As the country continues to stay on guard with strict measures due to the global pandemic, SG Lifestyle’s editor, Angela’s curiosity was piqued when she first heard of Whisky Journey, a 10-Day whisky appreciation event which will be launched at the tail end of a challenging year. A year which has witnessed many bars and pubs folding given the alcohol curfew, with others finding it tough to sustain their businesses. This eleventh-hour interview with Chua Khoon Hui, the 45 year old founder of the Whisky Store and organiser of Whisky Journey, is part of SG Lifestyle’s efforts to stand in solidarity with our fellow Singaporeans and show our support to home-grown businesses.
SGLS: Your name has been inked as the pioneer of Singapore’s whisky scene. Why did you choose whisky and not other types of alcohol?
CKH: When my wife, Joyce, and I first started the business 15 years ago, the local whisky scene was unheard of and whisky was generally not a popular drink, unlike wine. At that point, there were just slightly over 100 distilleries in Scotland, and only a handful in Ireland, Japan and other whisky-producing countries. It was a chance tasting that introduced us to the world of whisky. Joyce and I travelled to distilleries around the world to learn about their history and heritage.
We launched The Whisky Store in 2005 with the intention of making whisky more accessible to Singaporeans. Over time, we saw whisky appreciation grow, which presented the opportunity to open our first bar, Quaich, which was also Singapore’s first whisky concept bar.
SGLS: Which are your favourite whisky label(s) and how do you like your whisky?
CKH: We carry more than 30 whisky brands and over 500 whisky expressions from around the world at our store and bars, but Springbank remains special to us till this day as it was the first distillery that we imported to Singapore back in 2005.
When we first started, we were new to the industry and had no experience running a whisky store. Needless to say, it was difficult convincing and negotiating with various distilleries to have them entrust their brands to us. Springbank was the first distillery that did so, and that opened up many other opportunities. Personally, I enjoy my whiskies in a variety of ways. When pairing with food such as smoked fish or cured meats, I enjoy my whisky neat. Drinking it neat helps enhance the flavours of the food and cuts the oil. Alternatively, mixing whisky with soda works great for when I am in the mood for a nice refreshing drink. I particularly enjoy the concoction that we serve at Copper where a draft machine is used to make the single malt whisky cocktail, making the beverage icy cold and bubbly without any ice required.
SGLS: How would you convince someone who doesn’t drink whisky to fall in love with it?
CKH: Given the myriad of brands, styles and expressions available in the market, whisky may be intimidating for those who are unfamiliar with it. The best way to get acquainted with the world of whisky is to register for a personalised tasting session that is catered to your interests. For instance, if you enjoy wine, you could try tasting whiskies that were aged in wine casks. These whiskies would take on some tasting notes of wine, making it more palatable for a first taste. If you’re looking to learn more about spirits in general, we can also do tastings that include other spirits so that you can learn about the different types, and find what you like. At Whisky Journey, we have industry experts on hand to guide our guests along their whisky tastings. These professional connoisseurs were personally trained by their partner whisky distillery to ensure that guests get the most authentic whisky experience.
SGLS: You started your professional life as an auditor. Why did you make the switch?
CKH: Being young and adventurous, we wanted to pursue our passion for whisky. At that time, we thought that we could always return to our professional jobs if we were to fail! Of course, there was no turning back but we are glad that everything worked out well.
SGLS: How did the idea of Whisky Journey come about? What would you like to achieve from this initiative?
CKH: Our intention with Whisky Journey has always been to spread our love for whisky appreciation in a fun and educational way. As the Singapore whisky scene evolves and matures, Singaporeans have become more discerning in their tastes and preferences, and demand for more multi-faceted whisky experiences. We saw it as the opportune time to introduce whisky appreciation and unique whisky experiences. Given the current challenges the F&B community is facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we wanted to rally support for our fellow bar operators and restaurateurs. As a bar owner myself, I experienced first-hand how difficult the pandemic has been on the local F&B industry and saw Whisky Journey as the perfect opportunity to rope in my fellow industry peers and reinvigorate the F&B scene amidst this difficult time.
Weaving these two aims together, we came up with the concept of a bar and restaurant whisky trail where we partnered 15 local F&B establishments with international whisky distilleries to deliver exciting whisky experiences such as new tasting menus and whisky pairings. We also had each distillery train their partner bar’s staff so that they can guide our guests in their whisky tastings and offer recommendations on how to best enjoy each type of whisky for an all-rounded experience.
With these unique and differentiated experiences, we hope to draw customers to visit the various bars and restaurants. By establishing these collaborations between the local bars and international distilleries, we also hope the bars and restaurants will be able to use this experience to create new menus, offer new dining experiences, and continually deliver refreshed offerings for their customers.
Bonus Q: Who inspires you most in your entrepreneurial journey?
CKH: Definitely my previous boss at the audit firm that I was working at before I became a business owner. Even though I was just a junior in the company and he was in a senior management position, he ensured that everyone – even junior employees like myself – were well-taken care of. This experience has stayed with me and he is definitely the kind of leader I strive to be.
Whisky Journey commences on Friday, 11 December 2020 and will conclude on Sunday, 20 December 2020. Find out more www.whiskyjourney.com.sg
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Interview by: Angela May Tan, Editor & Writer, SG Lifestyle