The Singapore Cocktail Festival is coming soon, and one of its most exciting elements is the search for Singapore’s Next Top Cocktail- a cocktail that can stand proudly next to the Singapore Sling on the global stage.
Singapore is no stranger to sake. The rice wine is widely available on our sunny shores in restaurants, supermarkets and- in those most Japanese of drinking places- izakayas.
While widely available, however, knowledge of sake is not as widespread as it perhaps should be among locals. One often finds Japanese diaspora haunting the izakayas, and for most part, the proprietors do not spend much time educating Singaporeans on the finer points of sake appreciation, or actively recommending budget-friendly artisanal sakes.
Not so for Shukuu Izakaya.
Alcohol is one of those great shared experiences in human history.
It is most uncommon for a culture not to have created its own unique spin on booze at some point in its history; certainly each continent, excepting Antarctica, has its own unique product.
We’ve discussed whisky, gin, rum, wine and beer, but precious little digital ink has been spilled on South America’s spirits. Tequila and mezcal have gained in popularity recently, and represent a sharp contrast to the old world spirits. One recently spent some time at Super Loco Customs House attending a masterclass about the two spirits, and it turns out there’s a lot more to them than meets the eye.
Ewineasia.com, Singapore’s first online wine shop is still going strong after 12 years in the notoriously choppy wine business. Established in 2004, they have partnerships with 65 wineries from all over the world under their belt, including Tuscany and Veneto in Italy, Rioja and Penedes in Spain, and Rhone and Alsace in France.
Why is this important? They’re organising their annual Wine Discovery Weekend, held over 3 days on 15th, 16th and 17th October 2016. With a sizeable number of old world wineries under their belt, they can access both well-known wines (the Tuscans) and somewhat underrepresented ones (Rioja wines, anyone?).
Whisky has had quite a long history, and the world has fallen in and out of love with it many times.
When things are going great, many will try to profit from it by selling whiskies at prices dear- and sometimes ludicrous.
Whisky isn’t the simplest kind of product to make, however, and it isn’t a simple task to simply make more of it when needed. Equipment – the spirit stills, the mash tuns and the buildings to house them need to be built. Barley, water, and oak casks are also precious resources that are not easy to come by. Even if by some stroke of luck, one manages to get all the requisite materials, one still needs to age the whisky for almost a decade (while it’s technically possible to age a whisky for only 3 years, the spirit produced is often raw and unpalatable). Yet, when whisky fever is burning high and hot, new distilleries will be built by enterprising opportunists.
It’s World Whisky Day and many will be partaking of Uisge Beatha – the water of life , including me. It’s easy to love whisky- and why not? It’s a delicious drink that has excellent flavour and gives one a pleasant, boozy high and who can argue with that? People should do as they choose, and if they choose to drink whisky, then they made an excellent choice!
More elusive than drinking whisky, however, is what I consider to be Whisky Appreciation. There are, in my mind, clear distinctions between drinking whisky and appreciating it, for indeed any other beverage, food, or even art form.
That last point there is the key to understanding the difference.
When people think of whisky producing countries, it is usually the usual suspects that come to their minds. Scotland, America, Ireland, even Japan. And who can blame them? They’ve been producing the water of life for hundreds of years. Heck, “Scotch” and “Bourbon” have already become shorthand for whisky (or whiskey).
Purists might even cite the unique characteristics of the Highlands in the production of fine whisky. Cold, pure spring water, barley and the all-important peat of Scotland are the magic ingredients, without which we might as well be drinking tepid water instead. While all these are important, are these truly a Scottish-only thing? Can a good whisky be made half a world away, in the sweltering heat of the tropics?
I love rum. It’s got a beautiful flavour of caramel and molasses that make it a great spirit to just taste ever so slowly and savour every drop.
Even better, when you think of rum and its uses, all I can think of are fun cocktails. Daiquiris, Mojitos, Pina Coladas. I can’t think of another spirit that I’d love more on a nice summer holiday on the beach.
What’s in a name?
In many cases, the name of a liquor bears some sort of significance. While most are very memorable, and some are almost poetic, few are as meaningful as Snow Leopard Vodka. In actual fact, I can’t think of another brand of vodka that is named after a cause.
Is there a whisky maker as relentlessly creative as The Macallan? There’s just so much variety available that the average whisky enthusiast would find himself a little overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices. From the staple 12 year olds and 15 year olds, the decidedly upmarket 25 year olds, and even the very rare and fine Masters of Photography Editions, Recently, we’ve even been treated to the no-age-statement 1824 series, named after the colour of the precious contents inside.
My last encounter with The Balvenie was at Whisky Live 2014. I found all The Balvenie whiskies that I tasted to be delectable, and I’ve been lusting for more ever since. There’s something about the distillery’s character that I find completely irresistible – perhaps it’s the delicate flavours that tingle the tongue with every sip. There’s so much creativity with their offerings – experiments with different cask maturations. Rum, multiple barrels and now, even port. Best of all, they still have age statements on their main life of whiskies!
The British have certainly left their mark on the history of alcoholic drinks. Whisky, gin, port, sherry, and of course, rum – and while some of these have fallen somewhat off the radar somewhat, they’re all very much alive. Even the great spirit of the colonial age- rum.
Contrary to what we see in the movies, rum isn’t just for the sailors and pirates. It’s a little underappreciated. perhaps. but it has a legitimacy deserving of a place on the bar. White rum is pretty much vodka made from sugar, and is perhaps a little less sophisticated and very intentionally so. Dark rum, however, is made using many of the same techniques used in making single malt whisky- down to the aging in oak barrels. That’s, in fact, how it gets its amber-brown colour.
Like a good whisky, a great specimen of rum is not all just sweetness and cocktails. but can, and should, be tasted on its own as well. Why hide the complexity of a good rum behind lemon, spice and ironically, sugar, when there’s already so much flavour to be had?
Fortunately, adventurous spirit lovers are beginning to rediscover the pleasures of sipping a well crafted rum. Sugarhall, which opened last year, in 2014, specialises in rum- which makes it unique among Singaporean establishments. They’ve brought in many different rums that are not available anywhere else on our sunny island.
Before we go on, let’s consider the idea of a single cask spirit. Most commercially available spirits are made from blending spirits of different casks of different casks, so that the producer can consistently recreate a familiar flavour, and their customers know what to expect. In contrast, a single cask spirit exults in its uniqueness. Trouble is, it’s hard to find one particular cask of whisky which has all the qualities that one finds perfect in a drink. It has to contain the desired flavours, have the right maturity and perhaps something unique of its own- unique but pleasant. Even single cask whiskies are not all the common.
Interestingly enough, Rums can also be aged in casks- and one finds oneself in a similar situation when selecting a single cask rum as when looking for a single cask whisky. The good folk at Sugarhall believe that they had found such a cask- from the now closed Trinidad distillery Caroni.
So, of course I had to try it.
I arrived at Sugarhall on a weekday night. The service was prompt, polite, and warm, even. You can judge for yourself.
Fortunately, Sugarhall is mindful of the adventurers who like sampling a bit of everything. They created the Flagship Flight, which includes three excellent aged rums to tantalise the tongue. The presentation was delightful- three small rocks glasses on a wooden “tray”” that one suspects used to be a cask. Like any good rum from the age of sail, it came with a little glass bottle, complete with a treasure map.
Well, I didn’t find a chest of gold, but the contents of the glasses were precious indeed.
Sugarhall Berry Bros and Rudd Caroni, 17 years old. The flagship; exclusively bottled for Sugarhall, there were only 240 of these made, and that number has dwindled somewhat, I suspect. Nose of oak and smoke, slight toffee smell. I found the taste to be surprisingly dry, lots of oak influences from the cask- very woody. Some very mild raisin notes. Heavy on spice and smoke. Refined, though, not raw at all – sophisticated and smooth on the palate. I’d happily endorse this single cask rum if you’re into tasting a complex, fulfilling whisky that would make you long for yet another sip; it’s not a kind of drink that you would take purely to get drunk!
Caroni 1997, 17 years old. Another 17 year old from Caroni, but not a single cask expression. Similar to the BBR above, but feels a bit more raw. Oaky, smoky and a little bit spicy. Another fine rum, and if you can’t get the single cask, then this is a good bet.
El Dorardo, 15 Years old. A sharp contrast to the other two rums. Nose of honey, dried fruit and a little bit of wood. The taste doesn’t disappoint. It’s as sweet as the other two rums are dry. Thick and syrupy, caramel and honey flavours with a bit of spice and just a touch of wood, nothing more. Like drinking treacle or toffee. Despite all that, it’s not one dimensional. The flavours are well layered and it’s not cloying in any way. Excellent rum and easily my favourite of the night. I have a serious sweet tooth.
If you’re thinking that rum can’t have the complexity and sophistication that a good whisky can, these 3 rums will change your mind. All 3 are worthy of a place on the bar shelf, for sure! Sadly, it’s not easy to get your hands on them. Rum hasn’t quite caught on with most drinkers yet (more’s the pity), so you won’t find that many places that offer these liquid delights. I’d suggest you head down to Sugarhall to get a taster. Don’t wait too long though, the BBR Caroni is very limited in quantity, and once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.
102 Amoy Street