Whisky, Whisky everywhere and more than a drop to drink – A visit to the Auld Alliance Singapore
Richard Barr is a member of the Whisky Israel tasting society , a blog correspondent at times, and a good whisky friend and big whisky lover. From time to time he posts his notes and adventures on our blog.
I’ll preface this review by saying my workload & family obligations pushed the sharing of this treasure off far too long. It’s been in my mind to write on this gem of a whisky bar/lounge ever since visiting Singapore a couple months back.
Just what is this treasure trove of whiskies of which I must write? It is none other than “The Auld Alliance”. Not the Auld Alliance of old, that alliance between the kingdoms of Scotland & France, though the name does infer that link; For this Auld Alliance was opened by Emmanuel Dron, a Frenchman with more than a serious passion for Scotch Whisky.
I was in Singapore to present a couple workshops, which gave me the opportunity to visit Emmanuel, with whom I’ve been Facebook Friends for a while. All the photos of The Auld Alliance did not prepare me for the experience. Upon entering the bar, I literally faced over a thousand different whiskies, and no I’m not exaggerating. There are over 1,000 whiskies available at The Auld Alliance. All manner of whisky, from the mundane to the exotic & esoteric are available. The Auld Alliance is made up of three rooms, centre room, containing the bar itself, with seats along the bar. There are two rooms, one on either side of the central room with intimate seating for another 20 or 30 lucky souls. One of the side rooms contains a Cigar area and if you’re interested in a small private tasting event, it also contains a private area.
With there being over a thousand whiskies and my having to work, I decided to split my visit there over two evenings. I had a lovely conversation with Emmanuel on the 1st evening. I doubt few people, if any know more about whiskies of the world than Emmanuel. In addition to containing a wealth of whisky knowledge, he is amiable & approachable.
After introductions, it was time for me to select my first whisky of the evening from the ever so thick drinks menu. I started with something that some might consider commonplace but I had yet to try, an Amrut Indian Single malt Whisky. I had been hearing about Amrut for some time but never really had the opportunity to enjoy it. I was pleasantly surprised as it was a solid dram that could easily be served as a casual drink in the evening.
Emmanuel then suggested I try a Highland Park. My friends know I am not a fan of Highland Park. It just doesn’t suit my palate. That is except the Earl Magnus editions, which are special indeed and very unlike the typical Highland Park. After I explained that, Emmanuel was not to be dissuaded and strongly suggested I try the Highland Park 18 year old Silver Seal. I relented and 4 CL of this unique whisky were poured for me. Oh my that was good. No, that was GREAT! This more closely resembles the Earl Magnus and Highland Park of a hundred years ago then their mass bottling of today. If Highland Park’s staple were as good as this, I’d start drinking it quite regularly.
As I had to work the next day, I decided to call it an early evening & return in a couple days, but Emmanuel had other plans. His face lit up as he said I had to try something very unique, just had to before I left. He pulled a bottle out and poured me a measure of a Berry Brothers Blended Whisky. A joke he played on me, you must be thinking at this point. Ah but his bottle was indeed unique because it was ever so old, having been distilled sometime between 1905 & 1910, and bottled in the early 1920’s. My good friend, Shai Gilboa, dedicated a couple blog entries here to what he terms Whisky Archaeology. I think this dram of Berry Brothers classifies as that. This is one of the most challenging drams I’ve ever tasted. Usually I can dig through the complex layers of any whisky given enough time but this whisky was unlike any I had tried before. Emmanuel said that was because a hundred years in the bottle allowed the different layers to marry & become intertwined. Other than that though the nose, palate and finish should be as it was when the whisky was bottled. It was quite different from today’s whiskies. I saw from the bottles all over that this “archaeological” experience is well catered for at The Auld Alliance. Emmanuel has amassed a collection of whiskies from throughout the last 100 years and every one of those bottles is for drinking. One can even do a horizontal tasting of Johnnie Walker decade by decade. With that thought in mind, I bid Emmanuel & his lovely staff of ladies adieu until a few nights later.
After a few more days’ hard work, I was ready to visit The Auld Alliance for my 2nd time. Emmanuel was busier this time round though he was as warm, affable and available to answer questions, as was his fine-looking bar staff. This 2nd visit would turn out to be an international whiskey night for me. If you haven’t figured out by the Amrut I had on my previous visit, The Auld Alliance has an international selection of whiskies. And while Scotch single malts & blends are predominant, there’s also a large collection of Japanese whiskies. In addition you can find the Americas & other world locations represented. There’s even a nice sized rum collection for those who prefer it over Whisky (Though I have no idea who that would be). And if you want to be a little different, there’s a generous collection of Absinthe, and as we all know absinthe makes the heart grow fonder. For those who are not into spirits, Emmanuel also has a more than reasonable selection of wines & champagnes. I saw that they also serve wonderful cocktails. But make no mistake; this is a whisky lover’s hotspot with over 1,000 bottles of whisky. For me, the rest are merely add-ons though Emmanuel may say differently.
Looking through his encyclopaedia thick drinks menu, I’m not much of a bourbon drinker but decided on bourbon anyway to start the evening.
I thought I’d have the Buffalo Trace until Emmanuel suggested I go for the Pappy Van Winkle 15 year old. I happily took his suggestion. It was a lovely dram with a slightly higher punch to it at 53.50% alcohol. Since that evening, I’ve purchased Woodford Reserve & Buffalo Trace bourbons for my whiskey collection (I’m not used to putting that little “e” in whisky yet)
For my 2nd selection for the evening I decided to return to Scotland and selected a almost rare 16 year old Mortlach of the Flora & Fauna series, 43% alcohol. It is rich, complex, spicy, and a sherry character with wisp of smoke. A delicious dram that I highly recommend you buy while you still can as most suppliers are out of stock.
Anyone that knows me knows I like the Japanese whiskies. Not those Japanese whiskies that have been mixed with Scottish ones but those which are truly Japanese. The Yamazaki 12 and 18 year old both grace my home, as does the Nikka Straight from the Barrel. Until I finished it, the Hibiki 12 year old once sat proudly in my collection too. It comes as no surprise that I kept eyeing a magnificent bottle of Santory Hibiki 30 year old in the most exquisite bottle. It appeared nowhere on the menu so I asked about it. That bottle was purchased for the Singapore Whisky Tasting club that meets in The Auld Alliance monthly. It was not available on the menu and Emmanuel hadn’t even figured out the price for a dram. (note: To give you an idea how expensive bottle this bottle is, The Whisky Exchange sells it for GBP 599.00 and while it’s now sold out at Masters of Malt, they were selling it for GBP 524.95.) Looking at me, Emmanuel asked if I really wanted to buy a dram. OH YES!!! He pulled out a calculator to figure it all out, asking me if I wanted a half or full dram. Well, knowing the luxurious price of a bottle, I asked for a half. I doubt he made a penny on the price he gave me, and even so, this was to be my most expensive taste of the evening, costing me with tax & Svc, SGD 42 (GBP 21). It was worth every cent. The nose is rich with plums and summer fruits, like the entire Hibiki range but more intense. The palate is a sublime dream, a rich whisky which balances dark sweetness and an agreeable enduring woodiness to perfection. The finish is loooonnnng, dark, reminiscent of cacao and very very very rich. This half dram lasted quite some time before I finished it.
With my two visits complete, I will remember The Auld Alliance for my next visit to Singapore. I heartedly recommend it to all who chance their way to Singapore as well.
And just where is this most valuable sacred palace of whiskies? The Auld Alliance is located in the CHIJMES, 30 Victoria Street, #01-08 S(187996). CHIJMES is a historical landmark in Singapore, previously a convent and girls’ school; it has since been altered into one of the city’s most vibrant collection of nightspots with a host of restaurants and bars. None of them though surpasses the wonderfulness of The Auld Alliance.