There are times when we’ve certainly felt that Singapore’s whisky landscape is missing some of the good stuff – the really good stuff. Today, however, is not one of those days!
This week we got on our hands some of that joy juice from Malt, Grain & Cane (MGC) – an independent bottler of whiskies and rum from Singapore. This is quite the rarity coming from this small tropical island, which makes MGC’s origin story a pretty unique one. MGC was started by Marcus (you can find him on Instagram @HampdenPirate), with the goal to bring in to Asia good quality spirits straight from Scotland. If there’s anything we can get behind, it’s more accessible whisky options.
We have with us three bottles, a 13 Year Old Caol Ila, a 22 Year Old Ardmore, and a 24 Year Old Benriach. Over the course of the next few reviews, we’ll get into the three of them.
13 Year Caol Ila. Bottled at 55.4% Abv, alongside another well-known independent bottler, Signatory Vintage
This is like one of those collab singles that all these music artists like to do these days huh? Signatory Vintage (SV) has had a great track record of sourcing quality drams so this bottle certainly spots that mark of approval. In fact, it was selected alongside La Maison du Whisky (LMDW), one of the largest spirits distributors globally, in Singapore, they’re located at the nice enclave that is Robertson Quay, great bar scene and ambience for dining by the Singapore River.
The electric buzzing of Robertson Quay. Almost befitting of an Islay malt like Caol Ila.
Caol Ila (pronounced COOL-EYE-LAH) is an Islay staple and even its name comes from the Gaelic word for “Islay Strait” and belongs to Diageo. A fan favorite really, it’s known for being peaty (of course!) but also lighter and more floral. Here goes…
Starting with the color, it’s a pale straw yellow. Almost looks like chrysanthemum tea actually, if only I could swap this out on Chinese New Year’s.
Chinese New Year would be so much more fun, believe me. (Image Source: Dr Axe)
On the nose. Plumes of aromatic smoke – it’s all engulfing but at the same time very gentle, almost like walking into a cloud. The smoke has a coastal character to it; slightly briny and umami, with minerality to it. Amidst the limestone and quarry, is a dash of freshly squeezed lemon juice and kombu. I really like the contrast of these bright citrus notes to the deeper, earthy flint underneath the clouds of fragrant ash.
The smell of fresh kombu coupled with the fragrant ash is making me crave seafood already. (Image Source: Mara Seaweed)
It’s very evocative. It feels like a Mediterranean beachside lunch of grilled fish with a little charred piece of lemon and some rosemary. A really wonderful airiness to it.
The palate. Medium bodied. A good amount of heat the dissipates unfolding a light herbal menthol. It continues to be very fragrant with a good handful of eucalyptus – would work as a great breath mint. This comes together with a cooling sensation that is very refreshing. It is very approachable, not nearly as bitter as you might’ve expected from an Islay staple. There’s a very interesting flavor that evolves as it takes on a slight honeyed sweetness, much like Manuka honey, which brings to mind Woods candy.
You know how addictive these are. (Image Source: Goldcrest)
The sea spray on the nose carries to the palate well, and you continue to get the earthy umami notes that was very attractive on the nose. Here it comes in the form of freshly shucked oysters and uni. A seafood feast continues to unfold. As salt comes hand in hand with pepper, there’s a good sprinkling of white pepper as well.
A dash of lemon, a spoonful of vinaigrette and a taste of the ocean. (Image Source: The Coastal Side)
The finish. The minty sensation fades fairly quickly, but the warming sensation somehow comes back almost like an encore. The two high notes of sea spray and menthol are what remains in the finish but have become much brighter and delicate.
This photo is just missing a bottle of this Caol Ila.
This is a really well balanced Islay malt, I would say perhaps the archetypal Islay malt – if you’re trying to get a feel for what that ever popular category is, this is what you should try. It plays the three piece ensemble excellently, you have the gentle aromatic ash, the bright briny notes and the deeper cooling menthol bass. I found it a very harmonious mix where nothing was out of beat. There was also a good amount of complexity as the richer characters evolved into lighter more delicate flutters. Every grilled seafood restaurant by the ocean should serve this as a companion.
Well balanced and I would say very representative of Islay malts, it gets two islands in the sea from me.
If you're into oysters, uni, grilled seafood, curious about Islay whiskies or just want a solid Islay malt, you can still get this bottle at Malt, Grain & Cane.