The Bar at 15 Stamford is possibly Singapore’s largest rum bar; it’s also home to an improbable – yet true – story of rum-making in the country’s history.
When celebrated Hong Kong chef Alvin Leung of Bo Innovation set up his Singapore venture 15 Stamford by Alvin Leung at The Capitol Kempinski, we reckon even he didn’t realise how much history was contained within the four walls of that building. Heck, even most of us Singaporeans would only know that the structure – first built in the 1930s – was home to one of the most iconic theatres, Capitol Theatre, and our history books would also point to the building being commandeered by the invading Japanese for propaganda purposes during the occupation in World War II.
But according to some historians, this very location at the corner of Stamford and North Bridge roads was supposed to be the home of Joseph Balestier. Balestier – for whom Balestier Road was named after – was the first appointed US consul to Singapore in 1836, and had started a sugarcane plantation.
And here’s where things got more interesting. Where there’s sugarcane grown, there are usually men with ideas of making rum. And that’s what Balestier did; he installed a copper still to distill sugarcane syrup into rum. In fact an advertisement in May of 1840 pointed to the success of his endeavours, declaring that “rum distilled after West Indies process and of equal quality” was available for sale.
Unfortunately due to ill health and the death of his beloved wife Maria, Balestier gave up his plantation and distilling business in 1848.
Today, that spirit continues at 15 Stamford. The Bar at 15 Stamford has been converted into a rum museum of sorts; the 80-seater bar carries over 160 rums from all across the world, almost all of them available for sipping, as bottle purchases, or converted into cocktails for drinking.
And when we say its rum range runs the gamut, we mean it. You’re talking about rums as ubiquitous as, say, the Bacardi Carta Blanca and Kraken Spiced Rum, to the rare, limited-edition Silver Seal Fine Caroni Heavy Rum 1997 Wildlife Series No. 2 from the long-closed Trinidad distillery.
Other treasures on the list include the Diplomatico Ambassador and Abuelo Centuria, both top-of-the-range at each distillery, or single cask rums such as the Kill Devil Barbados Foursquare 2001 14YO. then there’s the Appleton Estate Joy Anniversary Blend 25YO too, a special bottling that celebrates the 20th anniversary of Joy Spence being master blender at the Jamaican distillery.
But let’s face it – these are special occasion rums. For more exploratory drinking The Bar at 15 Stamford offers specially curated rum flights. D’Balestier Expedition ($45++) is a taste of three different Spanish rums, while 1837 Journey ($45++) is a sampling of three Jamaican ones.
Then there are cocktails. Helming the bar is Edriane Lim (pictured above), formerly of Anti:dote at Swissotel the Stamford, and he’s put together a cocktail menu that’s thankfully not a total tribute to rum.
For those who enjoy classic rum based drinks, the Lover’s Daiquiri ($22++) is exactly what you’d expect, and so is the Darker Than Stormy ($22++), even if it’s a more complex version of the Dark & Stormy with the use of Amaro and sherry. We’re also big fans of the signature Plantation 1840 ($24++), a rum punch made with the Cuban Black Tears Spiced Rum.
For more adventurous tipples, the P.C. Negroni ($22++) is a Negroni that eschews gin for aged rum; likewise the Peranakan Old Fashioned ($22++) replaces the usual bourbon in the Old Fashioned with aged rum and falernum.
If you’re not into rum, all is not lost. We enjoyed the cachaca-based Kempinski Sour ($22++), as well as the very spirit-forward Warren’s Demise ($24++), which combines bourbon, sherry, herbal liqueur, bitters and absinthe for a powerful concoction. And if cocktails are not your thing, there are over 250 wine labels to choose from too… but Singapore doesn’t have a history of winemaking, as it does in producing rum as we’ve all just learnt.
As we kick our heels back in The Bar at 15 Stamford and sip on our Daiquiri, we wonder – would Singapore have a rum industry today if Joseph Balestier hadn’t given up on his distilling venture those many years ago?
The Bar at 15 Stamford
Address The Capitol Kempinski Hotel Singapore, 15 Stamford Road, Singapore 178906 (Google Maps link)
Opening Hours 4pm to 1am daily