Liquor. Also known by many as the elixir of life. It’s well-loved enough to spawn many best-of’s lists like ‘Best wines of the year’ and ‘Best Asia Bars‘. The foundation for a good tipple always lies with the booze and the DFS store at Changi Airport carries a global assortment of liquor that’s bound to catch your fancy. If you happen to have big bucks to spare or a serious collector, go for the exclusive bottles offered—their value may appreciate in the future. Esquire had the chance to speak with Senior Vice President of Spirits, Wines and Tobacco at DFS Group, Brooke Supernaw, to find out what’s the deal with DFS’s Masters of Wines and Spirits collection.
Enjoy another round of #DFSMasters of Wines and Spirits with these moments from our opening event in Singapore, then shop the collection at DFS inside @ChangiAirport. 🔴 #DFSChangi #ShopDutyFree⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ // DFS傳世佳釀品鑑會再度降臨新加坡。立即回顧開幕儀式的精彩片段，並到 @changiairport 的DFS店搜購我們為你呈獻的一系列頂級佳釀！🔴 #DFS樟宜 #免稅購物 📷: @Faye_Tsui , @Nic.Goh
ESQUIRE (ESQ): Tell us what is it like as a curator for Masters of Wines and Spirits Collection?
BROOKE SUPERNAW (BS): The DFS team spends about a year putting together the collection for Masters of Wines and Spirits, working directly with various brands across categories like cognac, single-malt scotches, gins, vodkas, wines, and champagnes while getting the right assortment to meet and exceed the customers’ expectations.
This is the seventh year we’re having the Masters of Wines and Spirits. And it’s about a tailored collection of unique fine, rare, exquisite items that you can’t readily find in the market. We curate the selection based on the success of past trends in the market and feedback from our loyal customers. This is an on-going process as we hold this event annually and we start next year’s event immediately after the current-year event is over.
ESQ: How is the selection process like?
BS: We work with many brands and their partners, who’ll then submit their products to us. We review their story and uniqueness, production amount, numbering, and their key selling point. We then whittle it down to the collection that you see at Masters of Wines and Spirits. We don’t want the selection to be too many or too little and review what products will exceed the customers’ expectations. Looking into the core categories, you’ll find several new items this year such as rum from the Caribbean, which is something we haven’t done before.
You’ll find some silent distilleries which are no longer in operation. We have one with rum, a Karuizawa silent distillery and a Ladyburn single-malt (from William Grant & Sons). So it’s about finding one that has a unique selling point to be part of the collection.
ESQ: Is there a balance between the number of spirits and wines offered?
BS: Not so much. It goes back to the element of differentiating the product. Ideally, we want to have as much as we can with and to have a balance between categories. But we may not have that luxury.
This year, there are over 20 items in the single malt category, three to four from blended whiskeys, and a couple from cognacs. We skew heavily to single-malts and Bordeaux wines due to the sheer amount of brands in these categories and the demand from customers.
The products that we have are collectables. We know our regular customers purchase fine wines and spirits as an investment or for their personal collection, just like art. So we look at where the trends are happening like those being auctioned off at Sotheby’s and Christie’s. We want to make sure we’re up-to-date and bring what’s available in our stash to customers for items they are looking for as part of their collection. Single malt and Bordeaux wines are definitely one of the biggest collections.
ESQ: Briefly describe how you got into this industry?
BS: I was engaged in merchandising and buying in the food (F&B) industry before joining DFS over 11 years ago. What I love about the food industry is the history of the brands we work with—the heritage and the stories. For example, how you make balsamic vinegar or pasta from scratch and how can we bring to life from its story to touch all 5 senses.
My father was in the travel industry when I was a child so I travelled quite a bit. When I was looking to make a career switch, DFS came along and it merged the two things I love: travel and buying. This job also allows me to discover brands with a rich history and story, which is a perfect combination.
ESQ: What sparked your interest in wines and spirits besides the rich heritage?
BS: There’s an untold spiritual attachment with spirits and wines. It can be a celebratory item. There are different occasions to enjoy spirits, wines and champagnes such as festivities, bringing people together. It creates a feeling of togetherness. And I love that.
It’s not because of the physical product and taste, but knowing the story behind it. More people today want to know more about the brand and why they are buying a cognac that cost a specific amount. Or how the vodka and gin were made and what botanicals are behind it.
Maybe you don’t like single malt whiskeys, but you’ll want to know the story of how it is made differently compared to others, from which malt field, and who is its master distiller. This is an incredible category that has a heritage that people want to learn about.
ESQ: How did the ‘Changi First’ program come about and what made you support it?
BS: This is a significant program for us. By collaborating with the Changi Airport Group, we bring products first to the market. We have to stay one step ahead of the customer and surmise what they are looking for—from trends, core items to limited editions and exclusives.
By bringing a ‘Changi First’, it creates a sense of urgency that’ll attract customers to explore. They may not buy the liquor, but when they spot them at our store, they will want to see what’s available. It drives traffic to our store. But most importantly, it offers customers products that they can’t get at anywhere else. The customer is at the heart of what we do and we want to continue to excite, delight and surprise them.
ESQ: There’s a number of DFS in the world, so why Changi Singapore in particular?
BS: Changi is a sizable business for us. We have 18 stores across four terminals that captures a wide range of nationalities and speak to a large range of customer profiles. It is a fantastic partnership with the airport group, thus importing unique items to Changi Singapore.
ESQ: What are some new and notable liquors from this year’s Masters of Wines and Spirits collection?
BS: We have Rum, a new category at this year’s Masters of Wines and Spirits. We have three rum brands, and one is from a silent distillery. Japanese products such as Karuizawa, another silent distillery, are available too. This particular brand is new this year.
Japanese whiskeys are extremely popular and there are only nine distilleries in total. Karuizawa is a closed distillery, and we have a 1960s, the oldest bottle of Japanese whiskey that is available for purchase. So the mentioned two are the new categories.
And then we have unique cognacs and scotches that are exclusive. For the wine category, we have products from Bordeaux, Australia, Champagne, and California. California is a phenomenal wine growing region, and at the valley, we have a beautiful collection from the Harlan, with three 100-point Harlan vintages. This is considered a cult winery that has an incredible following.
ESQ: Tell us a memorable customer experience you’ve encountered during your course of work.
BS: I’m fortunate to be able to travel to many places around the world and having the opportunity to go to Bordeaux and the Chateau Margaux to meet the winemakers. Bordeaux wine great Paul Pontallier may have passed on, but hearing and experiencing his passion, knowledge and love for the brand first-hand resonates and educates you on the brand unlike other. Not even a book, story, or video can tell you that. So having the chance to go to the Maisons, distilleries, and wineries and experience the first-hand product is quite remarkable.
Being in the heart of it all would be ideal, but we can bring it to life at the Masters of Wines and Spirits. If you’re at the whiskey panel, you’re going to experience the presence of the brands, distillers, master blenders, and brand ambassadors. So what we are doing is to bring the distillery and products to you. Whether if it’s an event like the Masters of Wines and Spirits or in our stores, it’ll be through activations, storytelling, and videos. Not everyone has the chance to experience it first hand, so we bring that experience to you. We train our sales associates with high commitment, whether it’s through WSET, whiskey ambassador programme, or DFS university. It is to make sure they understand the DNA of the brand they are representing in the fashion that the brand would be proud.
ESQ: What is your favourite or go-to spirits/wines and why?
BS: That’ll be like asking me who is your favourite child is. It depends on the mood, the weather, and who I’m with. There are appropriate times and places for all of it. It depends on the environment and the company too.
ESQ: What are the future plans for DFS Master of Wines and Spirits collection?
BS: We’re actually taking the Masters of Wines and Spirits to Hong Kong and Macau. We’re going to have it at our Macau store in Four Seasons and then we’re going to do an event in Hong Kong at the end of May. So we’re going to be able to touch, communicate and celebrate this with more people.
ESQ: Lastly, any advice for novice liquor individuals on collecting the DFS-exclusive spirits and wines?
BS: Head to Masters of Wines and Spirits, definitely. It’s a beautiful collection. If you want to invest in a collection of Bordeaux wines, we have a collection of Grand Cru Classes from both left and right bank, and it’s a collection of eight items that you can purchase. Or if you want to collect single malts, we have competitively priced items that you can explore. But you can still dabble in collecting but at an affordable price point.