How did your love for whisky come about?
In college, my cocktail preferences were always whisky sours and whisky ginger ale. While I’d always had an affinity for whisky, I really fell in love with it at one of the first blind whisky tastings I did – with a Pappy Van Winkle 25 years old, Port Ellen 13th edition, Hibiki 30 years old and 1970 Karuizawa – Geisha label. That was my first exposure to Port Ellen and I was so amazed with the depth of flavours. At the beginning, I thought Japanese whiskies were the best just because they’re so smooth and easy to drink. Then I learnt how unique the smoky flavours from single malts such as Port Ellen can be. There’s a nice build-up of gentle smoke in the background that is so beautiful.
What is it you love about Port Ellen that made you decide to collect all 17 editions?
I enjoy Port Ellen because they all have some sort of delicate peat that slowly builds in the background. I’m lucky enough to have tried them all and they’re all unique even though I do have some favourite editions. I started my collection knowing there are limited bottles in the world and a limited supply of Port Ellen.
Which flavour profile of whisky do you enjoy the most?
One of my favourite whisky profiles is an intense sherry cask matured Islay whisky because I think it creates the perfect balance between sweetness, woodiness and smokiness. You can get a three-stage tasting journey in your mouth. Usually these whiskies are a bit intense with high alcohol by volume, and are sweet and oily to start with, followed by a smoky BBQ finish. The flavours keep changing in your mouth, and go from sweet to spicy to woody to smoky – it’s just wonderful how whisky can be so complex and evolve in your mouth.
What makes a whisky truly exceptional to you?
The things I pay attention to are the nose, complexity and length. From the nose, I like different whiskies for different reasons – whiskies like Dalwhinnie or Royal Lochnagar from the Highlands will have a sweeter nose. Lagavulin and Caol Ila will have a more distinct smoky nose. But sometimes the wood and the age of the whisky affects the nose and can mask a little of the smoke or sweetness to produce a nice complex flavour. Complexity for me means the depth of the whisky and how many different layers you can taste. Some blended whiskies can give you a lot of layers but they are not distinct and pronounced. Finally, length is how the whisky evolves in your mouth and the different stages of whisky characteristics you can taste.
What is the most prized whisky in your collection?
My most prized whisky would be a first fill sherry cask matured Caol Ila, which also happens to be my first Cask of Distinction. Again, it’s a sherry cask matured Islay spirit that I think has the perfect balance and it’s one of the top whiskies I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking.
Can you tell me about the process and experience of buying your first Cask of Distinction?
I was meeting the Diageo private client sales team at the Diageo Private Client Suite in October 2017 to do a special-release tasting that included the Brora 34 years and Port Ellen 15th edition. They mentioned they had a Cask of Distinction whisky available. It was the first time someone offered it to me and at first I was hesitant to get so many bottles. Then they explained that their master blenders unanimously pick each and every Cask of Distinction, how limited they are, and how truly remarkable each cask is. After I tasted the sampling liquid, I took a day to gather my thoughts and make sure I wasn’t making a rash decision (even though I really wanted it) before I told Diageo that I wanted that whisky. I fell in love with the taste of it because it is truly a phenomenal whisky with sweet beginnings and a long sensational smoky finish.
It’s not always the most expensive whiskies that are the rarest but the ones you enjoy the most. And I’ve loved people’s reactions whenever they taste this whisky because the nose is so different from what it tastes like.
What are the tasting notes and flavours of this Cask of Distinction?
It is a first fill sherry but Caol Ila from 1996 with an alcohol by volume of about 51.2%. It is a powerful Caol Ila with brown sugar, oily texture and full-on smoke. The colour is rich, the nose is fragrant and sweet with hints of brown sugar, cotton candy and warm wood. In the first 3 seconds you taste sweet salt toffee, then an oaky spicy woody middle and finally after 5 seconds it becomes a big puff of BBQ smoke – imagine grilled pork belly just caramelising with smoke. The finish is truly long and rich with intense flavours. With water, the nose becomes sweeter while more toffee and spices are brought out, but it still ends on the fatty BBQ smoke finish.
You’re bottling your Cask of Distinction in February 2020. How do you plan to enjoy your first bottle?
I plan to open it with my family and friends. The cask will yield about 500 bottles and I plan to enjoy it mostly with them as well as my friends in Abbot Whisky, a whisky club I started with fellow lovers of the drink. I want to share and spread my passion for whisky.
Diageo Rare & Exceptional Singapore. Email: PrestigeClientSG@Diageo.com