The Auld Alliance and The Whisky Brotherhood!
After sadly leaving the motherland, Scotland, my wife and I decided that we would do a few days in Singapore while on our way home to Australia. For years she has wanted to show me the Singapore Zoo (totally worth it!) as I've worked with animals for years and am a HUGE animal lover.
I wanted to visit the Auld Alliance, South East Asia's largest whisky bar, coming in at around 1200+ different whiskies from all over the world.
I'd heard of the Auld Alliance for years and had always promised myself that if I ever got the chance I'd visit the place, having heard rumors of how awesome this whisky bar was. I eventually wound up finding them on Facebook and befriended them. Over the next year or so I wound up befriending the owner of the Auld Alliance, Emmanuel and the head manager, Matthew. We'd chatted whisky a wee bit and once I knew I was going to be swinging by Singapore we chatted plans.
Now while in Scotland I had made a specific mission of picking up whiskies that I couldn't find easily or even at all in Australia. Specifically whiskies that would help me complete my Silent Distilleries collection. This collection is comprised of whiskies from distilleries from around the globe that have been destroyed or put out of commission. My collection consists of cask strength whiskies from these distilleries that have scored well in the Whisky Bible and Malt Maniacs. So not just any whisky will do.
Every whisky store in Scotland that we visited, I hunted these whiskies. I'd already picked up two of the bad boys before our trip, a cask strength 30 yr old Port Ellen purchased by my wife for my birthday and a cask strength 21 yr old Rosebank purchased by one of my closest friends and brothers for the same birthday.
In Scotland I'd managed to snag the 3rd distillery in what I consider to be the holy trinity: a Brora 35 yr old.
I also managed to score a St Magdalene 30 year old and a Littlemill 22 year old.
While in Scotland at every whisky shop I kept asking for a special distillery, a Japanese distillery: Karuizawa.
This Silent Japanese distillery closed in 2001 has quickly skyrocketed as one of the most collectable of silent distilleries with prices at times reaching 10's of thousands of dollars for a bottle. Even worse is you almost NEVER see it in Australia. EVEN more worse is that I've been informed by friends in the business that I trust that the stocks of the whisky were almost gone, with only a year or so of supply left.
This had me worried as I NEEDED a good bottle for my collection. A bottle of this would pretty much take out the big four silent distilleries that were most likely to run me high cost for good value.
To put the last seal on this distressing bottle was that every single whisky shop in Scotland informed me that almost all of the Karuizawa was being intercepted in Singapore by a single whisky store, leaving almost none for Scotland's shores.
Crap! A bottle of cask strength whisky from this distillery was one of my goals on this trip and now I was watching this goal slip out of my hands. I decided to contact the Auld Alliance to see if they knew anything about this whisky store or if they might know of any place where I could possibly put my hands on an affordable bottle of good Karuizawa.
Within six hours or so Matthew replied back. They knew the whisky store in question and even more they, the Auld Alliance, had bottles of Karuizawa for sell. They asked what my budget was, and I quoted a number, sadly at this stage of our trip a very low number that I figured would result in a "sorry my friend, but we just can't help you" message back.
Instead I was informed that they had a bottle that fit my requirements, even better was that this bottle was the pick of the litter. Out of 8 casks tried by Emmanuel and Matthew this was the one that they loved the most. a 13 yr old cask strength sitting at 64.2% and one of eighty two bottles produced from the cask.. Even more awesome was that they had a bottle open for a taste by the dram for when I arrived.
After a few days it's time to sadly leave Scotland and start heading home. After a very long and stressful flight to Singapore we finally check into the hotel that I booked for my lovely wife and myself.
We finally arrive in Singapore and catch a taxi to our hotel.
One of the first things that we're informed of is that the lift only goes to the second floor and our room is on the third. We're going to have to carry our luggage for an entire floor.
Guess who's lucky job that is.
As soon as the lift hits the second floor a smell hits my nostrils. It's a combination of McDonald's, human stink and sweaty Laphroaig.
It is NOT a good smell.
Two warning bells are ringing in our heads.
And then the full alarm, along with air raid sirens go off when we finally reach our room. I open our door and before it's even halfway open the door hits the bed. We drag the suitcases into the room and stare around us in horror.
The door can't fully open, the suitcases, mind you I mean one suitcase at a time, blocks the pathway completely to the bathroom, it's hot and humid (that's ok at it is Singapore) and when we look into the bathroom we just about cry.
You literally can brush your teeth, go to the bathroom, and take a shower, all at the same time as long as you don't mind soggy toilet paper. The entire room is less then 3 feet wide max.
I stare in horror at this itty bitty space that looks nothing like the pictures of the room I booked online, share a glance with my poor wife and then call up the front desk.
"Hello, how can we help you?"
"There is a problem with my room. This is nothing like what I paid for. There are no windows, the door hits the bed, the bathroom is scary small..."
"Sir you do have the deluxe room" I'm informed. (This is what I'd paid for)
"I know this, that's what I paid for"
"I don't see the problem, you have the deluxe room"
"Where do you put the people who don't pay the big rates? The closet?!"
"I'm sorry sire, we're fully booked"
"I'm sorry, but this isn't what I paid for. This is a joke"
"Actually sir, we do have a few rooms you can check to see if they would better suit you"
My poor, suffering wife and I make our way back downstairs to the front desk where I immediately hope onto a computer to see what other hotels are available as I have a very bad feeling about this and my wife follows the hotel clerk from room to room.
I thought they were fully booked.
My wife follows the hotel clerk around the building, looking at several other rooms while I immediately hop onto the hotel computer to try and find alternate places to stay if this pans out in the unpleasant way that I think it's going to.
Pretty quickly my wife is back and tells me that every room is the same sort of style. Small, no windows, no room. In short the exact opposite from what the photos online showed.
We head back to the room and stare at one another in horror. A 18 hour flight to arrive in Singapore to this?! My wife is stressing. What do we do? I finally come up with the first good idea of the night.
"Let's go to the Auld Alliance. We'll get some food into us, some good whisky and they might have some ideas on a place to stay"
Done! A quick cab ride and we're at the Auld Alliance. We walk through the door and are immediately struck by the site of hundreds upon hundreds of bottles along the walls. A veritable wall of whisky. Leather seats, polished hardwood floor, soft music playing in the background.
THIS IS WHAT A WHISKY BAR IS SUPPOSED TO BE!
From behind the bar comes Matthew, shaking our hands and welcoming us to Singapore. Super friendly and we feel like we've just come home. Matthew gives us a tour of the bar and then asks how we're doing. Massive sigh and I just look at him and ask him for a drink, anything, anything good please.
He comes back with a cask strength BenRiach from 1976, bottled exclusively for the Auld Alliance. My wife and I take a nose and it's BAM! the fruit immediately hits us. Matthew informs us that it's one of the fruitiest whiskies that he's ever had and I can only agree. It's big, but soft and the fruit just cascades around your nose and mouth. This is my first taste of BenRiach and man it's a cracker.
Sadly I saw just recently that they poured the last dram from the bottles and that whisky is no more.
As my wife and I sip on the BenRiach Matthew walks us through the place, showing us all of these beautiful whiskies, Glenfarclas Family Casks, Macallan's from the 1930's and 1940's, Ardbeg's from the 1970's, a Laphroaig from before 1910. Oh sweet jesus I'm in heaven!
My wife and I chat with Matthew about our trip to Scotland, the flight to Singapore and our current hotel situation during the tour. Matthew informs us that even though we'd said we would be in on the following day, him and Emmanuel had thought that my wife and I would stop by as they knew when our plane got in. Emmanuel is on his way to the bar to say hello.
And almost as if by magic Emmanuel is there, super friendly, being the perfect host, asking about our trip and our flight and when we inform him about our hotel troubles him and Matthew immediately hope onto their computers and phones, trying to find us new accommodation. Matthew comments that we must be hungry and quite a few of the local restaurants do some good food, why don't we order some in.
We're blown away! We've been there maybe 20 minutes, we still haven't finished our BenRiach and we're being treated like family. Matthew at one point in between calls to local hotels looks up and apologizes, saying that he's sorry that him and his wife have a small place right now, otherwise my wife and I would be welcome there, but hopefully on our next trip to Singapore the new place will be ready and we won't have to worry about a hotel.
Did I mention these two awesome whisky guys were treating us like family?!
While my wife and I catch up on some much needed food, Emmanuel and Matthew call hotel after hotel, trying to find us something, anything, but it's extremely difficult going as it's school holidays in both Malaysia and Singapore so the city is at 99% occupancy.
My wife and I try some more whiskies, sampling the Karuizawa that both Emmanuel and Matthew had suggested, which is very enjoyable, and following Matthew's advice of adding a few drops of water, opens up to some big aniseed notes. I even find my beloved Knob Creek bourbon which is VERY rare in Australia and tends to run $100 to $120 a bottle when you can find it.
We spend a very lovely few hours at the Auld Alliance, while the guys there try to find us a hotel with sadly no luck. They suggest that we'll all try again tomorrow and see what we can find. However would it be possible for my wife and I to come back tomorrow night, they've got a few regulars who would love to meet me.
We're blown away, sure we'll come back tomorrow, we'd love to! Back to our dump of a hotel with the sweaty Laphroaig McDonalds smell where I spend several more hours on the computer before finding a furnished apartment at 1am. They can take us.
Done and done! My wife and I catch a taxi to the new apartments which are gorgeous and finally crash at around 2am. Tomorrow is going to be a big day. My wife and I go shopping, mainly clothes for her and then the Auld Alliance again!
We arrive back at the Auld Alliance, having enjoyed a lovely day of clothes shopping and sleeping in, looking forward to more visiting with Matthew and Emmanuel. When we walk in Matthew grins and greets us and then walks us over to a side room that they've set aside for tonight's festivities.
My wife and I glance at one another, this is more then we'd expected. On the table there is some simple bar foods, peanuts and the like for us to nibble on along with a pitcher of water, but we're more surprised that this little alcove/room was set aside for us.
Matthew asks if he can grab us anything and it's a definite yes!
There is something here that I should have been doing for the last month now and have sadly been neglecting. See the thing is that when you spend a good amount of time with whisky, you quickly learn your favorites and all too often wind up focusing your attention on distilleries that you've had before, just moving your way up the age chain. I found myself doing this too much in Scotland, focusing on Glenfarclass's, Ardbeg's, Talisker's and the such, with the occasional foray into Brora's and Port Ellen's.
Now all of those whiskies are brilliant whiskies, and you'll find bottles of all of them in my personal whisky collection, but what happens is that you wind up blind at times to the other bounty that surrounds you. Right now here we sit with 1200 or so different whiskies, and while I've heard of just about every single distillery in the menu, I haven't tried them all. Tonight is that night.
I don't plan on focusing much attention on distilleries that I know and love tonight, tonight we're playing around. I immediately start the night off with a 1954 Mortlach which was bottled by Gordon & MacPhail at 54 years old. My wife says she'd like to try something fruity so Matthew comes back with a 2000 Balblair, another distillery I've never tried before.
My budget is not as massive as it could be so I decide to order all my drams at 20mls. That's one of the really cool things about the Auld Alliance. You can order your drams in 3 different measures, 10mls, 20ml and 40mls, and they're priced accordingly. Prices at the Auld Alliance are not cheap, if you're buying rare whiskies, but that's fine, because they're rare whiskies. And unlike alot of places I've been to, the Auld Alliance isn't out to gouge you, they want you to have a good time. I mean where else can you try a Black Bowmore, or a Laphroaig from 1910?
So my wife sips on her Balblair that Matthew recommended, and I nose this 54 year old Mortlach. It is absolutely lovely and is a whisky that I could easily spend hours upon hours mulling over a single dram. It's a whisky that makes you look within yourself and even though many would say that the style wouldn't suit it for the weather, in my opinion a winter warmer. A whisky to spend hours by the fireplace with. In short it's sublime.
My wife sit and chat while we enjoy these beautiful whiskies and pretty soon the first regular who's come in to say hello to me and my wife is Arun. He's a regular of the Auld Alliance and greets us with a giant smile and joins us in enjoying some beautiful whiskies. His first whisky is a Clyneish, looks like it's a sherry cask maturation and he immediately offers a sip to my wife and myself. I didn't get a look at the price, but I KNEW this whisky was not cheap and to have this guy, who I'd just met, offer me a sip from a whisky that runs more for a dram then most people pay on a bottle of whisky, was touching. The Clyneish is very very delicious.
We're finally ready for another dram and I figure let's go with a silent distillery, one that I'd never tried before and you never really hear anything about: Glen Mhor, a Highlands distillery that closed in 1983. I grab a cask strength from the 1970's off the top of my head and sit down to enjoy this dram with my wife. We're really loving it, and swinging through the room every 15 minutes or so to chat whisky is Matthew and Emmanuel, talking about their whisky experiences, how to tell casks used, everything.
To say Emmanuel is a whisky expert is an understatement, he's able to tell when a distillery moves from a fired still to a heated one, when the cask quality dropped, I mean everything. It would be very easy just to spend a week with him absorbing his whisky knowledge.
Soon we're joined by Darren, otherwise known as Mr Sherry for his love of fruity sherry whiskies. He immediately orders a dram of Caol Ila from 1966, bottled by Gordon & MacPhail, aged in sherry casks. A 29 year old whisky that sells at about $1500 US, if not more. Holy cow. It's so beautiful and dark and the first thing that Darren does is offer a taste to my wife and myself. Another whisky dram that runs more then most people spend on a nice whisky purchase, it's absolutely lovely and as in the Mortlach 54 yr old, sublime.
While my wife and I chat with Darren and Arun, Matthew comes into the room and asks me to join him. Outside is another Australian whisky blogger, Martin from http://www.timeforwhisky.com.. We chat for a bit about whisky and how few reputable whisky bloggers there are in Australia, at one time someone mentions that there's only about six of us in the country who are regularly writing and considered reputable. He's actually even read The Whisky Fiend. Very cool. Pretty soon he heads off with his partner and it's back into the room I go.
Emmanuel joins us along with Matthew, trying new whiskies and chatting the entire time, about how while Scotland is brilliant for whisky distilleries, the best whisky bars are outside of Scotland, where other countries whiskies can also shine, how the Scottish are just about the friendliest people that one could hope to meet, how just because we drink whisky straight some people think that we must have a drinking problem, since we're not mixing our whisky in coke.
Even better chatting with Matthew and Emmanuel I find out that the Auld Alliance actually doesn't have any sort of coke on site, in order to ensure that their brilliant whiskies are not misused. We wind up enjoying rare Ardbegs, Caol Ila's, Kavalan's and more. All of us sharing our drams with the other guys at the table. We've only known these guys for less then a day, in the case of Arun and Darren, 2 hours, but it feels like family. Everyone chatting like long loss friends.
At 11 my wife asks if this can be our last whisky as she's tired. Not a problem. We chat with Emmanuel and everyone else and all of a sudden it's past 2am. Where has the time gone?! No more whisky was consumed, but it's just disappeared!
My poor wife has been so patient and it's time to leave, but not without handshakes and promises to come back, and not without my very lovely Karuizawa that Matthew and Emmanuel suggested. A visit to the Auld Alliance is worth the trip to Singapore by itself, everything else is just gravy.
And my visit at the Auld Alliance made me think about the Whisky Brotherhood. A brotherhood where the only thing you have in common is whisky. A brotherhood where it doesn't matter where in the journey you are, whether novice or expert connoisseur. A brotherhood that doesn't care about religion, race, background, just a common passion for the water of life. My wife and I experienced this brotherhood so many times in Scotland and Singapore...with so many encounters, some from people who were new whisky friends and others who were old whisky friends, even though never met before.
In Scotland the owner of Abbey Whisky, Mike, helped me out by storing quite a few whiskies that I'd purchased, at his shop, taking up space, awaiting my return and offering on our next visit that his family and mine should do a journey through Scotland together, with him driving and being our tour guide. A whisky lover who I've chatted with many times before online, but this is my first time meeting him.
Or meeting fellow Connosr member: Talexander who having read that myself and Mike were enjoying some drams at the Society bar, came over to introduce himself, scaring the hell out of me, and inviting us over to spend time with himself and friends, sharing their drams. Someone who I'd chatted with before online over Connosr before, but had never chatted with over the phone or person.
Having the distilleries, randomly and without asking, offering free whiskies, special treats, discounts, making calls on our behalf to the next upcoming distillery, in order to ensure an excellent visit for us.
Or Matthew offering a place for us to stay when we're in Singapore next, and him and Emmanuel helping find my wife and myself a place to stay while in Singapore.
Or Arun and Darren sharing their whisky drams with us, whiskies that run hundreds of dollars a shot.
See that's the cool thing about whisky. It doesn't matter where you are in your journey, as long as you're enthusiastic and open to learning from others, your whisky guys don't care, they're willing to open up their bottles, businesses, homes, friends and family to bring you into the fold, with no pretentiousness or elitism. A fraternity where you can travel all over the world and be welcomes anywhere, joining other fellow whisky lovers for a dram and a chat.
This trip really drove the whisky brotherhood home for me and for everyone who helped open my eyes thank you very much. Thank you Matthew, Emmanuel, Arun, Darren, Roy, Susan, Mark, Nick, Margaret, Ian, Derek, Mike, Ronnie, David and anyone that I might have missed for making those 30 days, some of the most enjoyable days of my wife's and my life and giving us a trip to remember for the rest of our lives.