Dram Mor Group – Indie Whisky Bottler & Whisky Cask Broker

Our clients and readers are excited to find out more about Dram Mor Group and the people behind the brand ever since Kenny Macdonald came on Zoom for a tasting of their Autumn Release. The bottles are absolutely fabulous but then, so is Kenny! We decided to share a wee bit more about Dram Mor Group beyond the bottlings.

The Beginnings of Dram Mor Group

The owners of Dram Mor Group are husband and wife team, Kenny and Viktorija Macdonald. Passionate about whiskies, they work in the whisky industry for many years. In 2013, they decided to take the plunge to start their own company. Initially, the company operates as an export agent for the various Scottish distilleries. The dynamic duo then started investing in whisky casks in 2018, purely for themselves. However, as they began to amass more than just a few whisky casks, Kenny thought it was time to take a step further as an independent bottler! Hence, Dram Mor Group was born. In 2019, Dram Mor started bottling their first series of whisky casks with the advice of Jim McEwan, the whisky legend.

Alas, Covid-19 struck the world in early 2020, pushing back the timeline that Kenny and Viktorija had first set out. Nonetheless, Viktorija worked hard in securing most of her distributors in Europe and also reached out to Spirits Castle in Singapore! It was the start of an exciting journey for all of us!

How It All Started for Dram Mor Group x Spirits Castle

To be honest, we thought that it was really fate that brought us together. When Viktorija first reached out to us, she actually knew us as WhiskyGeeks. She was hoping that we would do an article for Dram Mor Group so that we would attract a distributor! So when we explored the idea of Spirits Castle taking on the distributorship, we both got excited for what it meant for us. It was just the right timing because Spirits Castle was looking for a Scottish independent brand to represent, and Dram Mor Group showed up! It did not take long for us to work out a contract and start our collaboration.

Sadly, Covid-19 took away our chances of shipping in Dram Mor’s inaugural release. We were all ready to ship when the lockdowns happened. All work stopped. After several months of trying to get things shipped, we decided to let go of the inaugural release and wait for the second one. Thankfully, we still managed to get ONE of the inaugural expressions and that is the Caol Ila 2013 6 Years Old! We are so proud that it scored a stunning 89 points on WhiskyFun!

Dram Mor Caol Ila 2013 6 Years Old

The Many Perils of Shipping

Our first shipment of Dram Mor’s Autumn Releases was in September 2020. Again, the timeline was pushed backwards due to Covid-19. Even the shipment process became a nightmare for all of us. For two whole weeks, Viktorija and I were so flustered with the various shipping nightmares that we practically talked to each other before we sleep and when we awake! The problems were various, from a non-pick up at the warehouse to the multiple times that we had to redo our import permit. Just thinking about it now gives me goosebumps!

Nonetheless, the nightmare ironically bought the two companies closer, and with it, started a beautiful journey of fantastic whiskies and whisky casks ownership!

The 6 expressions of Dram Mor Bottling

More Than Just an Independent Bottler

If you think that Dram Mor is just yet another independent bottler, then you have misunderstood them. Besides bottling single cask whiskies under their brand, Dram Mor Group is also a whisky cask broker, working exclusively with Scotch whiskies. Spirits Castle, of course, becomes their exclusive agent in Singapore and South East Asia for whisky cask brokerage too!

Dram Mor Group offers not only the chance for our clients to own whisky casks but also services such as re-racking (transferring whisky from one cask to another). Re-racking assures cask owners of good outcomes for their whisky. They are also highly connected around the world, making it easy for cask owners to sell their casks. To make things even sweeter, Jim McEwan gives advice to Kenny and Viktorija on the side! So any cask owners who have casks with us will know that they have many experts to discuss details with. 🙂

It’s Just A Beginning

Yes, it’s just a beginning! We look forward to bringing you more of Dram Mor’s delicious single cask, single malts whiskies to Singapore and South East Asia! Their next release is again held up by Covid-19, unfortunately. Nonetheless, rest assured that we will do our best to expedite the shipment once ready! In the meanwhile, please stay tuned for our next adventure with Dram Mor Group!

Penderyn’s Icons of Wales – Royal Welsh Whisky

I love a good story in any products, so the Icons of Wales series from Penderyn distillery usually gets me excited. The launch of the Royal Welsh Whisky, however, tips the excitement over the top. The expression has a story and a true history behind it. Before I wade into the history of the Royal Welsh Whisky, let us go back in time to Wales.

The Disassociation of Wales and Whisky

Wales has a short whisky history. The current distilleries are Penderyn Distillery, located in the Brecon Beacons in Southern Wales, and Dà Mhìle Distillery in Western Wales. Penderyn is the only distillery exporting its Welsh whiskies outside of UK, to countries such as the United States, Germany, France and Singapore.

The history of Wales is tied with coal mining. Its coal mines used to fuel the Scotch whisky distilleries back in its hey days. Unknown to many whisky drinkers, Wales had a whisky distillery about a century ago.

The History of Welsh Whisky

Unknown to many, Wales was home to a whisky distillery about one century ago. Known as Frongoch Distillery, its location was about two and a half miles from Bala on the way to Trawsfynydd. R. Lloyd Price, the owner of the Rhiwlas Estate and Robert Willis, a pretty unknown person, registered the Welsh Whisky Distillery Co in Frongoch, Bala, in 1889 and built the Frongoch Distillery.

The Whisky of Frongoch Distillery

The first Welsh whisky went to customers in 1891. All of them went to North Wales and the border counties. The owners changed their policy after the first batch, choosing to increase the years of maturation. This was a time before rules and regulations came into the whisky industry; such a move from the owners showed their passion and dedication to the craft of whisky-making.

Interestingly, the Welsh Whisky Company Co. received a royal warrant from the Queen on 26 July 1895. As a result, the prefix “Royal” could be used in front of the whisky. Hence, the Royal Welsh Whisky was born. Shortly after the receipt of the royal warrant, the market released the first Royal Welsh Whisky in the history of Wales.

Advertisement of the Royal Welsh Whisky. Picture from WhiskyInvestDirect

Details about the flavours and taste of the whisky did not survive the years, unfortunately. Advertisements such as the above picture tell us that the distillery released the whisky as a five years old malt made from the finest malted barley, but there was nothing that spoke of its flavours or taste.

Based on the location of Frongoch, the ample peat available likely meant that the whisky was peated. It was also comparatively more expensive than the typical Scotch whiskies of the time. The old report of the Wine & Spirits Trade Record also pointed to the fact that the Royal Welsh Whisky might have been more similar in style to their Irish counterpart than Scotch in terms of their choice of using a “Pot Still” and selling the whisky both in bulk and in bottles. Sadly, there were no concrete details to find out more.

The Modern Royal Welsh Whisky

Picture of Original vs Modern Royal Welsh Whisky.
Picture Credit: Penderyn Distillery

Fast forward to the modern era, and we have Penderyn Distillery as a successor. As the first Welsh distillery to export its whiskies outside of the United Kingdom, the distillery owns one of the original Royal Welsh Whisky bottle (pictured). There are three other surviving bottles. One of them is a resident at Cardiff’s St Fagans National History Museum. The other two belong to private collectors who bought them in an auction at £7,300 and £7,200 respectively in 2016.

In 2019, Penderyn Distillery decided to honour the history of whisky-making in Wales with the release of their version of the Royal Welsh Whisky. It is part of Penderyn’s Icon of Wales series and released in March 2019 to celebrate St David’s Day. The new Royal Welsh Whisky sports a peated Portwood finish.

Royal Welsh Whisky from Penderyn Distillery

Nose: Guava, melons, pineapples surface with black pepper in the nose, with a very muted peat note at the back. With time, vanilla surfaces with soft peat.

Palate: Tropical fruits, muted peat and hints of smoke at the forefront. With time, vanilla cream, peat and smoke come together in a harmonious and beautiful expression.

Finish: Oaky with sweet fruits that develops into fruit peels. With time, the finish is long, and wisps of smoke come and go elegantly.

The Royal Welsh Whisky will benefit from patience and airing time. The dram evolves over time, with the characteristic of its Portwood finish disappearing after 30 minutes and the Peated finish comes full power. It is a beautiful dram that changes with time, giving you a surprise at every turn. If you want to try the whisky, head over to our shop.

If the story intrigues you, read this other story about Spirits Castle’s Mahjong Series. 🙂

*Note: This is an excerpt from the full story found on WhiskyGeeks.sg.

Home Need Wine & Spirits | HNWS Taiwan

鋐釀酒坊, or what is better known as HNWS in this part of the world, is a popular whisky shop in Taoyuan, Taiwan. In the shop tucked away from the main street, a wealth of whisky treasures sits. Ranging from official bottling from countless Scottish distilleries to independent bottling from various independent bottlers across the world, the shop is a haven for whisky lovers.

Behind these treasures sits the man who makes the vault available and affordable for the common man. He is a veteran in the whisky industry in Taiwan, with more than 15 years of experience under his belt. His name is Tony Chiu, and today, we tell his story.

The Birth of HNWS

Tony breathes life into HNWS in September 2005 as a young man who was ready to take on the world. He started his whisky journey when he joined Maxxium Taiwan (current day Edrington Taiwan) in 2001. In his four years in the company, Tony evolved from a man who doesn’t drink into a whisky lover. As his passion for whisky deepens, Tony took the plunge and opened his own whisky shop – HNWS – in Taoyuan, Taiwan.

Tony’s Adventures in the Early Days of HNWS

As an entrepreneur and a whisky lover, Tony feels that one should drink whisky that one likes. Due to this belief, he takes special care to remember his customer’s preferences. He then promotes whiskies to them based on what they like, not what he wants to sell. His reputation as a fellow whisky lover soon reached the ears of the matured whisky market in Taiwan, and HNWS slowly but steadily becomes popular. Tony also entered the independent bottlers (IB) market, where he believes that quality whiskies exist.

The IB journey was exciting as Tony researched intensely to find high qualities products with interesting flavours profiles. The hard work paid off, and his shop becomes synonymous with good quality products. His IB journey eventually brought him into a circle of friends who love IB brands and encourage him to launch his own brand.

The launch of HNWS as an Independent Bottler

Tony took the next step in 2014 and launched his own independent bottler brand – HNWS. With his determination and passion, his humble shop becomes more than just a shop. It becomes a brand; an independent bottler. In the years that followed, Tony kept his initial vision for his shop in mind – to only sell good quality products. Every HNWS bottling is a quality-assured product and his fans around Taiwan and the region agree!

To make his success even more prominent, we only have to look toward the international stage to see the various awards that Tony’s bottlings have won.

Tony’s Criteria for Cask Selection

Tony is particular in his cask selection process. He believes in BALANCE, which determines his choices and leads to the “quality assured” reputation that HNWS bottlings gain over the years.

There are four “NO” in Tony’s cask selection process

  1. NO sulphur: Too much sulphur in sherry matured whisky affects the nose and palate of the whisky and could also lead to a less than desirable finish. Such influences reduce the original profile of the whisky. Of course, there is an exception when a little bit of sulphur can improve the whisky.
  2. NO overwhelming sweetness: When a whisky is too sweet, it influences the finish of the whisky. Tony believes that the finish in a whisky is enticing; having an overwhelming sweetness that influences the finish is a big no-no.
  3. NO extreme oakiness: Oakiness, or what we call the astringent note in a whisky comes from the cask itself and the liquid from before. When a whisky is extremely oaky, it could mean that it has over-aged in the cask, or the cask was not suitable for long maturation in the first place. That denotes a whisky that is not at its optimal. An over-aged whisky tends to retain a strong bite on the tongue and affects the drinker’s ability to taste the whisky properly.
  4. NO overwhelming bitterness: This is mostly a problem with sherry casks. The sweetness sometimes turns bitter and create an unpleasant experience. Bitterness is split into the bitterness of medicine and the bitterness of a charred cask. Too much of either is bad.

One Final Consideration for Cask Selection is…

These four points lead back to one big consideration – BALANCE.

A balanced whisky is one which changes over time. It is Tony’s standards for his cask selection. When he is making a choice, he often asks himself many questions to answer all of the above. However, one vital question is not included above. That important question is “How much do I like this whisky?” While everyone’s preferences are different, he makes use of his years of experience to determine the best flavour profile that his patrons love best.

Trying HNWS Whiskies

Spirits Castle is the official distributor for HNWS Taiwan. If you would like to try his whiskies, head on over to our shop to find a bottle that you want. Tony bottles extensively and we are sure that there will be something for everyone.

Please note: This article appears in an earlier entry at WhiskyGeek.SG. For the full article, please visit WhiskyGeeks.SG.

Slàinte Mhath,
Zerlina Zhuang

Choosing The Right Whisky Cask For Sales

Since the launch of our cask ownership program, we have quite a few clients asking us this question, “How do I choose the right whisky cask?” The answer to this question varies from client to client, depending on their needs. In our second article of the series, let us look at choosing the right whisky cask for sales in future.

How to look for a right whisky cask for investments

In a volatile market, more investors are turning to whisky casks as a means of investments. Due to the rising popularity, the whisky cask market moves swiftly and decisively. As an investor, what should you look out for when you buy a cask?

Long-Term or Short-Term Investments

Do I want to sell the whisky cask in the short term or hold for longer?

For a start, an investor should look at his ultimate aim for buying a whisky cask. Is that for long-term or short-term investments? We would define long-term investments as 3 to 5 years or more, and short-term investments in 1 to 2 years. While cask prices do appreciate over time due to the whisky maturation, investors should not be looking at gaining a significant ROI if they intend to sell the cask in less than a year.

Short-term appreciation is also much lower than long-term appreciation, which means the investor must not expect a high ROI. What he can look forward to is a slow but steady increase of his original investment if he keeps investing.

Types of casks

An investor should also look at the type of casks that he invests in. He needs to buy the casks types popular with independent bottlers to sell the cask when he is ready. Spirits Castle can make recommendations by using what we know of the market at the point of purchase, but we cannot guarantee that the information stays relevant when you are ready to sell. Therefore, we would highly encourage you to do your research to find out the whisky cask types that you should buy.

Whisky Distillery

Getting to know the whisky distillery and the type of distillate they produce is crucial. It affects your decision in buying the right whisky cask for investments based on demand. Usually, independent bottlers look for different distilleries in their bottlings but there are some distilleries that are more sought after than others. Investors usually do not ask to taste the whisky as they are not planning on bottling the whisky, so buying the right cask depends on your ability to know the distilleries well. While we can make recommendations, we would still encourage you to find out more on your own.

Age of Cask

Age is all that matters, or does it?

Most whisky drinkers know that age of whisky matters to some and not to others. In whisky cask trade, the age influences the price of the cask directly. For investors looking for short-term investments, it is not always the case that you must buy a higher age cask to gain ROI. Buying a younger cask can still earn you a reasonable ROI as long as you are not looking for a 200% price increase in 1 year. A higher age cask is unlikely to earn you 200% price increase too, just in case you are wondering. The right whisky cask to buy is one that can potentially make you what you aim for.

To Conclude

Knowing your end goal is just as vital as knowing the whisky that you are buying. Spirits Castle provides recommendations and nuggets of information to help you select, but the ultimate decision lies with you. Just like other kinds of investments, a certain level of risk is involved. We encourage you to find out as much information as you can from the materials we will send you at the beginning and from your research.

Knowing How to Choose Suitable Whisky Casks For Bottling

Since the launch of our cask ownership program, we have quite a few clients asking us this question, “How do I choose a suitable whisky cask?” The answer to this question varies from client to client. In part one of our two-part articles, let us provide some pointers for buyers looking to buy a suitable whisky cask for bottling.

The Suitable Whisky Cask for Bottling (Individuals)

For a cask owner who looks forward to bottling the whisky in the future, whisky preference is the utmost important factor. A whisky bottler must like what he is bottling, especially if he is an individual.

Your Personal Preferences

“I want to bottle the cask after 10 years, what should I buy?”

As an individual looking to bottle your own cask of whisky, the first question to ask is “What do I like?” You will be drinking the whisky, gifting it to your loved ones and friends, or celebrating an occasion with the bottling. Therefore, the right whisky cask is the one you like.

Some of you would like to taste the whisky before making a choice. We need to let you know in advance that paid samples can be hard to come by. As our cask list includes private casks held by individuals, the sellers may not want to provide paid samples as it depletes the whisky within the casks. Also, the cost of a 500ml sample does not come cheap. Nonetheless, we can try to ask the owner for a sample if you wish to pay for a sample.

Budget is crucial

Besides personal preferences, the next question is your budget. Whisky casks vary in prices due to the distillery prices, the size of the cask, and the type of cask. Therefore, it is ideal to work with a budget, especially if you are planning on re-racking the whisky into another cask before bottling.

It also pays to remember that bottling and logistics incur cost. You will do well to put those costs at the back of your mind when doing the calculations for your budget.

The Suitable Whisky Cask for Bottling (Company)

As the owner of a business, your desire to bottle a cask usually stems from the potential sales that you can make out of it. The whisky may eventually be sold at your bar, restaurant or hotel. It can also be given as gifts to your high net worth clients if you are not an F&B business owner.

Know the flavours preferences

Choosing a suitable whisky cask, in this case, is not about what you like, but what the general public may like. Knowing your clients’ preference is paramount. If your clients love the sweet, dark fruits of a Speyside whisky matured in a sherry cask, looking for a cask that closely matches the preference will work. Otherwise, consider buying a bourbon cask and re-racking it into a sherry cask. On the other hand, if your clients like the sweet and fruity flavours, buying a bourbon cask is a better option.

Budgeting Matters

Business is all about the bottom line, so matters of finance are critical too. While an individual may be concerned about his budget, a business must be aware of its bottom line and profits. Bottling a cask will potentially earn you more profits, which translate to your ROI. That is why you have to know the type of whiskies that are popular in your bar, restaurant or hotel, and buy a suitable whisky cask that is in line with what’s popular with your customers.

To Conclude

To be sure of your end goal is just as crucial as knowing what whisky you like. Spirits Castle provides recommendations and nuggets of information to help you select, but the ultimate decision lies with you. Just like other kinds of investments, a certain level of risk is involved. We encourage you to find out as much information as you can from the materials we will send you at the beginning and from your research.

The Mahjong Series, Our First Foray Into Independent Bottling

If you have followed Spirits Castle from our humble beginnings, you would have noticed or bought our Mahjong series. Launched in April 2019, the Mahjong Series is Spirits Castle’s first venture into independent bottling. Together with our more experienced friends from Taiwan, Hong Kong and China, we brought our inspirations to life.

How did it happen?

Taiwan is a whisky haven in Asia and we gathered there at least once a year to meet up, drink and be merry. During one of such meetups in late 2018, our Taiwanese friend “jio” us to do a series of joint bottlings. After a night of discussion (and plenty of drinking), we all said “Yes”!

That started our collaborative journey, and the first thing we needed to do was to decide on a theme.

Why Mahjong?

Our leader suggested Mahjong. There is a couple of Poker cards series, but there is only one other Mahjong series. He further drove home the point by saying,

“Look. We are four friends from four different countries. Just like the four “winds” in Mahjong. Our friendship is the Mahjong table, where it keeps the game (our bottling) going on.”

We were sold on the idea pretty quickly. Decisions on the engraving of our bottles followed suit, as we want our consumers to “feel the tile” when they hold our bottles. To make it personalised, we designed a box to hold the bottles too, pretty much like how a Mahjong box holds all the tiles. Of course, we are not able to create a box that can hold all the whisky bottles that we plan to release, so each bottle stays in its own box.

Exciting News on Current Collection

The above picture is our latest release, a complex Caol Ila 2008 10 Years Old bottled at cask strength. In the recent release of the Malt Maniacs Awards (MMA) 2020*, our Caol Ila expression scored 85 points! It was an excellent encouragement to all of us, especially for Spirits Castle. It is our first foray into independent bottling, and we are pleased to achieve such results.

Our Plans For Mahjong

So far, Spirits Castle has released eight expressions of our Mahjong Series with our friends. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19 hitting all our shores in early 2020, all our bottling plans halted. Based on our current projects, it is likely we will resume the series only in 2021. Discussions are ongoing now, but we are not sure when we will choose the next cask.

Till then, we hope you will continue to enjoy our current selections. If you would like to purchase our bottles, please click here.

Slàinte Mhath,
Zerlina Zhuang

*MMA2020 is supposed to be labeled as MMA2019. However, due to challenging circumstances in a Covid-19 world, the organisers printed the medals as MMA2020.

3 Reasons Why Whisky Drinkers Buy Casks

There is no surprise that we sold two whisky casks in the short two weeks since our launch of the cask ownership program. The popularity of whisky is on the rise since 2010. The momentum is gaining on us as many whisky drinkers seek ways to overcome the rising prices of whisky and capitalize on the increasing market value of whisky.

If you are thinking about why people are buying whisky casks instead of whisky bottles, we propose three reasons below.

Whisky prices are rising exponentially

Buying a cask reduces the total cost for a whisky drinker over time. The cash outlay may be high at the initial stage, but the return is far higher. He avoids the increased prices in future, and get to enjoy his favourite whisky when he bottles the cask! The owner also gets to put his personalised label on the bottles, making the whiskies uniquely his.

Whisky casks are assets

In an uncertain economy such as now, people are worried about the future. To safeguard their money, one can consider numerous investments. Buying a cask is an option when one is a whisky drinker. A whisky drinker buys only casks produced from his preferred distilleries. Comparing whisky casks to stocks and shares in a volatile market, the physical product holds potential, especially when one looks for long-term investments. 

Whisky casks are flexible investments

A cask owner has got a lot of choices when he owns a cask. He can sell the cask in a few years, re-rack the whisky to a different cask, keep it for long-term returns or bottle it when the time is right. In fact, there are just so many things that one can do with a cask. 

How to Own A Whisky Cask

If you would like to find out more about our cask ownership program, head over to our designated page. We recommend that you download our e-brochure to understand the process of buying a cask too! Knowing what to expect is crucial to make your journey as a cask owner easy and smooth.

Slàinte Mhath,
Zerlina Zhuang

Launching Whisky Talk, our opinions on everything whisky

Whisky Casks maturing in a warehouse

Two years passed in a flash for Spirits Castle. 2020 has proved to be challenging, to say the least. Despite all the difficulties that we face so far, Spirits Castle is making inroads into the world of whisky.

Our wee achievement in 2020 is the blossoming relationship with our new supplier, Dram Mor Group. Their expertise in independent bottling has brought us tremendous knowledge, even before the first batch of bottles set sail from Scotland.

The new knowledge that we gain is beneficial to us as we started work on our newly minted cask ownership program. This program has gained some popularity since we launched two weeks ago, and we have sold two casks so far. We believe that there are many more to come as whisky drinkers move from one stage to the next in their journey.

Therefore, as a way to share our knowledge and information, Spirits Castle decided to launch Whisky Talk, our wee blog where we will share more information and our opinions about whisky. Whisky Talk will not only focus on the brands we carry but also about whisky brands in general. You can expect information nuggets about whisky, cask ownership, and general musing about glassware.

Occasionally, we may share malternatives, such as cognacs, rums or gins. It is a new project for us, and the team at Spirits Castle is raring to go. We hope that these wee articles will help you in your journey on the various spirits, even if your first love is whisky. We are all on this learning journey together.

Slàinte Mhath!
Zerlina Zhuang