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Whisky Reviews

Staoisha 2013 Single Malt Scotch, Malt Grain & Cane, 9 Years Old, Jamaican Rum Cask Finish, 56.9% ABV

“I’m 50 years old, I’m f*ing ugly and getting uglier every day. I can only think of one man who might be able to make me look endorsement-worthy.”

– Anthony Bourdain, complimenting his longtime friend and photographer, Russel Wong.

  

Sometime in 2007, the rugged culinary voyager and travel show host Anthony Bourdain found himself in Singapore, filming another episode of his iconic No Reservations and chowing down on hawker food with Tiger Beer. After a hearty meal, he mused jokingly about the need to seriously amp up his personal brand for a chance to snag a few high-end endorsement deals before it was “too late” for an aging TV personality like him. With this idea, a visit to an old friend was inevitable and Bourdain met up with Singaporean celebrity photographer Russel Wong.

“I’m 50 years old, I’m f*ing ugly and getting uglier every day. I can only think of one man who might be able to make me look endorsement-worthy,” Bourdain explained the situation to Russel Wong, with his classic use of self-deprecating humour. Without skipping a beat, Russel, with a smirk, replied, “I’ve worked with ugly people before. We’ll fix that.”

 

(Source: Russel Wong)

 

For many, the name Russel Wong triggers a sense of recognition. It's not just his cheeky rapport with Bourdain that made him memorable, but his larger-than-life photography career. Singapore-born but Hollywood-famed, he’s long been the go-to lensman for stars – particularly Asian Hollywood stars – to be immortalised with a touch of that elusive ‘Asian identity’ since the 2000s. His masterpieces showcased celebrities like Tom Cruise, Richard Gere, Rihanna, Jackie Chan and Chow Yun Fatt, adorning the covers of TIME and The New York Times.

 

Anthony Bourdain joked that he originally envisioned a glamorous photoshoot, but Russel insisted on him posing with local Singaporean coffee takeaway in a plastic bag and a recycled milk can. (Source: Russel Wong)

 

A long-time friend of Anthony Bourdain and many other stars, Russel is never one to be overawed by fame (as I would most certainly be if I met Bourdain myself), carrying himself comfortably within that galaxy of stars. In that memorable episode of "No Reservations," viewers were treated to a delightful side of Russel – mimicking, jesting, and thoroughly showing Bourdain a great time in Singapore. And while Bourdain envisioned a sleek and polished photoshoot, Russel simply handed him local Singaporean coffee takeaway in a plastic bag and a recycled milk can. Bourdain's feigned exasperation and Russel's chuckles made it a segment to remember.

 

After that photoshoot, Bourdain enjoyed some Singaporean prawn noodles with Russel and his wife (No Reservations, Season 4 Episode 1)

 

What emanated was not just the charm of an aging TV host, but a deep-seated friendship, full of humour and camaraderie.

Photograph continues to be a big part of Russel’s life. Recently, he worked with Singaporean indie bottler Malt, Grain & Cane (MGC) which releases a series of spirits in purple-themed label called Kyoto Murasaki (or KyoMurasaki), named in reference to the colour Kyoto Purple. Each bottle of MGC’s KyoMurasaki features a tasteful collection of Russel’s recent works taken in Japan.

 

(Source: Russel Wong)

 

Russel has spoken about his motivation to create images with a sense of timelessness. In a most recent trip to Hokkaido, he braved sub-zero temperatures to photograph red-crowned cranes and whooper swans in their natural habitat. His rationale? Birds like red-crowned cranes and swans hold cultural significance in Japan, occupying a special place in Japanese paintings for many hundreds of years.

He elaborated on his subject, “I get great imagery out of [Japan] because it’s timeless… These birds have been painted for such a long time, and they’re very iconic in Japanese culture,” said Russel, professing to be relatively new to bird photography. “I choose subjects that have some history, so that the images I create can transcend time.”

 

 

The bottle we’re tasting today features Russel’s photograph of whooper swans chilling in Lake Kussharo. The spirit is a Staoisha 2013 single malt, a heavily peated whisky produced by Bunnahabhain Distillery in Islay in 2013, matured in ex-bourbon barrels, then finished in a Jamaican rum cask before being bottled in 2023. According to MGC, this whisky is a sister cask of the 8 Year Old Staoisha from MGC which we’ve reviewed here . As you might already know, Staoisha-labelled whiskies are essentially Bunnahabhains in disguise. Bottled by MGC, this series is a joint effort with Rum & Whisky Kyoto, The Swan Song, D. Bespoke, Miles Whisky Bar and Rudder Ltd and 88 Bamboo (that's us 😉).

 

 

The distillery which focuses on unpeated peated Islay malts occasionally experimented with varying levels of peat. However, after producing many batches of heavily peated whisky, the management felt that heavily peated whisky should be given a different name because they are not aligned with the unpeated branding of original bottling Bunnahabhains. Much of the heavily peated distillate was sold off to independent bottlers, who label these whiskies as Staoisha.

Let’s give this a taste.

Staoisha 2013 Single Malt Scotch, Malt Grain & Cane, 9 Years Old, Jamaican Rum Cask Finish, 56.9% ABV – Review

 

 

Colour: Yellow gold.

Nose: Lively, punchy and sweet. The initial hit is a bright tropical note, notably of pineapples and green mangoes, along with vanilla, oak, and a prominent ashiness. All of which interplays beautifully with rooty herbal undertones that remind me of traditional Chinese medicine. A very slight ripe banana creaminess note comes into play, potentially an influence from the Jamaican rum cask. Continued nosing unveils some light fruit notes: grapefruit, citrus zest, and rinds. The entire nosing experience is underlined by a gradually growing warmth and spiciness, almost like chili, compounded by the unmistakable ashy scent of a barbecue by the beach.

Palate: Creamy, citrusy and smoky all at once. The texture is slightly oily, spirit coating the tongue, while the opening is characterised by a bright sweetness akin to filtered pineapple juice. At the same time there's a zesty pepperiness, like a lick of a freshly squeezed lemon. Very quickly, ash and soot make their assertive presence felt. The flavours develop into smoked citrus and pork ribs burnt ends, along with a warmth constantly felt at the back of the throat. It’s also a bit salty, reminding me of sliced prosciutto.

Finish: Warm and long. As the robust flavours begin to recede, there's an emerging dryness, evoking chalky minerals and hints of wet gravel. Fading notes of BBQ charred meats and dry oak, supported by the tannins of overnight black tea. Some fruitiness remains, in a sweet, ashy guise.

 

My Thoughts:

Rating: ⚡️ A lively and well-rounded Islay malt.

This Staoisha is very lively, but for its age, a very well-rounded Islay malt. If I had to compare it to a classic Islay malt, it would be a cask strength Caol Ila. While smoky, it's more of a sooty, bonfire type, married with a bright fruitiness.

The spirit is very cohesive, seamlessly blending bonfire smoke with bright citrus and pineapple undertones, along with the bitterness of Chinese medicine. Much like its sister cask Staoisha, this one is balanced between the sweetness of orchard fruits, a mineral saltiness, and that ever-present ashiness. It is labelled "heavily peated" but it definitely isn’t overpowering like some, such as Port Charlotte. The spirit does have a certain bite, a zinginess often found in younger cask strength Islays, but it aligns perfectly with the sweet and citric backdrop.

Available by the pour if you're ever in Singapore, at The Swan Song, and soon to be available by the bottle via Malt, Grain & Cane.

 

@CharsiuCharlie