If a whisky aficionado on Orchard Road ever looked to service a thirst at a dedicated whisky bar before, he might have found himself high and very dry. No longer. With a distinguished and burgeoning collection of over 4,500 bottles – one of the largest in Southeast Asia – and a bent on fixing this pain point, director of The Whisky Trust Group Christopher Lee resolved to build a haven for whisky lovers and initiates alike, smack bang in the middle of the island’s iconic retail belt.
The Group has come through in style with newly-opened The Grande Whisky Collection (TGWC), a 3,600 sqft. complex tucked away in ION Orchard’s 5th floor carpark. In the stylish main area, a massive crystal chandelier punctuates the cavernous head room despite being a “logistical nightmare” to install. The showpiece, along with custom-made shelves that were bored specially to accommodate the immovable beams that hold up the building facade, is testament to the painstaking lengths the Group went through to furnish what could be considered a ‘secret’ spot on Orchard Road.
But the wall, however impressive, is perhaps sideshow to the main act at TGWC: a veritable time capsule / ‘museum’ hidden behind heavy vault doors. The sprawling labyrinth is laid out in the shape of a map of Scotland. As you traverse the glowing hallways flanked by well-lit display cases, so too are you venturing across the isles and visiting the distilleries.
Within the shelves, pedigreed bottles that often signify watershed events in the distillery’s past, or are exceptionally rare. We’re taken through the maze by manager and ambassador Damien Fourret who avails his deep domain knowledge to our entourage of five, dispensing nuggets of whisky trivia that’ll come in handy for one-ups, as well as a healthy amount of wisecracks that keep the 20-minute affair both jaunty and paced just right. Group size is capped at ten to preserve intimacy, and Fourret assures us that the technicality of the content is tailored to match the group’s proficiency. Tours in Mandarin Chinese are currently offered as well.
With that much history and exclusivity in one place, I hazard the question: what’s the combined dollar value of the contents in the vault? Fourret smartly sidesteps, quick to state that the bottles can only really be valuated at their point of sale at an auction. He makes a good point: some bottlings are so limited in supply that a few well-heeled collectors can upend the market on whim. Famously, the Yamazaki 50-year-old commanded a record-shattering US$298,000 in January this year, only to be topped last Saturday by a US$343,000 auction in Hong Kong (also the Yamazaki 50.)
I try my luck again with Lee, who deflects the question wryly, but the fleeting, pained expression on his face is genuine. “Ah, our insurance premium is already so high, I don’t think we should be trumpeting a figure…” The gravity of the statement is telling, so I leave it. Suffice to say, the true-to-life bank vault doors and a few dozen well-placed CCTV cameras (we counted) should be deterrent enough for anyone entertaining the idea of whisking the whisky.
Does one have to be a whisky nut to appreciate the scope of what GWC has done? Perhaps. But those unfamiliar with whisky are even more welcome at this temple. “In fact, I learn more from newer (drinkers) than they may learn from me. They tend to pick up things you never noticed… because of our expectations (of the product),” Lee says.
Now that’s a welcoming statement if we’ve heard any.