Showcase of rare American whiskeys

Manhattan bar has started a whiskey library with more than 150 bottles of the best American whiskeys

Some of the world's best American whiskeys are now housed at Manhattan bar's Whiskey Glasshouse, from rare bourbon expressions of Pappy Van Winkle to far more accessible rye expressions by High West, Tennessee whiskeys and even single malts.

The award-winning bar at the Regent Singapore has converted part of a room into a whiskey library of sorts, putting a spotlight on the American spirit, for its newly launched American Whiskey Embassy programme.

The collection will feature more than 150 bottles and is expected to grow.

While there are bars in Singapore's competitive scene that champion spirits such as gin (Atlas Grand Lobby & Bar) and whisky from Scotland and Japan (The Auld Alliance), Manhattan, modelled after a New York grand hotel bar, wanted to focus on the American heritage and the vast range of American whiskeys available, says bar manager Philip Bischoff.

Last month, the three-year-old Manhattan claimed the top spot in the ranking of Asia's 50 Best Bars, and Mr Bischoff says the American Whiskey Embassy Programme is a "top-up" to its "world-class" beverage programme.

"We realised during the last couple of years that the clientele here is open to American whiskey and some of our most succesful cocktails are based on American whiskeys, such as the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan," he says.

The team started working on the project in August last year.

  • Flavours from the barrel

    Michter's master distiller Pamela Heilmann is relishing the increased interest in American whiskey globally, a resurgence she feels was catalysed by the younger generation's dedication to craft.

    "It seems that this generation is more concerned with the quality of the product rather than an inexpensive bottom-shelf brown spirit," she says.

    Michter's produces bourbons and ryes out of Louisville, Kentucky.

    While most distilleries add a lot of water to their product at the end, Michter's chooses to put its spirit in at a lower proof and add more water at the start of the process, despite it being far more costly because more barrels are required.

    "This leaves a lot of the flavours from the barrel intact," she says. "We're noted for our mouth-feel and bold rich flavour."

    Also, the barrel wood is air-dried before being toasted, as opposed to charring the wood immediately like with most companies. "This breaks down the layers of the wood so the liquid can get deeper into the wood," she says.

    Ms Heilmann, 62, was in Singapore to promote the whiskeys. Michter's whiskeys will be featured as part of Manhattan bar's celebrated house pour programme, where they will be used in most whiskey-based cocktails.

    She is also an industry pioneer.

    Last year, she became the first woman to be made master distiller at a Kentucky Distiller's Association distillery since the Prohibition era, from 1920 to 1933, taking over from her predecessor Willie Pratt.

    "I get it's a big deal, but it's not something I think about when I'm doing my job," she says.

    She also jokes that Michter's is the "runt of the litter" alongside "big dogs" in the industry such as Beam Suntory-owned Jim Beam.

    While Michter's produces a million proof gallons of spirit a year, she says the distillery will eventually be able to produce a million and a half proof gallons.

    Comparatively, Jim Beam makes around 18 million proof gallons or more a year.

    But Michter's is no pushover, having been recently acknowledged as a "heritage member" in the Kentucky Distiller's Association, a tier usually reserved for the biggest and oldest whiskey producers.

    Despite fears that the boom will eventually hit saturation point and some smaller distilleries have been bought over by bigger brands, she is hopeful about the whiskey market.

    "I don't have a crystal ball on whether this will last, but I think it can be sustained," she says.

But while the bar aims to be a destination for lovers of the spirit, it is not about having the biggest collection.

"We don't want to build the biggest collection in terms of quantity, so we've been very selective," Mr Bischoff, 36, adds.

Spirits distributor Proof & Company was instrumental in sourcing and curating some of the rarer whiskeys.

To ensure that the spirits - especially the rare ones - are authentic, it buys from suppliers that have direct contact with the distilleries and are able to get the small amounts allocated.

It also searches for the spirits at auctions.

Up-and-coming distillers such as Willett Family Estate and pioneers in the scene such as Death's Door White Whiskey (finished in uncharred oak barrels) are featured in Manhattan's collection.

A cult status expression such as Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 20 Years is available at $290 a shot in a 45ml pour, while a shot of vintage Old Oscar Pepper will set one back by a cool $600.

Half shots are also offered to make them more accessible.

Because of how rare some of these bottlings are, there is a policy that each customer is allowed only one shot on each visit.

"In Singapore, we have clients who can easily buy the whole bottle, but we want to share," says Mr Bischoff.

Another objective of the programme is to educate its clients through the Manhattan American Whiskey Club, a platform for a select community of whiskey lovers.

The group currently has about 15 members.

There are plans to get master distillers or brand ambassadors from renowned brands to conduct masterclasses, alongside tastings, workshops and special events by Manhattan's team.

For example, the bar has engaged Michter's master distiller Pamela Heilmann to fill up one of its unique, in-hotel rickhouse barrels for an aged cocktail.

The barrel will be opened next year to mark a year-long collaboration with Michter's, with its whiskeys used for most of Manhattan's whiskey-based cocktails.

•To join the Manhattan American Whiskey Club, e-mail manhattangrm.rsn@fourseasons.com or call 6725-3377.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 09, 2017, with the headline 'Showcase of rare American whiskeys'. Print Edition | Subscribe