Romancing a special spirit


IT is called Single and Available. But no, it is not a match-making agency. Instead, it is a boutique liquor outlet in Kuala Lumpur which sells top-notch whisky. 

Shareen Yew, who is marketing the single malt whisky, which is less than 5% of the whisky market, is actually a pharmacist with a degree from Nottingham. 

“I used to go to pubs in London with fellow students and we talked about setting up a shop. But we came back to Malaysia pursuing our own careers,” said Yew, 29. 

“Three years ago, we decided that there was potential in this business. We talked about the fine taste of unblended single malt whisky and realised that you cannot even find them in Kuala Lumpur. Unlike other whiskies, the taste and aroma is from the type of barrels the spirit is matured in over the years. 

BOTTLED-UP PASSION: Yew (left) with assistant marketing manager Lee Yim Theng.

“It was then we decided that we must do something about it. There is so much history and romance involved in the production of a single malt whisky. This is not the ordinary blended whisky churned out for the masses.” 

Yew and her friends decided to pool their resources and raised RM500,000 to get the business going.  

Single Malt Sdn Bhd started operation in 2001 at the second floor of a shop in Desa Sri Hartamas but as the sales turnover reached RM1.5mil, it moved to its retail and corporate office in the upmarket Plaza Damas. 

Of Single and Available, Yew said: “This company was born out of pure passion for the drink. This was a drink that we enjoyed but were unable to buy in Malaysia.” 

“About three years ago, if you really wanted to buy single malt whisky in Malaysia, you would find the odd bottle of Macallan or Glenfiddich.” 

“Having access to the odd bottle of malt whisky is really too much like teasing and flirting without the possibility of getting anywhere, hence the name Single and Available,” she said. 

Yew said none of her friends had ever been in the liquor business. 

“We went on a study tour of distilleries. Liking the whisky is not really enough to sell single malt whiskies in Malaysia. But the fact that we loved it made it easy.’’ 

They made a beeline for the single malt distilleries in Scotland. 

“At that time, it seemed like a fun thing to do. We would go to Scotland and bring in a whole load of single malt whiskies.” 

They visited numerous distilleries from every region in Scotland. 

“When we met the people who worked in the distilleries, they spoke with so much pride and passion about the whiskies that you felt that they were talking about something so very special. It is a matter of Scottish pride.” 

Yew and her pals decided to target their own age group “because if we could fall in love with this drink, so could our peers”. 

“That was how we came up with the logo and the branding for the company. We figured that what we enjoyed next to drinking it was talking about it – and it is really the cornerstone of how this company is run.” 

When they first started, the single malt whisky was sold mainly to outlets and to the people they knew. 

Soon, they realised that there were many people in Malaysia who shared their passion for single malt whisky.  

“In the beginning we used to get the odd person who would stumble upon us. We loved that. We loved entertaining people in our office with our whiskies and just talking about it.” 

Eventually, more people started to frequent their retail outlet in Plaza Damas. Now, the retail sales amounts to about 50% of their business. The other half is to their regular clientele like pubs, restaurants and clubs. 

“Anyone who walks into our retail store notices our sofas which are designed to allow us to talk with our customers about malt whiskies over a glass or two,” she said. 

Yew aims to start more retail stores in the Klang Valley.  

“We are convinced there is a niche market for this product,'' said Yew, who, incidentally, is not single and available as she got married last August. 

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