A lot of whistles were wet

In a symphony of flavour and tradition, Whisky Journey 2023 was held at the iconic Marina Bay Sands Jasmine Ballroom. This year's programme superseded last year's event with a staggering 2,500 attendees and played host to 30 distinguished brands.

Curated by The Whisky Store, Whisky Journey started as Singapore’s paramount whisky exhibition in 2019. Then, the pandemic forced it to pivot into an island-wide bar and restaurant whisky trail that ran over 10 days. In its fourth year, Whisky Journey offers patrons an exclusive portal into the world of spirits. With esteemed distilleries and brands hailing from Japan, Scotland and beyond.

In 2023Whisky Journey didn't disappoint. Showcasing a curated selection of over 300 whiskies and expressions, the event goes beyond mere tastings. There's also an immersion into the expertise of industry stalwarts via masterclasses hosted by luminaries from Bruichladdich, Kanosuke, Tomatin and more.

The Highlights

The 2023 edition not only boasted the title of Singapore's largest Japanese whisky showcase, with more than six eminent Japanese brands to be showcased; there was a new digital wallet feature that streamlined the attendee experience like seamless purchases, exploration of exhibitors and whiskies and the redemption of free samples. All these and more, all within a single platform.

But there was also a celebration of the future of whisky. For whisky culture to succeed in the coming years, newer brands needed to be introduced. Boutique local brands like Sing Sing Whisky and Compendium Spirits were featured among other international luminaries like The M&H (Milk & Honey). Other brand owners and distillers included Ken Usami, the Distillery Owner and Master Distiller of Shinobu and Iain Forteath, the Master Blender at Angus Dundee Distillers.

The Currach boys

Attendees were the first to taste the newly launched Currach Single Malt Irish Whiskey, the Atlantic Kombu Cask. This libation is finished in Killahora Orchards Apple Ice Wine Cask and was only available exclusively at the event. Founder Patrick Shelley shared the intricate craft behind this groundbreaking creation, adding an extra layer of excitement to the array of exclusive Whisky Journey bottlings.

For more info, visit Whisky Journey 2023

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.

Currach Atlantic Kombu Apple Ice Wine Cask (Whisky Journey Exclusive)

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.

Tipperay Single Cask Release Quaich Bar Exclusive 2023

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.

That Boutique-y Whisky Company: Bowmore 22 Year Old Scotch - Batch 25 (Exclusive Bottling For Proof & Company)

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.

That Boutique-y Whisky Company: Springbank 23 Year Old - Batch 28

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.

Bruichladdich's Mystery Unveiling

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).

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.

For some, whisky is a form of liquid gold. From Scotch to Single-Malt, Bourbon to rare blends, each has its own complex profile and multi-layered range of flavours. No one understands this better than Benjamin Tan, the Head of Business Development and “Chief Butler” for TSH Corporation. Whisky Journey started as Singapore’s first island-wide bar and restaurant whisky trail that spanned 10 days in 2020 and 2021. After witnessing its initial success, Whisky Journey returns in 2023 for its most expansive exhibition yet, taking place at Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre.

This year, Whisky Journey goes back to its original convention-exhibition style showcase. The show will feature over 20 exhibitors, with over 100 different whiskies and expressions available for guests to discover, explore and try. We talk to Tan about his passion for whisky, what to expect from this year’s Whisky Journey and its future.

You have operated Whisky Journey since 2019. How did the Whisky Journey’s concept come to fruition?

Actually, I joined the company in 2020. Whisky Journey was due to take place in 2019 but due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the team decided to pause the event until government regulations were a little more slack in 2020. The first edition of the “bar-hopping” whisky journey was in 2020. Back then, I assisted my predecessor in running the event. Therefore, I'd say the initial idea was developed by the previous team and currently the team and I have enhanced it and brought a convention-styled (exhibition style) Whisky Journey since last year.

What is the relationship between Whisky Journey and Whisky Butler, Singapore’s whisky-tasting club?

When I joined TSH Corporation Ltd, Whisky Butler was brought together with me. Now both Whisky Journey and Whisky Butler are part of the concepts under TSH Corporation Ltd, providing an array of whisky products and services to our consumers. 

The 2022 Whisky Journey edition staged at Marina Bay Sands (MBS) was an overwhelming success. What can we expect for the 2023 edition?

Do expect this year’s edition to be bigger with more interesting brands coming on board. We even have an independent bottler from Taiwan who is flying in to take part in this year’s event! At the same time, some of last year’s exhibitors are also trying to put together experimental masterclasses for our consumers. So expect more exciting brands and masterclasses coming in this year at Whisky Journey 2023!

Do you plan to introduce more workshops this year 2023?

We've increased the number of masterclasses this year on both days to give everyone a chance to participate.

Who conceptualised the brilliant idea of the Whisky Journey Passport? Can you explain the passport concept to our readers and whisky lovers?

This was the collective effort of the previous team after many rounds of brainstorming. They decided that a jet-setting format of a whisky exhibition is a novelty and an interesting theme to go with. Hence, the passport as a tool to make the whole jet-setting experience more real (especially in times of Covid).

Why is Singapore the ideal location to host Whisky Journey?

Being a Singaporean company, it is always good to build our base from here. Although we acknowledge that competition is stiff here, we firmly believe that it is also the (whisky) hub and trendsetter for the region. 

Who are your major 2023 partners?

Our official water sponsor is Perrier, our media partner is Heart Media and our event goodie bags sponsor is Black Bull by Duncan Taylor, which is also one of our premium exhibitors.

How is Whisky Journey different from other whisky events?

“EEE” is our concept and the key differentiator to other whisky events. The three “E” are namely: Explore; Educate; Experience. You need to allow consumers to explore themselves rather than telling them what is good or bad; educating them about the brand philosophy, brand history, and the process of creating the products allows consumers to understand and appreciate the brand more. Lastly, you need to allow consumers to experience it themselves by allowing them to try it. “Explore” is paramount amongst the three; we make sure that participants will get to find a wide range of whiskies provided by the official brands, and buy directly from these brands. Therefore, at Whisky Journey, you can find limited edition whiskies; aged whiskies as old as 40 years old opened by the dram for consumers to have a chance to try and experience them.

How do you see the Whisky Journey evolving three years down the road?

I hope to take Whisky Journey to multiple cities with more fringe events being organised in different parts of the world for consumers around the globe.

Will you bring this event concept to other capital cities in Asia?

Yes. That is definitely in our plan for the next three to five years.

What is your favourite moment of true accomplishment in the life of Whisky Journey? 

The biggest moment definitely comes from the smiles of all my participants and exhibitors. Because they are all my stakeholders. Only when they are happy, we are accomplished.

Can you share with our reader the name of the mentor who has inspired you the most in your career and life?

I am fortunate to meet many people in my life. I believe that everyone is unique in their own way and there's always something you can learn from them. Combining all these unique experiences, I turned them into my own life principles that guide me on my path. I wouldn’t say there is a single person who inspired me in my professional life but as a collective whole, I’ve learned from everyone who crossed paths with me.

Recently, a speech by a local female entrepreneur resonated with this belief of mine. She said, “One of the biggest life lessons is learning how to admire someone’s gift without questioning your own”. The statement coincides with how I believe that everyone is unique and instead of being jealous of someone’s talent, we embrace and learn from these people. Because life is not about what happened to us, but how we respond to it. You can choose to be bitter or be a better person.

For more on Whisky Journey, click here.

This was originally published on LUXUO.