Whisky Live Singapore 2019 Puts A Spotlight On Some Rare Older Expressions
One of the most highly-anticipated whisky events is back this weekend from November 9 to 10 at Andaz Singapore, boasting over 100 limited releases and a diverse round-up of masterclasses. This will, after all, mark Whisky Live’s 10th anniversary.
Launched in Paris in 2004, it has since introduced sold-out editions in Shanghai, Johannesburg, New York, and Singapore. Organised by French spirits house La Maison du Whisky, the Singapore edition has evolved to become a multi-faceted extravaganza, where drink explorers and enthusiasts can “sip, share and shop” throughout the two-day affair.
“Whisky Live is the biggest, and only premium, spirit-centric showcase in Singapore,” shares Mathieu Musnier, general manager of La Maison du Whisky. "The 10-year milestone will see us renew our commitment to elevate the appreciation for whiskies and spirits by connecting the drinkers with the makers; and spotlighting people, product and passion in one celebratory weekend," he adds.
Speaking of improving with age, this year’s edition will see the return of The Collector’s Room—a highlight for discerning connoisseurs, where rare, sought-after bottles including untraceable bottles distilled in the '60s and '70s from La Maison du Whisky’s private collection amassed from over six decades, can be tasted.
Scotch whisky lovers, in particular, can look forward to the likes of the coveted Glen Grant 1955 60-Year-Old by independent bottler and distiller Gordon & MacPhail. There’s also the Springbank 40-Year-Old, a special bottling released part of the distillery’ Millennium Set back in 1999; a Glendronach 1972 that was bottled for the French market and awarded a Gold Medal by the Malt Maniacs Awards 2009; and a Jura from 1975, among others.
In spite of their rarity, the demand among whisky lovers is growing, says James Cordiner, regional brand ambassador for The Balvenie. “There are fewer people who can get these rare whiskies, but the demand is high and is increasing, especially in Asian markets,” he asserts.
These are also a lot more expensive for the simple reason that there is very little left to bottle the older the whisky gets. “This is due to what is known affectionately as ‘the angels share’ and is a very important component of the making of single malt whisky,” explains Brett Bayly, Southeast Asia brand ambassador for Glenfiddich. “Imagine, one has to take care of something for 30 years just to get it to the right point to sell, but over that same period lose almost half of what was inside,” he adds, pointing out that roughly two per cent of the whisky in the barrel or cask is lost to evaporation each year.
IS OLDER BETTER?
While the misconception is common, the fact is that not all whiskies age well. “To put it simply, a whisky, like a person, can be very different in its adolescence, at maturity and in its twilight years,” Musnier affirms, adding that “the beauty is in the uncertainty, especially when it comes to very old whisky; both a discerning drinker (and the) curious tippler would appreciate the whisky for what it is, not for what it may become”.
There are, nonetheless, very discernible characteristics that develop over time and exposure to the wood. “For the most part, whisky is aged in barrels that have previously contained either bourbon or sherry,” he expounds, noting how the former imparts citrus, honey and tropical fruit flavours while the latter imparts hints of dried fruits and chocolate. “But, on top of that let's not forget that whisky is an all-natural product that always surprises us with unexpected flavours, as it triggers a different ‘olfactive memory’ for each individual,” Musnier stresses.
Cordiner also points out this influence from the oak over time, which he posits is not necessarily a good thing for a consumer who does not appreciate such a flavour profile. “Tannins from the wood will increase, making the whisky taste more oaky as well as manifesting more wood and nutty flavours,” he shares, adding that the decision to age a whisky or use it as part of a successful expression, such as The Balvenie 12-Year-Old Doublewood, which the distillery has been making for 27 years, falls on the malt master. “In terms of flavour, one is not better or worse than the other as it depends on individual preference. [But] because the alcohol evaporates, the [older] whisky tends to be smoother in texture and less fiery or harsh, so many people prefer older expressions because of this,” he explains.
(Related: Tasting The Macallan's Oldest Bottled Whisky)
Bayly concurs, affirming the subjective nature of perceived value and the merits of sampling a wide variety. “There are 15-year-old whiskies I’d rather drink over 25- or 30-year-old whiskies, and I am privileged in that I get to sample so many from so many great brands, and as a result, have a very in-tune understanding of what I enjoy from whisky,” he confesses. He also brought up the example of Glenfiddich's Snow Phoenix, which originally retailed at around US$90 (S$122) a bottle when it was released in 2010. He noted that a bottle recently went under the hammer for US$404. The price, he believes will continue to rise the next 10 years as it becomes more and more collectable. “Ironically, the Snow Phoenix was a no age statement whisky, so it really depends on the flavour profile and consumer perception.”