Bright, hip and serving whisky

The Sunday Times checks out three bars that make whisky accessible to everyone

Whisky bars are no longer the dark, stuffy lounges they used to be. And more than just for the connoisseur, they also cater to drinkers who are just entering the world of whisky.

From the bright and airy Room For More to the library of whisky treasures at The Swan Song to the accessible $12 drams at The Cooperage, there are options for everyone.

1. For the whisky geek: The Swan Song

Prinsep Place may be better known for its alfresco beer joints, but hidden on the second floor of a shophouse is a treasure trove of rare and vintage whiskies called The Swan Song.

Co-owners Kelvin Hoon, 36, and Arun Prashant, 37, are likely to pull out something that they hand-carried from Scotland, or an independent bottling acquired at an auction or from a private collector.

"Sometimes bottles are so rare that there is only one available and once it's gone, it's gone. You'll never get it back," says Mr Hoon.

That makes it the whisky's swan song or "final performance".

But the co-owners have no qualms opening a bottle - at a price - to share with customers from a base they have built since opening in December last year.

"Maybe purchasing a rare bottle is too prohibitive for one person, but if we split it by opening it at the bar - yes, there'll be a premium per pour, but it'll be available to 35 people to partake," says Mr Hoon. "Otherwise they would never splash out the cash for that one bottle."

For example, a rare Port Ellen 1969 Celtic Label currently retails on the secondary market for about €15,000 (S$23,900) a bottle. At The Swan Song, you can get it at $300 per half pour. Its half pour is 20ml and not the 15ml at most whisky bars.

At this 25-seat bar, you are not going to find commonly available, big-brand whiskies. Instead, the co-owners will find you equivalents from their collection of more than 500 bottles. They add about 20 bottles a month.

Mr Prashant says: "Whether they are a connoisseur or a beginner, we prefer to see our customers as whisky lovers. Every customer who comes here is on a journey. We're no different from them."

Where: 50A Prinsep Street, 02-01

Open: Thursdays to Sundays, eve of public holidays and public holidays, 7pm to midnight. Closed from Mondays to Wednesdays

Info: Go to theswansong.com.sg; e-mail reservations@theswansong.com.sg for reservations; Facebook/Instagram: @theswansong/ @theswansongbar

2. For the new age whisky drinker: Room For More

Room For More owner Beppe de Vito (right), with Mr Riccardo Nardone (left), group beverage director of il Lido Group, who curated the whisky collection of the whisky bar. ST PHOTO: LEE JIA WEN

Nestled in the quiet and lush surroundings of Dempsey is a sleek, sexy whisky bar that would not be out of place in London, with its pastel-coloured velvet sofas and burnished metal light fixtures.

Located on the top floor of the building that also houses French restaurant Atout, Room For More is the latest concept by restaurateur Beppe de Vito, 46, who owns the il Lido Group that also operates Aura restaurant-bar at National Gallery Singapore and Southbridge, a rooftop oyster bar in Boat Quay.

Room For More, which opened last month and can seat 50 persons, is the antithesis to old-fashioned bars with stuffy interiors and hefty, intimidating whisky lists.

Mr de Vito says: “Through the design, we want to demystify the drink and attract a more varied crowd. By giving it a touch of femininity, women can feel comfortable here.”

Here customers can take a quiz to help determine what whisky works best for them, based on their preferences.

The results offer two options – an entry-level whisky and a higherend one – from the bar’s collection of more than 200 whiskies.

Most of the whiskies are available in 30ml shots (from $10) and 60ml double pours (from $18).

Where: 40C Harding Road

Open: 3pm to 1am daily

Info: Go to www.roomformore.sg; e-mail book@roomformore.sg or call 6877-6977 for reservations; Facebook/Instagram: @roomformoresg

3. For the traditionalist: The Cooperage

The Cooperage co-owners Paul Tan (left) and Ryan Wang want to make whisky as affordable as possible.
The Cooperage co-owners Paul Tan (left) and Ryan Wang want to make whisky as affordable as possible. ST PHOTO: SYAMIL SAPARI

The Cooperage is expected to open in Hongkong Street at the end of this month or early next month.

Taking over the prime spot formerly occupied by Latin American cocktail joint Vasco, the 60-seater resembles a traditional whisky bar with its dark wood interiors and brown leather Chesterfield sofas. Its name means the making of barrels and casks, an integral component of whisky-making.

The space is co-owned by spirits distributor Ryan Wang, 37, and Mr Paul Tan, 33, who owns the Grapevine bistro-bars in Upper Serangoon and Guillemard roads. They pumped about $600,000 into the project.

There are more than 200 whiskies on offer, mostly from Scotland, with many entry-level and popular ones that are priced affordably. For example, a Glenfiddich 12-, 15-and 18-year-old whisky will cost $12, $15 and $18 respectively for a 30ml pour.

Mr Tan says: "It's getting more and more expensive to drink whisky and most Singaporeans are intimidated by the prices at whisky bars, so we wanted to make it as affordable as possible."

The bar will also introduce whisky flights starting at $46, with vertical tastings from a particular whisky brand or region.

One of the six flights on offer features a dram each of Macallan Edition No. 1, 2 and 3, which are part of the Speyside whisky distillery's limited-edition series released annually.

Another flight features expressions from the Glenfiddich's Experimental Series, including the IPA experiment (whisky finished in casks seasoned with India Pale Ale beer), Project XX (made up of whiskies selected by the distillery's 20 brand ambassadors) and Winter Storm (21-year-old single malt aged in Canadian ice wine casks), which is yet to be officially released here.

The owners plan to change the menu every four months as stocks run out and new whiskies are added.

With a minimum spending of $1,500, regular customers can store up to nine bottles in personal lockers.

The bar comes with a kitchen and the owners have plans to roll out a limited menu of canapes, cheese boards and main courses to complement the drinks.

Where: The Cooperage, 42 Hongkong Street

Open: Opening end of this month or early next month; Mondays to Saturdays and eve of public holidays, 3pm to midnight. Closed on Sundays and public holidays

Info: For reservations, e-mail info@thecooperage.org or call 6535-0074; Facebook/Instagram: @thecooperagesg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 15, 2018, with the headline 'Bright, hip and serving whisky'. Subscribe