Speakeasy The Other Room quietly opened for business at the Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza a few weeks ago, patronised by those who knew about its opening purely by word of mouth and attracted by the reputation of its master bartender Dario Knox.
Those in the F&B scene would have heard of Dario Knox, who first came to Singapore in 2012 and started the cocktail programme at the now-defunct Spanish restaurant Catalunya and then was general manager at another Spanish Restaurant, Nandu Jubany’s FOC, before helping to start The Other Room. What you may not know is that in the past couple of years the Italian native has been experimenting with cask-finishing spirits – essentially further aging the likes of rum, gin, and whisky in small American white oak barrels to give additional complexity in the spirit. And that’s the premise of The Other Room.
Cask finishing, of course, is not a new concept. One of the first whisky brands to do so was the single malt The Balvenie, whose master blender and malt master David Stewart pioneered the process of two cask maturation by taking a whisky that’s been aged on one type of cask and then transferring it to another cask – which may have previously held a different spirit or even wine – for additional aging. This practice is today widely adopted by many whisky manufacturers. But this may be the first time that a bar – definitely the first in Singapore – to do so on a commercial scale.
What Knox does first is what the industry calls seasoning, taking what are virgin wooden casks that’s not held anything inside them and then filling them with spirits or wine for a period of time. The contents are then poured out, and then putting in the actual spirit for secondary finishing.
For example, we tried a flight of Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva – the original, along with one that’s been finished in a Oloroso sherry cask, and another that previously held Amontillado sherry. Detractors may argue that it can be a waste to further process what are already finished products, but it’s a great way to understand and appreciate what different finishes can do to the same spirit base. The Oloroso one turned out to be more rounded and fruitier, for example, while the Amontillado version took on slightly drier, grassier notes.
Knox also finishes other rums, different whiskies, gins, and even vodka; there is a staggering variety of secondary finished spirits to try, and it will take you many, many visits before even scratching the surface of what Knox has gathered and aged in the past year or so.
For those who don’t understand or can’t be bothered, there are always cocktails – about 30 of them, using those house-aged spirits of course – that are likely to tickle your fancy. We particularly enjoyed the Sherry Cask Fashioned ($26++), which uses two different sherry wine finished cask aged rums to make a rum Old-Fashioned, as well as the I Knew An Old Bastard ($24++), a titillating cocktail combining Cognac, pear, black tea and bitters.
What’s most attractive about The Other Room, though, is that unlike many other cocktail bars in Singapore inspired by the Prohibition era, it doesn’t let the speakeasy tag define its concept. Sure, it’s still rather difficult to find the entrance – it’s a hidden wall panel in a quiet alcove of the bustling Singapore Marriot Tang Plaza hotel lobby – but Dario Knox and his team aren’t hung up about not allowing photography within its cosy confines, insisting on secret passwords, or having a cover business hide its not so secret identity.
They let their secondary-finished spirits speak for themselves, and that’s what most drinkers care about.
You can (not so easily) find The Other Room in Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza, 320 Orchard Road.