pears, apricots, and banana peel. After those, I get additional sour fruity aromas of soursop, sapodilla, and lemon peel. Behind the fruity aromas is this persistent burning and peppery sensation. This would have been more enjoyable if it didn’t envelop most of the nosing experience. Behind the heat are subtle aromas of honey, toffee, caramel, and caramelized apples.
In the mouth: It’s hot and has somewhat of an astringent texture. Behind those are notes of green apples, pineapple skin, sapodilla, tablea chocolate, burnt caramel, toffee, honey, and a variety of nuts.
A very interesting two-faced single malt, as it smells more like an ex-bourbon cask while tasting more like an ex-rum cask. But I suppose the majority of ex-rum casks can technically still be considered ex-bourbon casks, since the rum industry mostly uses ex-bourbon casks for aging.
If I were to choose which experience I enjoyed more, it would be nosing it. Despite the enveloping heat, I enjoyed smelling the different layers of fruitiness from the distillery DNA. I think Dalmore’s distillery DNA is just stellar, but is wasted on the mass production practices the company insists on.
A part of me thinks the heat is mostly from the quarter cask aging. As a smaller cask may impart wood flavors faster, but something about doing things faster, for me, usually leaves more flaws such as heat. Think how faster distillation and fermentation results in a hotter spirit. Despite the heat, I enjoyed this whisky. I hope to try more IB Dalmore in the future, and other bottlings from lesser known distilleries by The Single Cask.