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So it certainly says a lot when one from Fermented Grape Juice, a one-stop online shop for all things wine, caught our eye. They kindly put us in touch with Eiling Lim, Malaysia’s first independent bottler of scotch whisky, so we can get to the bottom of her interesting choice of career.
Can you share your story of how you got into the whisky business?
It was 8-9 years ago that I first fell in love with whisky. It all started with wines and then I ventured into the world of single malt whisky with the help of my friends who shared with me many of their precious drams. Then I met my husband, Luc Timmermans 6 years ago at a whisky tasting in Auld Alliance Singapore and to cut the long story short, we got married in 2013 and I moved to Belgium. Instead of looking for a 9-5 job, my husband encouraged me to start my own Independent whisky bottling which seemed like a good idea to me because I would really love to bring more variety of single malts into Malaysia.
What is it like being the first independent bottler of scotch whisky in Malaysia?
Ecstatic! It would never occur to me that I would be able to help to add variety to the whisky scene in Malaysia which focuses very much on commercial bottlings rather than small independent whisky bottlings. It is very challenging to convince a non whisky drinker to like whisky and a whisky drinker to try an independent label. It is like asking a Malaysian to patronise a char koay teow stall run by an ang moh. Malaysians are used to seeing a Scottish guy hosting a whisky tasting but a Malaysian lady? That’s odd. I had to work harder than the others because making the brand known is not something can be done overnight. It took me a few years through word of mouth, top reviews, and good results from auctions to gain the confidence of the consumers. The greatest opportunity is to be able to convert many commercial whisky consumers to switch to independent label bottlings because many young consumers are eager to learn and try new things in Malaysia. The trend is always changing.
How do you set your whiskies apart from other products in the market?
What I do as an Independent whisky bottler is already setting my bottles apart from others in terms of variety, quality, scarcity and price. I have very strict requirements in selecting casks to be bottled. Together with my husband, we tried 20-30 different cask on average every time we choose a whisky to bottle. I do not have any preference on whisky distilleries but I do primarily select scotch whisky and every release is bottled at cask strength, without colouring and chill-filtration and only from one single cask. And that is what makes it scarce because every bottle drunk is one less in the world. You can’t repeat the bottling in another release.
What role do you and your husband play in this business?
My husband plays an important role in the business which is issuing invoices and collecting payment! I’m really bad in that category. I have the role of sales, marketing, and the execution. We both play the same role in cask selection. That is the most important process in our business. Our duty is to bring out exceptional whisky into the market. Unless both of us agree on the whisky that we are selecting or else it will not be bottled. I have to ensure that every bottle being released is something I can drink over and over again. Just in case the bottles don’t sell, we can both drink the rest of it.
Any tips for first-timers wanting to explore scotch whiskies?
I remembered my first whisky. It was unexpected and it turned out to be one of the most legendary distillery that has ever existed. Don’t be choosy when exploring. Try every region, try different distilleries and different vintages. A 21-year-old whisky need not necessarily be better than a 10-year-old. In the old days, whiskies were bottled at 5, 8 and 10 years old and they were better than some 20- or 30-year-old whisky. By trying more, you will be able to find your preferred region and distillery. From there, you can move to the world of independent bottling of the region or distillery that you like so that you can see how different the taste is from vintages and cask to cask.
How does one truly drink and enjoy whisky? Is it a kind of a drink that’s not for everyone?
Tumblers are widely used in Malaysia to drink whisky but the right whisky glass has a bulbous body shape which allows aromas to collect and to be directed through a narrow rim. The most important step in enjoying a whisky is to make sure you have a good nose of the whisky before quaffing it. Put your nose into the whisky glass and try to identify the aromas. Then take a small sip and immerse your tastebuds into the amber liquid and savour the whisky. I would usually advice that a bad smelling whisky is often not worth my time sipping. I would say that whisky is indeed for everyone. If you find that the whisky is too high on alcohol, a few drops of water will do the trick. It is a good digestive, highly complex in taste, low in sugar and is suitable even for diabetic patients.
What are your future plans for the Eiling brand?
I have started a second whisky label under the Eiling Lim brand to entice new whisky consumers or for those just getting into the independent bottling scene by having a series of easy drinking whisky at reasonable prices. The Orkney Single Malt and Irish Single Malt will be released in Malaysia soon under this new label. At the same time, I have also selected two private casks of Spanish vermouth from the Bodegas of Martinez Lacuesta which has been bottled and I have the labels designed by Lianne Kocks, a Malaysian artist living in Germany. I have also 3 gins under my sleeves which will be launched soon. They were created based on Malaysian influences and tastes such as pandan, jackfruit and galangal ginger and the labels were also designed by a Malaysian artist named Tintoy Chuo who created the Star Wars Wayang Kulit. The future for the brand is to continue to bottle quality spirit and drinks but the whisky will remain as the core of my business.
Where can Malaysians get a hold of your whiskies?
My distributor in Malaysia is Wholly Spirits based in Sri Hartamas and they distribute their whisky to various bars in the city. You can get in contact with them directly to purchase the bottles. There were a few bars where you can taste my whisky by the dram such as The Whisky Bar KL in Changkat Bukit Bintang, Three X Co in Bangsar Shopping Centre and also 61 Monarchy in PJ.
All photos courtesy of Eiling Lim.