Cheers to a whisky boom

Charles MacLean is the official ambassador for the DFS Whiskey Festival.
Charles MacLean is the official ambassador for the DFS Whiskey Festival. PHOTO: DFS

Whisky writer Charles MacLean says Singapore can profit from an expected surge in demand for scotch

Acclaimed Scottish whisky writer Charles MacLean says that scotch markets are priming themselves for a surge in demand from countries such as China and India.

"This will potentially have a big impact on the demand for scotch in Singapore through duty-free sales particularly, and throughout Asia," MacLean, 70, tells The Straits Times.

The writer and critic, who has 35 years of experience writing about whisky, was in Singapore as the official ambassador for the six-week Whiskey Festival at tax-free retailer DFS in Singapore Changi Airport, that runs from May 27 to July 1.

While the history of the scotch whisky industry is one of booms and busts, he notes that production capacity has gone up by 45 per cent since 2004, with 22 new distilleries built in the last 13 years.

The industry is already laying down the groundwork for future demand.

"The industry tools up and increases capacity and production to meet the projected demand, but the whisky you make today won't be ready for another five to 15 years," he says.

The first prerequisite for any market is that people have the cash, then you’ve got what’s fashionable and the availability of brands, and that’s where Singapore has the edge over many markets.


While most of the whisky will go into blended scotch by the big players such as Diageo and Pernod Ricard, he predicts that a lot of the smaller players, like craft distilleries, "will be obliged to sell their whiskies as single malts, and there's going to be a very crowded marketplace in five to 15 years time".

But he feels that this is where huge markets such as China and India are important, to step in and "take up that huge potential surplus down the line".

Singapore may be small in the global whisky market, but its position at the crossroads of countries makes it a player nonetheless.

"The first prerequisite for any market is that people have the cash, then you've got what's fashionable and the availability of brands, and that's where Singapore has the edge over many markets," he says, pointing to the sheer variety of whiskies available duty-free.

  • Highlights

  • Brand ambassador appearances at Whiskey Festival (appearances are from 5 to 8pm at DFS T2 and T3 Duplex):

    • Friday and Saturday: Johnnie Walker and Singleton, featuring Johnnie Walker brand advocate Kim Tan

    • June 16 and 17: The Balvenie, featuring brand ambassador Neil Strachan

    • June 18 and 19: John Dewars & Sons, featuring brand ambassador Euan Douglas Auld

    • June 23 and 24: The Macallan, Glenrothes and Highland Park, featuring Macallan brand ambassador Randall Tan

    • June 30 and July 1: Chivas Mizunara, featuring brand ambassador Paul Nealon

"It's worth allocating to Singapore because there are people with the wherewithal to purchase whisky, especially at the top end," he says.

"My prediction is that the Singapore market can only grow."

A sign of Singapore's status as a key player was having the first DFS Whiskey Festival held in Changi Airport last year. This year, it is expanding to eight other DFS locations in North America, Asia and the Middle East.

Travellers passing through the airport will have access to more than 300 whiskies and they will also be able to sample and purchase limited-edition bottlings exclusive to DFS.

In DFS Singapore, these include the Araid 18-year-old from William Grant & Sons Rare Cask Reserve ($139), as well as Woodford Reserve Personal Selection ($70), a small batch Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey.

As part of the festival, The Whiskey House at DFS' Terminal 2 Duplex and The Raffles Long Bar at DFS' Terminal 3 Duplex will play host to brand ambassadors over the six weekends, so that customers can interact with them at complimentary whisky tastings.

DFS has also introduced a whiskey flavour profile tool to help those who are new to the drink select a type they might like.

The four categories are floral and delicate, fruity and elegant, smokey and intense, and rich and rounded.

MacLean acknowledges that the mind-boggling diversity of whisky is difficult to simplify, but says "it's at least a step in the right direction".

"For the novice, you're confronted with sometimes unpronounceable brand names, so it's a useful tool to help people at the beginning of their journey of discovery."

It also helps that there are up to 100 whiskies available for tasting in-store, including Suntory Chita Single Grain and Johnnie Walker Blender's Batch 2: Bourbon Cask & Rye Finish.

"That way, if you like a particular one and you see that it falls into a particular category, you can discover other whiskies that fit that style," he adds.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 05, 2017, with the headline 'Cheers to a whisky boom'. Print Edition | Subscribe