Here at Deployant, we strive to bring you our honest reviews of watches on a daily basis. Today, however, we will not be taking a look at watches per se. In this week’s edition of Feature, we sat down with a watch lover/whisky fan and asked him how he turned his love for whiskies into a dream job.
Feature: Watches, Whiskies and Writing
Passion is a curious thing. It injects meaning into our endeavours. It serves as the fire in our bellies for when the going gets tough. It is the spark that comes alive in our eyes when we do or talk about something we love. It’s completely inexplicable, yet at the same time perfectly logical. It also comes in many forms: it could be a job or a sport, something you do alone or something you do with people. Oh, what would life be without passion?
Of course, not all of us are lucky enough to be passionate about what we do for a living; the realities of life seldom afford us the luxury of choosing only what we want to do, and not what we have to do to put bread on the table. But just imagine, what would you do if one day you had the chance to turn your hobby into your job? Would you make the jump?
That’s exactly what Tan Soo San did. A lifelong avid whisky fan who regularly travels to Scotland, Japan and Taiwan to visit distilleries, Soo San’s hobby got rather out of hand when one day he realised he had amassed over 100 bottles of whisky at home. His wife, Sherin, brought up a most pertinent point: was he ever going to be able to finish every single drop in those bottles in his lifetime? The answer was a clear no, but instead of stopping at those 100 plus bottles, he decided he was going to get more. Many, many more, as it turned out. He had decided to open a whisky bar to share his passion with anyone who loved whisky.
It had always been a dream for Soo San to start an establishment with his wife. The couple do not have any children, so this venture to them was to be their “baby” and serve as a retirement plan of sorts. They had been toying with the idea for a good 3-4 years before finally committing to it last October. Coincidentally, it took a mere 9 months from conceptualisation to opening the bar, not unlike a normal pregnancy. Both Soo San and his wife worked in the financial sector prior to this venture, and while Sherin is still working as an accountant, Soo San left his job of 20 years to invest his time and efforts into the new whisky bar called The Writing Club. Cosily nestled in a corner of Palais Renaissance on Orchard Road, the bar’s name comes from a group of whisky aficionado friends that Soo San regularly meets up with. They would hold tasting sessions, trying all sorts of whiskies and write down their tasting notes, hence their name. It was also a way to quell any suspicions from their spouses whenever they went for a night out together, under the pretext of literary appreciation. Of course, that never fooled anyone!
For a bar that only really officially opened in August 2017, there is a robust selection of over 600 labels available for all types of palates procured from all over the world. Before Soo San opened The Writing Club, he was first a customer at various whisky bars around Singapore. The ideal upon which TWC was founded is “By a customer, for customers.” To him, it’s all about the experience that he can bring to his customers. Be it the whisky, the atmosphere and ambience, or the service, he treats every customer who walks in like he would want to be treated. One need simply ask for a recommendation or certain flavour profile and Soo San would be all too happy to provide suggestions at reasonable prices. One customer even worriedly remarked: “Are you sure you can stay afloat with prices like these?”
In line with his ideals, the whiskies that he decides to bring in are also directly influenced by the customer. Starting out, it was mainly the labels from his personal collection, as well as doing research on other labels that would round out the variety he could provide. His assistant general manager Fong Chan Teng, who doubles up as the resident whisky expert, provides invaluable insight with his experience, knowledge of the current competitive market and his gifted ability of scents and taste. Their collection is projected to hit 1000 labels to cater to all their customers who walk through their doors. The trio also hope to commision their very own bottling, based on their customers’ tastes, so that they can have a whisky that’s truly by the customers, for the customers.
True to its roots, TWC encourages its customers to come up with their own tasting notes, as a way to document their whisky journeys. They even offer a “mystery flight” of 3 whiskies that they change regularly, based around a theme. For example, the theme when we visited was “Sherry Cask”. The challenge is to try one’s hand at identifying the correct notes, the distillery it comes from and even the exact label if possible . Behind the bar, Chan Teng and Soo San are only too happy to offer their experiences with whiskies and trips to the various distilleries in Japan and Scotland. The establishment also offers plush, comfortable sofas to those who come with friends to chat over a drink or three. All of the above make for a most interactive, engaging and fun visit for those who sit down to enjoy a dram. For non-whisky drinkers, fret not as they also offer up a comprehensive rum and gin menu, as well as craft beer on tap so you definitely won’t be missing out on the fun!
As much as Soo San loves his whiskies, he’s also a watch enthusiast. Starting from his teenage years, he has developed an appreciation for classic, timeless designs. His first serious timepiece was an Omega Seamaster, and admits to heavily sticking to Gerald Genta’s designs thereafter. He owns an IWC Ingenieur, an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and a Royal Oak Offshore, and a Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref. 5711 which his wife Sherin wears most of the time. Other pieces include a Sinn U1, Bell and Ross Space 2 Chronograph and a Panerai. While this seems like a motley collection, Soo San’s common theme behind all this is that of a sporty, masculine watch. In his free time, he plays a lot of basketball and badminton, and used to play rugby and do boxing. Soo San’s whisky choices are also rather in keeping with his watch preferences – he has a soft spot for Ardbeg’s offerings (which explains why he stocks 29 expressions in his bar) along with Lagavulin’s and Octomore’s whiskies. These whiskies have some of the highest peat content and smokiest profiles out there on the market, and generally more favoured by male rather than female drinkers.
Drawing parallels between watches and whiskies might seem like a bit of a stretch, but after musing a little, Soo San offers this: behind both watches and whiskies lies an unyielding dedication to the craft. There is plenty of history and evolution through the centuries in both worlds, but one thing that has kept them around is passion. There is passion behind the thought process: how to achieve the best flavours in whisky, and how to make the most aesthetically pleasing dial or functional movement in a watch. There is passion behind the human touch day in and day out: sampling each batch of whisky every few months and having to rotate the 500L barrels in the warehouse to ensure even aging, and hand finishing the individual movement parts before assembling a movement. The honest attention to detail is just so uncannily similar between these two crafts.
The Writing Club offers a personal experience like few others in Singapore, and one would definitely do well to drop by for a quality dram curated and recommended by Soo San himself. As they say: come for the drinks, stay for the conversation. Soo San, Sherin and Chan Teng will make you feel right at home with their warm hospitality. This place is perfect for relaxing after a long day at work or shopping, or whisky fans looking for new things to try.
We would like to thank Tan Soo San, Sherin Ong and Fong Chan Teng for allowing us to interview them for this article.
390 Orchard Road, #02-10 Palais Renaissance, Singapore 238871
Sunday – Monday | 12 noon – 10pm
Tuesday – Saturday, eve of public holiday : 12 noon – 12 midnight
Public Holidays: Reservations only
25 seats (main lounge) / 6 high chairs (bar counter)
[email protected] / 9362 8626