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The Swan Song Bar: A Scotch Lover's Dream And Supporter Of The Local Craft

 

There is a familiar Hollywood cliché of a seemingly unassuming bartender who would pour you a drink and engage with you, offering some memorable sage advice that leads one to a life-changing realisation or pivotal character arc. That’s the sort of bartender I imagine Arun Prashant at The Swan Song bar to be.

Owner and main bartender Arun embodies the very essence of the archetype – a bartender who doesn’t just recommend a good Scotch, but would share genuine conversations or even play a game of chess with you over strains of jazz and blues that are often played at the bar. The man has a profound knowledge and passion for his craft and a romantic view towards whisky and music. He’s very much a storyteller, a guide, and perhaps, a friend you haven't met yet.

 

(Source: Joel Lim)

 

The Swan Song is located on the second floor of a quaint row of shophouses along Boat Quay, and is one of Singapore’s best-regarded whisky-and-spirits bars. The oft-cited highlight here is its extensive range of vintage Scotch whisky. The name “Swan Song” celebrates the final performance of rare bottlings as they’re emptied into patrons’ glasses. These spirits are so unique and rare, there’s a good chance you’re tasting the final drops of a vintage Scotch in the world.

 

 

It was at this bar where I first experienced good vintage Scotch and first understood what all the fuss was about. Now, there’s just nothing quite like a 1960s’ Islay malt with its burst of fruitiness and gentle smokiness. This genre of “old style” Scotches possess a vibrancy and nuance that modern whisky distilleries seek to recreate, but can never quite get right.

Layout, Vibe & Energy

 

Stepping into The Swan Song bar in the early evening often feels like entering a cosy vinyl record store. The shelf is neatly lined with over five hundred bottles from various decades, standing quietly and proudly. Warm wood tones and dim, focused lighting welcome you into the intimate space. Each seating area feels quite private, offering you your very own little nook in the world. Perfect for drinks with one to three close friends or for savouring your guilty pleasure in solitude.

There is also a cool timeless feeling when you enter this space; the consistent dim lighting and pre-2000s music does add to that feeling.

 

Drinks Selection

Arun said to me once that his setup is more similar to antique trading than a conventional F&B establishment. Stored properly, a whisky could remain in very good condition and still be drinkable over sixty years later. The bar has many such bottles, making it a treasure trove for spirits lovers.

 

Left: The Bowmore Bicentenary 1964 (Agrim Singh), Right: Lagavulin 15 Years Ceramic Decanter edition from the 1980s

 

They’ve popped open the Bowmore Bicentenary 1964 (one of Bowmore’s best bottlings in history), rare whiskies from famous closed distilleries Port Ellen, Brora and Rosebank, and bottlings from the late Silvano Samaroli – the world’s most renowned whisky bottler who popularised cask single malts.

 

Old Islay whiskies served at The Swan Song: A 19 Year Old Bowmore 1955 bottled back when ceramic jugs were still used, and a 15 Year Old single malt distilled in 1969 at the closed distillery Port Ellen (Image Source: Arun Prashant, Fu Onn)

 

There is also a neat collection of renowned rum bottlings, featuring the closed Caroni Distillery of Trinidad as well as several other unicorn bottlings. It’s more like a cosy museum of spirits than anything else.

You’re in good hands even if you’re a new drinker just getting into whiskies. Just share your preferences and you would receive a personal journey tailored just for you, no matter your budget or taste. Their goal is always to give you a great experience.

 

 

I'm a big fan of fresh and clean Lowland Scotches, and this 21 Year Old Rosebank I've tasted here comes to mind – a ghost malt from a closed distillery (Rosebank is currently being re-opened, but the modern spirit is arguably not the same!). On the nose, it's fresh, mellow yet buttery and full of clotted cream and vanilla pods. In the mouth, it gives a great silky smooth mouthfeel and a sweetness of icing sugar glazed donuts with a pronounced creaminess. This never gets old. 

The Swan Song's reputation certainly precedes itself considering that it is well-known amongst aficionados and spirits communities abroad. The bar owners are well-connected with many of the best bars in the region, from Tokyo to Jakarta, and would often carry their bottlings.   

 

 

An example of a great bottling I've enjoyed from a partner bar in Jakarta is this 25 Years Old Glenburgie bottled by Miles Whisky Bar together with Singaporean indie bottler Friends With Drams (whom we're great friends with to), and Malaysia's The 1980s Bar.   

This one's a surprisingly hefty Glenburgie with great honeyed aromas buoyed by a touch of dried quince pie. In the mouth it's super punchy, heavy on the vanilla cream with savoury peppered bresaola (Italian cured beef), green fruits and an unctuous oily texture that clings to the tongue. It gets more expressive as time passes. 

And of course who could forget Springbank that is almost universally adored by Scotch whisky fans. I had the opportunity to enjoy a dram of this 1970s Springbank bottled for The Whisky Fair during my interview with Arun last year. This has very delicious depths of oak and brown sugar with a classic Springbank oiliness, fusel oil and a light barnyard-bucolic aroma to it.

 

 

There's also plenty for a rum/rhum lover to explore here.

One of the oldest and most intriguing things we've tasted here is the "unicorn" Rhum Lapalun 1952 bottled by French independent bottler Chantal Comte in the 1970s. Not much is known about the provenance of this rhum apart from the fact that it's incredibly old, likely a Martinique rhum and tastes damn good. Rhum geeks have spent hours pouring over the histories of rhum estates, speculating over its origin in vain. 

 

(Source: Weixiang Liu)

 

The aroma of this rhum is full-on concentrated stone fruits, reminiscent of red Zinfandel and Port wine - super rich and luscious. Tasting it, it's surprisingly bright despite its dark colour – loads of macerated stone fruits - concentrated once again, with a mild wet mossiness and minerality of flint. Honestly, tasting this blind, you'd probably think this was some sort of heavy bodied red wine!

Amongst rum lovers, Velier's "Magnum bottle" Caroni rums are pretty much the holy grail of rum appreciation, so we definitely have to talk about this incredible 22 Years Old Caroni Single Cask that was bottled by Velier for two of Japan's esteemed tastemakers, Shinanoya (a liquor store) and Bar Lamp Ginza (a renowned spirits bar in Tokyo). 

 

 

This one really impressed us with its super satisfying thick texture and balanced flavours with a good mix of sweet cooked fruits, brown sugar, banana flambé, cola syrup, light bitter tar, gentle ash with just a touch of wood tannins. This almost seemed like a coherent combination of the esteriness of Hampden, the tropical fizz of Foursquare and the rich treacle-like sweetness of Demerara rums (from Guyana).

This Caroni bottling was produced in very limited quantities, so it's thanks to The Swan Song's friendship with Bar Lamp Ginza that we could have access to it here in Singapore.

It is also worth mentioning that despite Singapore being a fairly small producer of whisky on the international scene (both in terms of distillation and bottling), The Swan Song does its best to support and feature local bottlers worth their salt. The bar stocked up on several bottles of the recently unveiled Brass Lion Whisky - notable for being Singapore's first batch of single malt. The bar also features many of our favourite local independent bottlers, such as Malt Grain & Cane and Animal Spirits.

 

Overall Thoughts

As corny as it may seem, the thing that would always bring me back is the people.

Each time we order a whisky, Arun would happily offer to take us through the tasting notes, the movie cliché of the wise bartender coming to life as he subtly guides each person to their own revelations.

 

The late Silvano Samaroli remains the most renowned and respected independent bottler of whisky, who popularised drinking single malts when the market was still more familiar with blended whiskies. (Image Source: Leviedelrum Italy)

 

The people here are more than knowledgeable. They are amongst the rare few to have had first-hand involvement with whisky history, having personally known many of the most important figures in Scotch. This includes the respected Mr Samaroli! (Arun shared with us about Samaroli in this interview)

Over the years of going down to The Swan Song, I’ve also gotten to know many new friends from Singapore’s whisky community. A new acquaintance I’ve met recently at The Swan Song generously shared with me a bottle of his own Ledaig 2005 from his personal stash.

 

 

It’s as if after a couple of drams together, everything said and done seems to hold a deeper meaning.

@CharsiuCharlie


The Swan Song Bar

41A Boat Quay, Singapore 049830

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Call for Reservations: +65 6235 7674