Brands do this all the time. Collaborate with a fellow renowned brand or commission a notable person of interest. Nonetheless, if the brief here is not so much novelty but an apt fit for the occasion: Johnnie Walker clearly understood the assignment.
When you see the work of Taiwanese-American artist James Jean, you can’t think of a better mind to conceptualise what the Year of the Dragon could look like as a Blue Label skin. The vibrant, sinewy, yet altogether modern aesthetic wraps around the bottle in a playful, textural imprint.
According to Jean, the natural motifs prevalent in his work takes on the form of flowers and organic tendrils. These floral traits evoke the idea of roots; a connection. These are the bridges between respect for the past and looking ahead to the future with hope.
Plus, the most powerful creature in the Chinese Zodiac and the highest-grade whisky in the JW collection? Insert Epic Handshake meme. If you're familiar with the Blue Label, you'd know that the blend is made from unparalleled—a term not lightly used here—Johnnie Walker reserves of Scotch maturation.
Chiefly because only one in 10,000 make the cut. It's selected from 10 million casks; of which some irreplaceable ones are sourced from long-closed ‘ghost’ distilleries (Cambus, Pittyvaich, Brora, Port Ellen, for the whisky experts among you). A 12-strong blending team infuses these rarities from across all four regions of Scotland, and it’s these very complexities that the visual artist was inspired to interpret.
“There are hidden elements in the picture as well—layers to be discovered, just like the layers in this incredible whisky,” he says, “I want the viewer to peel back the layers and discover more about the image. I want my work to function from far away but reveal more details the more closely you explore the imagery.”
Now where better to witness it up close than in Depth of Blue Room. The brand’s first flagship bar in Southeast Asia sits at the Park Hyatt Bangkok penthouse. It enhances the launch experience with a multi-sensory tasting complete with dedicated cocktails, an immersive room and scented touches. It presented a truly extravagant, thematic dive into what makes Blue Label a big deal.
It’s far from the first time a brand has pulled out all the stops. But such a celebration is certainly a worthy altar for a release as limited edition as this.
Johnnie Walker Blue Label (James Jean edition) is out now.
As the birthplace of Renaissance art and culture, even after the rolling decades, Florence still retains its ancient beauty. The creative place is made livelier with the presence of Gucci Giardino 25, the latest addition to the Gucci House.
In a nod to the flower shop that used to occupy the spot and Gucci’s former CD’s favourite number, the venue embodies the House’s codes while luxuriating in Florence’s vivacity. From dawn till dusk, it offers an all-day menu created according to the ever-changing seasons and inspired by Tuscany’s verdant lands. But it is the cocktails that are the focus here. Bar manager of Gucci Giardino 25, Martina Bonci, hails from the picturesque Umbria. Having taken up the position during the pandemic, Bonci has steered the ship towards safe harbour buoyed by her signature cocktails. We pulled Bonci over for a quick chat about mixology and Gucci Giardino 25.
ESQUIRE SINGAPORE: We have yet to get to Gucci Giardino 25. What can we expect when we visit?
MARTINA BONCI: You’ll be welcomed by a young and smiley team. Expect to have a unique experience in a unique location. It’s not just about having a good cocktail but rather you’ll have an experience you will remember fondly.
ESQ: When people visit Gucci Giardino 25, what should they order?
MB: Our best seller Mémoire di Negroni, of course. It’s the first signature drink I’ve ever made, which also became a bottled drink. I’d recommend the Mémoire di Negroni if they like a ‘dry’ drink. Or if they prefer a sour, [I can point to the] Chi si Ferma è Perduto, which is a twist on Margarita with tequila mint bergamot and spirulina salt.
ESQ: How did the Mémoire di Negroni come to be?
MB: I had just joined the Gucci Giardino 25 team. The bar was about to open and I was so nervous and so excited at the same time. I was walking the streets of Florence and I saw a shop selling Fiorentina (the Associazione Calcio Firenze Fiorentina, Florence’s football team) T-shirt merch in its official colour: purple. That’s where I got the inspiration. And since Negroni started in Florence as well, the drink is also a tribute to the city.
ESQ: I’m curious, what was your first drink?
MB: Long Island Iced Tea. It was a bit of a shock, tasting it, to say the least! At the time, I expected it to be more of a tea than an actual alcoholic drink. But I still have it from time to time when I want to have something less “nerdy” than my usual orders.
ESQ: Do you think that there can ever be a “terrible drink”?
MB: One thing I love about mixology is that there’s no such thing as “bad for everyone” or “good for everyone”. There may be some technical errors in [making] a drink, but ultimately, it all boils down to what you’d like to drink.
Baccarat and MO BAR join forces to create an enchanting celebration for the Year of the Dragon. The partnership, a highlight of Baccarat's Cocktail World Tour, unfolds at MO BAR. Patrons will have an exclusive experience with dragon-inspired cocktails. MO BAR Singapore presents four signature cocktails as part of the "Ripples of Pleasure" collection. Each cocktail is a manifestation of the "joie à vivre," an ode to finding delight in life's little pleasures, symbolised by the elegance of crystal glassware. The cocktails will, of course, be served in Baccarat’s dazzling crystal barware.
First on the list, the "Blue Manhattan" pays homage to classic New York City vibes, blending Johnnie Walker Blue Label with the oaky finish of Hinoki Bitters.
Next, the "Walker Sour" challenges the line between dessert and cocktail, featuring Johnnie Walker Blue Label, Bourbon Oak Barrel Syrup, and Vanilla Bean Ice Cream in the elegant Baccarat Narcisse Coupe.
Meanwhile, the "Disaronno Expectations" in Baccarat Harmonie Highball unveils a tropical-meets-smoky fusion with mezcal, Disaronno Amaretto and Verjuice.
Closing the quartet is the "Insomniac" in Baccarat Beluga Tumbler, awakening the senses with Osmanthus Aged Rum, Mr. Black Coffee, and Coconut Water— a cool, sunrise-ready concoction.
Indulge in the artistry of Baccarat's "Ripples of Pleasure" cocktails and savour the harmonious fusion of crystal and creativity at MO BAR. Priced at SGD38++ each, these cocktails will be available until 29 February 2024. The Baccarat collection is also available at its two boutiques, the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands and Takashimaya Department Store B1.
We don't give rum a fair shake as we do with whisk(e)y. Wade a little further into the world of rum and you'll be surprised—and entranced—by a multitude of flavour profiles. One of the shining stars of this industry is Neisson, overseen by master distiller Grégory Vervant. The man was in town for Whisky Live to reveal a limited edition rum that is destined to redefine the idea of indulgence.
Dating back to 1932, the storied Martinique distillery has been a hotbed of innovation transcending across three generations. Neisson's output of the organic Martinique rum in 2016 was a pivotal milestone. The distillery was also instrumental in popularising brut de colonne rums by pioneering experimental ageing techniques.
Before WhiskyLive, Vervant held a dinner at Restaurant JAG for a first look at the company's latest endeavour: Zetwal (Creole for "star"). Inspired by t h e celestial bodies charted by seafarers of yore; it pays homage to the Neisson family's maritime heritage. Imagine the Neisson merchant vessel, traversing the oceans—this imagery is found as the company's logo.
Using a blend of agricole rhum (2000, 2005, 2012 and 2013 vintages), it's distilled in a Savalle Creole still that was installed in 1952. It has an aromatic depth with notes of exotic fruits and chocolate. On the palate, you get a wonderful citrus welcome. That lays the path for a caramel middle before that long finish of honey.
The liquid is contained within a crystal flask made by artisans at Vista Allegre. The box that it comes in teases other future releases. Etched on the lid is Polaris, the pole star, which guides the way for forthcoming expressions.
Zetwal debuts at EUR1,990 in Europe. At the time of writing, a Singapore pricing wasn't provided by La Maison du Whisky, the local distributor of Neisson. But interested parties can reach out to email@example.com for further details.
FOR YEARS, I NEVER SPOKE ABOUT MY CHILDHOOD—or my home life, or my education—because I was embarrassed by it. I wanted Patrick Stewart to be my own adult creation, not the product of my actual childhood. But the fact that I hid so much was doing more harm than good.
OUR HOME WAS CALLED A ONE-UP-ONE-DOWN, with a living room downstairs and a bedroom upstairs, where my brother and I slept together in a small double bed for five years. He was a wonderful boy and he was patient with me and kind. When he died 18 months ago, he was the one person who had known me for my entire life.
I WASN'T BORN IN A HOSPITAL or a maternity ward. I was born in that house.
IF I HAD STARTED THERAPY EARLIER, it would have benefited me sooner. Now I’m no longer afraid of talking about my childhood.
IN THE LITTLE TOWN WHERE I LIVED in West Yorkshire, there was a library, and it became the most important building in my life. I could go down there on a Saturday morning. And take two books home with me and devour them.
I BECAME ADDICTED TO AMERICAN LITERATURE. I also became quite interested in Russian literature, which led me to Dostoevsky. These were my escapist times.
THERE WAS NOWHERE TO READ IN MY HOUSE. In the living room downstairs, the radio was always on, and we were never allowed to go upstairs until it was time for bed. So when I needed to read, I would go to our outdoors toilet—our only toilet, with no electricity. I would take warm clothes and a wooly cap, and I would read books and keep my hands warm with a candle. That gave me a very unique experience of literature.
I RECENTLY FOUND A BOOK IN MY LOCAL BOOKSHOP here in Los Angeles, called Master Slave Husband Wife. It’s the story of an enslaved couple, and how they devise a means of escaping northwards to safety. It’s one of the most astonishing and dazzling stories. It has made a huge impact on me and I recommend it.
ONE DAY MY ENGLISH TEACHER, Cecil Dormand, put a paperback book on my desk that said The Merchant of Venice. I didn’t know what the heck it was. He said, “Patrick, you’re Shylock,” and to my horror, I saw that I had an immensely long speech.
I DIDN'T KNOW WHAT I WAS SAYING, but there was something about those sounds in my mouth that excited me.
AT 15 YEARS AND TWO DAYS, my education ended. It was all that the law required.
I FOUND MORE SAFETY ON THE STAGE than I had experienced elsewhere. And one of the reasons was that I wasn't being Patrick Stewart. If I was acting a role in a play, I was someone else.
LAUGHTER was a very important part of my life.
I BECAME THE FIRST-CHOICE COMIC FOOL in the Royal Shakespeare Company: I played Touchstone, I played Launce, I played Borachio and I discovered that hearing laughter is a much more pleasant experience than hearing sobbing in the audience.
MY ADVICE TO YOUNG ACTORS, which may sound corny and trivial but nevertheless means something very potent to me, is to be brave and trust others. If I had done that earlier in my life, maybe everything would have changed.
THE BEST THING ABOUT BECOMING A FATHER is that great sense of playing with young children, which became absorbed into my work.
THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A FATHER is that it’s more complex and challenging than people might expect.
I LOVED IAN MCKELLEN'S WORK BEFORE I KNEW HIM. We worked together at the Royal Shakespeare Company, but never in the same production, because I’ve been told there was no director who wanted both of us in the same production.
WHEN THE FIRST X-MEN FILM WAS SHOT IN CANADA, my trailer was next door to Ian’s. One of us invited the other in for a cup of tea, because we’re both English, or if we were working late, maybe even a glass of wine. I liked him more and more with every encounter and I loved working with him.
THERE'S A 15-MONTH AGE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN US, so he is older than me. There is something free about him. As an actor, he always makes you feel like he’s saying the words for the first time.
ALL OF US who were involved in Star Trek: The Next Generation are proud of the work. It’s always a pleasure to hear people speak about the impact on their young lives when they were watching the show.
WHEN I MET MY WIFE SUNNY, we found that both of us were crazy about dogs, so we began fostering. It can be quite a difficult job when you get so close to a small creature. We had one dog who we immediately sensed was unwell within 48 hours. We took him to the vet, who said he had to be put down. But every single fostering experience has been wonderful.
WE PROMISED ONE ANOTHER that a time will come when we shall choose for ourselves our own dog. He will be with me, hopefully, for the rest of my life. And I can't wait for that moment to arrive.
I'M NOT A COLLECTOR BUT I DO LOVE WATCHES. I was 18 before I had one, and I still look at it as an essential part of my life. I've never thrown one away, so I have some very ancient watches. Currently I’m very enthusiastic about IWC. They have everything I need.
MY MEMOIR WAS SOMETHING OF AN ACCIDENT, and honestly, we have Covid to hold responsible for it. Shooting television series or movies somewhere in the world, it's not possible to spend your spare time writing. Especially at my age, when I spend my spare time sleeping. But my agent said, “Look, nobody's going to be working, why don't you give it a shot?” So I said I would on the condition that if I wasn't enjoying it, we would return the advance and I would go back to playing jigsaw puzzles.
I NEVER ANTICIPATED THAT I WOULD WRITE A BOOK, never in a million years! Whenever I have it in my hands now, it scares me a little bit. But the experience of writing was profoundly satisfying. I enjoyed it so much.
When you hear the word “cocktail,” what comes to mind? For some, it may be James Bond and classy two-to-three-ingredient classics like the martini or old fashioned. If you look through the cocktail list at many bars today, though, you’ll see paragraph-long descriptions, scientific-sounding infusions and Bloody Marys garnished with a full English breakfast.
Is minimalism dead? Maybe, and while some may mourn the loss and hold on to their Manhattans for dear life, it’s time to accept the shift. Maximalist cocktails aren’t something to fear. Sure, they’re easy to poke fun at, but you can’t argue they don’t deserve their popularity.
The maximalist movement is everywhere, not just in the bar scene. t has taken over interior design, crept its way into wardrobes and filled our charcuterie boards with cheese we can’t pronounce. Drinks have taken longer to get in on the trend, but they’re fully in it now.
A few summers back, espresso martinis were all the rage. Admittedly, the ingredient list for this specific drink isn’t that long. But having to brew coffee just to put it in a cocktail shaker is certainly a step or two above its all-spirits ancestor. Since then, bars and their customers have leaned further into the “more is more” philosophy.
Take a look at Liquor.com’s most popular cocktails from the recent summer. Number one is the painkiller, boasting an entire pineapple wedge and a mountain of crushed ice as a garnish. Right below it is the notorious Long Island iced tea. Sangrias made in a French press, six-spirit sippers and a lot of muddling populate the rest of the list.
The people have spoken. Simple is out. Niche ingredients and borderline absurd techniques are in. But why?
You could explain the rise of maximalist cocktails—and maximalism in general—in a few different ways. A convincing argument is that people, especially younger generations, want to live in contrast to tough economic conditions. It’s no secret that prices and inflation have been rising for some time now. The COVID-19 pandemic worsened it.
Now that it’s harder to go beyond the necessities, people are going big where they can. Exorbitant drinks and indulgent presentation add a touch of luxury and excitement to an otherwise sad and drab world. A new car today may cost USD6,000 more than two years ago, but you can still afford to flex with a cocktail.
Of course, maximalist cocktails aren’t beloved by everyone. Anything reaching this level of popularity is bound to have people arguing it is overrated or outright bad. That’s especially true of anything involving alcohol, as anyone whose buddy just got back from doing the Bourbon Trail can attest.
Classic cocktail die-hards might tell you a drink should elevate its base spirit, not hide it. If your libation has seven different liquors in it, something’s probably getting lost in there. Others might lament that if you need to hide the booze in your drink, you probably shouldn’t be drinking.
There’s also a persistent idea that simpler cocktails are more refined. After all, the old fashioned is called that because the combination of liquor, bitters and sugar is one of the earliest cocktail recipes in print. Why mess with the classics? If it was good for the past two hundred years, it’s good now.
More practical arguments involve cost and labour. It’ll take your poor bartender much longer to make a six-plus-ingredient, highly technical cocktail than a spritz. Considering all the liquor going in it, it’s also likely to cost more.
It’s time to say nay to those nay-sayers. Popular drinks are popular for a reason, and it’s not just the Instagrammability of a hurricane glass with contents that look like a lava lamp. The maximalist cocktail has earned its keep, and here’s why. Cocktails aren’t cheap, even if you’re ordering a relatively simple one.
An old fashioned or martini can run you USD18 at many bars. With liquor prices being what they are, any drink is going to cost a pretty penny, whether it comes neat or with five mixers. If you’re going to go out and splurge on a cocktail anyway, why not go the extra mile? Why not get a statement for your money?
Money aside, maximalist cocktails are just plain fun. Does presentation make a drink taste better? Probably a little bit, but not all that much. It does, however, put a smile on your face. Going out to drink should be fun and what’s more fun than a boozy slushie with lit sparklers in it?
Contrary to what people taking notes on their bourbon will tell you, maximalist cocktails taste good, too. They may not be spirit-forward, but that’s not the only way a drink can be tasty. Sometimes, combining things into new flavours is more exciting than honing in on existing ones.
If nothing else, people have different tastes at the end of the day. If you like simple, spirit-forward cocktails, by all means, drink them. In the same way, let people drink fruity, over-the-top creations if they want to. There’s no sense in bashing maximalist drinks as a category just because you prefer something else. It doesn’t make anyone cooler or more refined.
To cap off this defence of the maximalist cocktail, it’s time for a look at history. Despite what it may seem, exorbitant mixed beverages aren’t a new phenomenon. Some of the longest-lasting, most revered classics are ridiculous when you think about it.
The Bloody Mary is a prime example. The brunch favourite has been around for over 100 years and is the epitome of over-the-top. Even its original, most basic version includes Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce.
Since then, creating the most extravagant Bloody Mary garnish has almost become a game. You’ll find Bloody Marys with bacon, shrimp skewers and even full hamburgers on top. The sheer absurdity of it is undoubtedly part of why it’s remained so popular for so long. It’s hard to think of a funnier drink than one topped with an entire fried chicken.
There’s also the entire class of Tiki drinks. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a group of cocktail enthusiasts more devoted to a certain kind of drink than Tiki fans. There’s also no denying that Tiki is inherently maximalist.
Tiki bar culture took off in the 1930s and has been slinging fruity, rum-heavy drinks nationwide ever since. While not every Tiki cocktail is extreme, many feature multiple kinds of rum. That’s before you get to all the added fruit juices, liqueurs and ornate glassware, too. With such an endearing legacy, it’s hard to say that maximalist cocktails aren’t at least historical.
If you haven’t yet forayed into the world of maximalist cocktails, there’s no time like the present. Here are a few ideas to start your journey. The mint julep is a good way to dip your toe in the water. It’s not crazy complex or hard to make. Even so, the mint garnish, piles of ice and requisite frosty silver chalice add just enough extravagance. If you want to kick it up a notch, check out this classic mint julep recipe that calls for eight—yes, eight—whole lemons.
Tiki is a natural next step. The eight-ingredient Zombie cocktail is a classic, and the inclusion of four different kinds of rum is maximalist to the core. Just be sure to pace yourself with this one.
From there, try your riff on a Bloody Mary or dip into fat-washed and infused rums. If you want a truly tedious drink, get a Pousse-Café. Keep in mind, though, that this particular drink is a pain to make. Take it easy on your bartender and don’t order one during a rush.
Maximalist cocktails have wavered in popularity over the years, but they’ve been part of cocktail culture longer than you might have thought. You can drink something else if you like. They may fade out of the cultural zeitgeist before long. But you can’t say they don’t deserve their spot in the most popular drinks lists.
No one would ever think that the picturesque and serene Mount Fuji is still an active volcano. And none might even hazard a guess that the sacred mountain would also be the base for a time-honoured Japanese tradition of tea-making that gives way to TWG Tea's Hon Gyokuro.
The suffix "gyokuro" is a kind of shaded green tea. The prefix "hon" denotes the work of a master artisan. Gyokuro is cultivated through laborious means. That's where the tea isn't grown under the full glare of the sun but rather under the shade.
They are matured under a careful arrangement of handcrafted straw mats known as 'Komo'. Over 25 days, these tea leaves draw in the nutrients of precious minerals that are nurtured by rain showers and dewy mornings. The slow growth of Hon Gyokuro is further nurtured by gentle breezes and sunlight filtering through the woven mat.
After harvesting, the freshly picked tea leaves are promptly processed on the same day. Stored in a wooden box known as Cha-Bako, the leaves rest and mature until autumn, enhancing their exquisite flavours. You get seaweed-green leaves that are rich in chlorophyll. With a flavour profile that hints of honeysuckle and that ends in a velvety finish with a touch of ooika—a thick, heady note that ignites the senses. This is a tea of brilliant sweetness and concentrated flavour.
This ancestral Gyokuro technique is practised by only a handful of tea plantations in Japan. There, where Mount Fuji sits, the altitude and terroir add to the Gyokuro harvests. The two renowned tea estates which TWG Tea sources from are managed by a single tea planter. In the case of Master's Gyokuro, the plantation's lone producer and craftsman of Hon Gyokuro is the last in the line of tea planters. He harvests the leaves by hand once a year in the spring. Only a mere five-kilogramme yield is passed onto TWG Tea. Needless to say, for the sort of exceptional quality, the Hon Gyokuro is highly limited.
TWG Tea's Imperial Gyokuro (SGD264 per pot / SGD1,271.50 per 50g) and Master's Gyokuro (SGD61.50 per pot / SGD258 per 50g) are more than just a cup of tea; it is an experience. Where contemplation over a comforting brew brings to the fore the appreciation of long-cherished heritage and craftsmanship.
GROWING UP, we did a lot of sports because it was my passion at the time. I was lucky to be in an environment with parents who were doing everything they could to offer me good education, to have something to eat. to have a roof over my head. Compared to the rest of the population on Earth, I was very lucky.
MY FATHER came from Madagascar and lived in a township. My mother lived on a farm with no electricity and water when she was young. Their histories gave me the perspective that allow me to achieve. That's why I never take things for granted.
I MEET PEOPLE from all over the world and they'd say that in my country, I can't get Krug. `One of my objectives is to be able to offer the possibility to make Krug available for a wider number of communities. Fifty years ago, Krug was mostly served in France, UK and Italy. Now we are sold in Japan, the US, in Scandinavia but I think we can go further.
FIFTEEN or 20 years ago, you will go to Shanghai and you will see people drinking spirits. I was in Shanghai four weeks ago and there were many wine bars. They grew like... mushrooms. I saw young people talking about a Barolo, 20 years old, something that you hardly find in Paris. So we need to be there. We need to be there because I think they deserve to have a glass of Krug from time to time.
MY FIRST EXPERIENCE with champagne was like with most people—it was during a celebratory moment. What's great is that in the last 10 to 15 years, champagne has moved from being a celebratory drink to one that's ubiquitous as wine. It is paired with food; it's drunk at casual occasions.
OPENING A BOTTLE of champagne creates the reason of the celebration.
AN EXAMPLE: you put on a certain kind of music when you're engaging in sports and exercise. It switches your mentality, your mood. If you're going on a date, you will put on a different type of music. So, why can't music alter the tastes of the champagne?
ONE OF THE WAYS is to talk about what you feel from drinking. Music is an analogy to that emotion. This might be a way to help people to enter the world of Krug without being too technical.
IT IS SUCH A great evocation of memories. Whenever I hear Balinese music, I remember my trip to Bali with my kids and my wife; the temples that we visited, the dinners we had.
MUSIC IS PERSONAL—some people can feel it, others don't.
SOME PEOPLE are afraid of wine, in general, because it's can be very technical. You hear about "master sommeliers" or "masters of wine"; the vocabulary can be intimidating to laypeople. We believe that we need to be more open to them.
I LOVE PIANO MUSIC. I've tried my hand at it but I'm bad at it. You need to know what you're good at and what you're not good at.
OF COURSE, we need to carry on crafting fantastic champagnes and so on but we need to accelerate and to go further and faster on the sustainable development front. That has already been part of LVMH and Krug's history in values. We already saw the huge impact of global warming. I'm more concerned about the forest fires in Portugal, in Italy, in Canada in the US. The heat waves in China; plastic is everywhere in the ocean. We need to take this seriously.
KRUG is very small. We may not make a huge impact in terms of sustainability but we need to lead by example. Everything that we can do, we need to do it. Maybe not showcase it because sometimes, I'm afraid about greenwashing.
WE HAVE STOPPED using herbicides for nearly 10 years now and we are on the edge of becoming certified organic. It's a three year process and this is the last year for harvest. So when we start the new vineyard campaign next November, we will be organic.
NO, I never think about [being the youngest president for Krug], except when journalists ask me questions about it.
Finishing off the year is Whisky Journey 2023. Held on the 1st and 2nd of December at Marina Bay Sands, Whisky Journey gears up for its most extravagant showcase yet. The two-day will host 30 prestigious exhibitors, featuring over 300 distinctive whiskies and expressions. With complimentary tastings from participating booths, visitors can partake in an array of whiskies at unbeatable prices. Delights like the highly sought-after Currach Single Malt Irish Whiskey or the Atlantic Kombu Cask, you'll get to traverse the world of spirits.
For spirit aficionados and novices alike, we present what you can look forward to. We sift through an array of liquid treasures and shine a spotlight on some of these impressionable spirits.
This triple distilled single malt Irish whiskey, derived from 100% Irish malted barley, is a testament of meticulous ageing. Initially nurtured in first-filled American oak ex-bourbon barrels, it is later finished in Atlantic Kombu Irish seaweed-charred virgin American oak casks. For this Whisky Journey edition, the whisky is elevated with an extra finish in a Rare Killahora Apple Ice Wine Cask.
These casks hail from Killahora Orchards, where their Apple Ice Wine are made from their rare, bittersweet apples that are grown on the south-facing slopes of Ireland's County Cork. The freezing temperatures and the year-long fermentation process further shapes the dessert wine. So, what you get are addition of sweet butterscotch and green apple notes that complement wit hthe roast coffee, dark chocolate and savoury umami flavours of the Atlantic Kombu seaweed charred casks.
This limited-edition bottling is non-chill filtered, bottled at natural cask strength with no caramel colouring.
Crafted from homegrown barley, this single cask bottling is a celebration of opulence. With a mere 79 bottles in production, these limited-editions embrace the essence of sherry and port. A sensory odyssey awaits with abundant sherry aromas interlaced with the imagery of a gentle campfire.
Resonating with sweet sherry, a melange of fruits—apples, pears, and dried figs—the palate is further suspended in a toffee symphony, which leads to a lingering, fruit-laden finish. If there's any gem that's coveted, you don't have to look too far than this from Quaich Bar.
From the heart of Islay’s oldest distillery, Bowmore remains a steadfast a testament to resilence, time and a little upright fist towards the establishment. This particular release is bottled from a single sherry butt, aged since November 1998 and is solely reserved for Proof & Company. Aged in Bowmore's fabled Vault No. 1, it is located closest to the sea, a fitting cradle for this distinguished elixir to manifest.
Heralding the twenty-eighth release from the elusive Springbank Distillery, this is a treasure trove where only 383 bottles at 48.92% ABV are aged 23 years. As the only distillery in Scotland that malts its entire needs of barley using its own floor maltings, Springbank is home to this particular batch that was distilled in November 1996. Nurtured in Sherry and Madeira butts and an American bourbon barrel, this batch is an embodiment of Springbank's commitment to quality and self-sufficiency.
There are talks around an enigmatic launch under the brand of Bruichladdich. There are no images nor information but for the Bruichladdich, Port Charlotte and Octomore fans, this surprise will be unveiled only at Whisky Journey 2023.
Tickets for Whisky Journey 2023 is now available. Use “esquire20” (without quotes) for a 20 per cent discount.*
*note that the 20 per cent discount only applies to the standard SGD68 ticket (with free whisky). It is not applicable to SGD18 ticket (without free whisky).
From the Orkney Islands, comes the Highland Park’s 54 Year Old single malt scotch whisky. If you think “54” is a very specific number, there’s a reason for that: Highland Park never expected to produce a whisky that old. As one of Orkney's most esteemed distilleries, Highland Park kept a careful eye on the rare few casks that would flourish during the maturation process.
In 1968, several casks were stored away. And since 2008, Highland Park Master Whisky Maker, Gordon Motion chose 10 refill casks—four butts and six hogsheads—and transferred them to first-fill European sherry butts. Add another 14 more years for the maturation process and the final result is a robust natural hue and rich complexity in palate.
After 54 years in the ageing, the single malt scotch whisky is ready for Highland Park's 225th anniversary. Factoring in the angel's share (the longer the maturation period, the more whisky is lost to evaporation), the 54 Year Old is divvied into 225 bottles; each bottle representing the year that the distillery has been in existence.
“Representing a quarter of Highland Park’s life,” Motion said, “we felt it was a fitting way to mark our 225th anniversary; born and crafted in the heart of Orkney.”
Time and space are the immutable constants in whisky-making. For the 54 Year Old, its maturation is balanced out by the Orkney Islands’ environment. Located 16km north of mainland Scotland, salt-tinged sea winds lashed at the coasts of this isolated archipelago. Reaching speeds of over 100mph, the moorland peat is bereft of any standing foliage but they are heather-rich.
For over 220 years, this 4,000 year-old peat is hand-cut from Hobbister Moor and is used to smoke their barley. The peat's slow-burn imbues a complex floral aroma; a smokey sweetness that's unique to Highland Park. Thanks to the Gulf Stream, the Orkney climate is temperate. This an ideal situation for the island warehouses to mature the whisky.
Highland Park's Senior Brand Ambassador, Martin Markvardsen, was in Singapore to introduce the Highland Park 54 Year Old at a luncheon held at Burnt Ends.
At the end of the dining table, there the 54 Year Old awaits. Taking cues from the plains of Orkney, the vessel for the 54 Year Old bottle is an example of craftsmanship. Michael Rudak, senior designer of Stoelzle Flaconnage fashions the embossed bottle. There's a conical 'push' at the base; an homage to the mash tuns at Highland Park's distillery.
The box, sculpted to represent the Yesnaby cliffs in Orkney, cradles the bottle. Hand-blasted, each piece of Scottish oak will be unique due to its colour variations. Led by John Galvin, who designed the presentation box, the Highland Park 54 Year Old retails for SG$71,500.
It's a princely sum but such is exclusivity. A deep autumnal russet swirls within the belly of the bottle. On the nose, one can pick out lychee, camphor, vintage oak and delicate peat. On the palate: warm spices; crushed cumin, coriander seeds, summer rose and jasmine. A ghost of kiwi and pistachio lingers in the mouth. Sweet and spicy notes linger at the finish.
Out of the 225 bottles, only six are available in Singapore. Limited exclusively to selected private clients and the 54 Year Old is available upon request only.
"Please enjoy Highland Park responsibly."
Origin Spirits is the brainchild of Patrick Shelley. This smiling unassuming individual is a veteran of the fine spirits industry; who has worked internationally for LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy) for 20-odd years. In 2013, Shelley left LVMH to pursue his own calling—his own spirits company. Called Origin Spirit, his inaugural launch was Kalak Single Malt Vodka, which was one of the world’s first single malt vodka. Then came Kalak Peat Cask Single Malt Vodka and Ornabrak Single Malt Gin.
Situated in West Cork, the south coast of Ireland is assailed by the Atlantic storms and warmed by the Irish sun—these two factors greatly aided the growth of barley. Add to that the years of water being purified by the land's porous rock and you get a perfect storm of distillery magic.
Shelley returns to this year's Whisky Journey and we managed to snag some time with the Origin Spirits founder about what we can expect from them.
ESQUIRE SINGAPORE: What can we look forward to your return to this year’s Whisky Journey?
PATRICK SHELLEY: First of all, I'm thrilled to return to Whisky Journey 2023. Last year was amazing and probably one of the best whisky fairs I've attended in years. Apart from our existing portfolio of products which will be on show, we have created another very special Whisky Journey exclusive for 2023. This time we are releasing a Currach Single Malt Irish Whiskey—Atlantic Kombu Single Cask, finished in a Killahora rare apple Ice wine cask. This incredible Irish apple ice wine works wonderfully with our whiskey and I can't wait for people to try it.
ESQ: There’s a healthy influence of Irish influences in Origin Spirits’ line. What is an Irish folktale that stuck with you?
There is one particular folktale that has resonated with me since I was a child. It was the story of "Cailleach", the Celtic goddess and queen of winter. Cailleach was the symbol of mother nature to the Irish Celts and represented the darker and more powerful side of nature. She roamed Ireland with her army of deer, sculpting the landscape with a wave of her staff while protecting all animals and crops.
I always found something mystical and beautiful about the cold and dark winter evenings in Ireland with the howling winds and piercing rain. This was Cailleach personified. Cailleach inspired the first product I launched in 2015, Kalak (aka Cailleach) Single Malt Irish Vodka.
You’ve experimented with flavours; what are some taste profiles that you’re trying to get right with your products? What is the process for you like?
In the creation of Currach Single Malt Irish Whiskey, I was actually more inspired by gastronomy than whisk(e)y. I'm fascinated by how different ingredients and flavours work together. The story started years earlier in Tokyo. I was sitting in a whisky bar in Shinjuku and drinking an Irish single malt. Instead of the regular bar snacks I was used to in Europe, here I was served dried Kombu chips. I was immediately intrigued by the flavour interaction between the single malt whisky and seaweed. The umami element of the latter appeared to really complement the whiskey while paving layers of additional complexity. It also balanced the natural sweetness and roundness of triple-distilled Irish single malt.
It was a long road to bring this taste experience from a bar in Shinjuku to a finished whiskey. In 2020, we eventually launched Currach Single Malt Irish Whiskey—Atlantic Kombu Seaweed Cask. This was the first whisk(e)y in the world to be influenced by seaweed.
Ireland, as an island in the Atlantic, is as much defined by the sea as by the land and seaweed has been an integral part of our history and life since the very beginning. I felt that bringing together two of our most native ingredients (Irish malted barley and seaweed) would create something truly unique while telling the story of our culture and traditions.
Essentially we started with our 3-5-year-old single malt Irish whiskey. We then sourced organic, hand-harvested kombu seaweed from the West coast of Ireland, and used this as a fuel source to char American virgin oak casks. We subsequently filled these casks with our single malt whiskey and left it to finish for three months. The roasted kombu adds beautiful dark chocolate, roasted coffee, toasted black sesame, salted caramel and maritime umami notes to our whiskey.
We launched our second whiskey a year later, this time using Atlantic Wakame seaweed. In contrast to the Kombu, the wakame seaweed adds more vegetal, spicy oak, butterscotch, and earthy green tea undertones.
For our vodkas and gin, we developed a mixology programme, however, for Currach Single Malt Irish Whiskey we focused on food pairing so gastronomy remains the principal inspiration.
What is that one whisky you’d always return to?
During my time at LVMH Moët Hennessy, I discovered Ardbeg Ten and this is a whisky I always return to. This helped me discover what terroir means in whisky and it is something I have been focused on ever since.
My 'desert island' whiskey would however be Midelton Very Rare 2013. This is spectacular and one of the best whiskies I have ever had the privilege of drinking. It makes me proud that this is Irish!
With the world becoming smaller and more accessible, do you take into account differing cultures with your whiskies at Origin Spirits?
Actually, with the world becoming smaller and more accessible, it is important to have consistency in our global product offerings. Consumers are travelling more and they like to find the same product wherever they land. We do, however, work with our importers around the world to create specific single cask finishes that appeal to local audiences. In Europe, we have released red wine and sherry cask finishes and sake and umeshu cask finishes in Asia. We are also seeing more demand for cross-cultural flavours. So we have started bringing more Asian-inspired cask finishes to Europe and vice versa.
When you’re in Singapore, which bar do you go to, if any?
I always stop at one of the Quaich Bars to discover new whiskies. The staff are so knowledgeable and I always have a great time.
Atlas is also one of my favourite bars in the world and a perfect place to taste new gins. For great food and drinks, FOC is an obvious choice. To be honest, one is spoiled for choice in Singapore. It's home to some of the best bars and restaurants in the world.
What is a spirit, other than those from Origin Spirits, that you wished you’d come up with?
All our products are Irish and made from local Irish ingredients, using traditional production techniques.
There is no particular spirit or alcohol that I wish I had come up with. But there are a number which have really inspired me, and all are external to Ireland. For me, provenance and terroir are what makes a product unique. As Irish malted barley defines our products and culture, I love how other ingredients, terroirs and traditions define theirs. Two in particular are sake and mezcal. Ireland can't replicate these. We don't have the favourable climatic or soil conditions to grow rice or agave.
We have previously finished our Currach Wakame in Sake casks and are planning a Currach Kombu in Mezcal cask release. This is a great way of celebrating a "tale of two terroirs". To show our consumers how different ingredients and flavours from around the world can come together in harmony.
What is something that you wish people would credit you for?
My objective has always been to create unique and world-class products that would both appeal to and inspire our consumers. We have three brands and five core products (two single malt vodkas, one single malt gin and two single malt Irish whiskies). Each has its own soul and personality. And yet they all possess the same DNA of Irish malted barley, copper pot distilling and single malt. I like to think we are constantly pushing the frontiers of fusing tradition and innovation while keeping our products authentic. Therefore it's very encouraging to hear from our customers and consumers that Origin Spirits is seen as a trailblazer in the global spirits world.
What’s next for Origin Spirits, especially since the pandemic is a dot in the rear-view mirror?
For the coming year, we will focus on consolidating our global distribution. As well as concentrate on "deepening" our penetration of existing markets, in addition to "widening" to select new markets. Ultimately, it is all about touching more spirit lovers with our products in more parts of the world. From a product perspective, we will launch our first series of 'Limited Release' bottlings in October, focusing on a "tale of two terroirs". This range will sit between our current commercial-release products and our single-cask offerings.
Patrick Shelley and other whisky-centric individuals and products will be at Whisky Journey. Tickets are on sale now.
There are many ways to describe wine other than the palate. One could pontificate about the colour of the grape or how the light hits the glass to give that blood-red hue. You could comment about the presence of sediments or how bright it is, which speaks about the filtration process. But in a rare moment, Penfolds decided to get people talking about the label design. Cue NIGO.
Penfolds ropes in street style doyen NIGO as the brand’s inaugural creative partner. This year-long appointment will lead the creative vision for selected Penfolds projects. A veteran in the fashion, art and music world, NIGO is also a wine collector. When asked about his affiliation with Penfolds, NIGO says, “I have always loved and enjoyed wine, and Penfolds has always been one of my favourites. My creative partnership with Penfolds is a dream project. I am grateful for the opportunity.”
And what is NIGO’s first labour? It’s the One by Penfolds.
One by Penfolds celebrates “oneness”. You know, that old saw about how different and unique people are and the things that bind all of us together. But that expression holds true for Penfolds as its wine is the product of diverse perspectives and regional nuances of each winemaking region.
In his signature style, NIGO designed four animal motifs for the wine labels. Like something out of an alt-Sanrio sketchbook, each animal (crocodile; rooster; panda; bear) represents the four winemaking regions where One by Penfolds wines are sourced—Australia, France, China and America. Limited-edition T-shirts and jackets, courtesy of NIGO’s own Human Made label, accompanied the global launch of One by Penfolds. Alas, those were quickly sold out. But the One by Penfolds range is still available online and at selected restaurants and bars.