The COVID-19 effect: Coronavirus wreaks havoc on the Singapore drinks calendar

Singapore drinks calendar - Wine Fiesta


To say that the worldwide COVID-19 health pandemic has wreaked havoc on lives in many countries across the world is definitely an understatement; closer to home we look at the list of events on the Singapore drinks calendar this year that have been affected.

[Updated 30/3/2020]

Singapore’s newest whisky event Whisky Journey was to have taken place in May this year. It was officially unveiled in February – that’s about two weeks after the first COVID-19 case was discovered in Singapore, and mere days after the first few locally transmitted cases were uncovered. At that time, Whisky Journey organisers The Whisky Store said they would be keeping an eye on the coronavirus situation. They would, they insisted, take every precaution necessary to keep event participants safe.

Over the next couple of months the epidemiological nightmare continued to unfold. Across the world governments were forced to take drastic action to limit social contact – moves that include shutting down schools, cancelling major events, as well as instituting stay-at-home protocols. Then the Singapore Government announced on 13 March 2020 that all ticketed cultural, sports and entertainment events with more than 250 participants are to be deferred or cancelled. This was followed by another advisory on 20 March 2020 that all such events – ticketed or otherwise – would have to be suspended altogether after all.

Academy of Drinks

It would sound a death knell for all large scale events in Singapore.

While the originally mandatory cancellation or postponement didn’t apply to Whisky Journey – it was committed to before the announcement came out – The Whisky Store made the painful but responsible decision to postpone the event. “As the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues to escalate, we have decided to postpone Whisky Journey,” The Whisky Store announced in an update.

But even before the Singapore Government took the extraordinary step to ban large scale events to reduce local transmission – the first time it has ever done so – some organisers have already taken the step to cancel or postpone their events. One of the first in Singapore to be scrapped was “Matter of Taste”, the annual wine tasting event by Robert Parker Wine Advocate. Others quickly followed. Informa Markets, the organiser of hospitality trade show FHA-HoReCa announced that it will postpone its event to July. Its other component FHA-Food & Beverage, originally announced to go on as planned in mid-March, was pushed to next year. ProWine Asia Singapore, which was supposed to have taken place alongside FHA-Food & Beverage, was first postponed to be held with FHA-HoReCa at the later date, was postponed again till next year.

“The decision is right and responsible in view of the latest developments and this postponement of ProWine Asia (Singapore) to 2021 is unavoidable,” says Mr Gernot Ringling, Managing Director, Messe Düsseldorf Asia. “We believe it is in the best interest of all our exhibitors, visitors, staff, and Singapore as host country to reschedule the trade fair to next year.”

Then there’s the Singapore Cocktail Festival, the region’s largest annual event celebrating the cocktail industry. COVID-19 would force it to originally split into two different components. SGCF City Takeover was to take place from 15 to 22 May, which will see a plethora of small scale events – such as cocktail masterclasses and bar tours – take place across different bars in Singapore, while its large-scale flagship Festival Village event – which was supposed to on those dates as well – has instead been rescheduled to 23 to 25 October instead. But

COVID-19 would force other event organisers to be creative. For example, this year the Singapore Cocktail Festival – the region’s largest annual event celebrating the cocktail industry – will split into two different components. There’s the SGCF City Takeover that will take place from 15 to 22 May, which will see a plethora of small scale events – such as cocktail masterclasses and bar tours – take place across different bars in Singapore. Its large-scale flagship Festival Village event – which was supposed to on those dates as well – has instead been rescheduled to 23 to 25 October instead.

“The DORSCON Orange advisory recommends precautionary measures against large scale events. Putting the safety of our guests as a priority, it makes sense for us to postpone the launch of the SGCF Festival Village, where we expect a turnout of up to 10,000 attendees,” explains Wai Mayleng, co-founder of Singapore Cocktail Festival.

Yet as the COVID-19 situation worsened in Singapore, the SGCF City Takeover was postponed again to run alongside Festival Village in October. But those dates aren’t ironclad – if things don’t improve and quickly, there may not be a Singapore Cocktail Festival this year.

Other events are similarly stuck in limbo. It’s uncertain if Singapore Sake Festival, Singapore’s largest public event focusing on sake, will proceed. “We’ve already paid for the venue, and if we cancel the event at this point there will be no refund,” shares Maria Satoh, general manager at Orihara Shoten, the organiser of Singapore Sake Festival. “But most of (our Japanese sake brewery representatives) are unsure if they will be able to come at all or not,” she adds.

Then there’s Asia’s 50 Best Bars; its award ceremony – a glitzy, large-scale event attended by bartenders and other hospitality professionals from across the region –  was supposed to take place on 14 May 2020, but organisers are now reconsidering in light of global travel restrictions. “We are aware and respectful of the control measures that have been put in place in Singapore, and are currently in close communication with the local government to better understand the travel restrictions surrounding affected countries. More definitive updates with regards to Asia’s 50 Best Bars awards ceremony on 14th May will be shared once we conclude internal discussions and with the appropriate local authorities,” shares Mark Sansom, Content Editor for The World’s 50 Best Bars.

The World’s 50 Best Bars has since decided that its event will be entirely held online on 14 May.

As for Gambero Rosso, whose annual Top Italian Wines Roadshow has been one of the trade and public wine events eagerly looked forward to by wine professionals and enthusiasts in Singapore, there’s no news. At press time, the local organisers were not able to confirm with Gambero Rosso if the event will be postponed or cancelled, but gauging by the unfolding health disaster and full lockdown in Italy it’s unlikely to be able to take place at all.

One of the public events on the Singapore drinks calendar to proceed as planned when the 12 March announcement came out was to be beer festival Beerfest Asia, but the 20 March advisory put paid to its plans.

But other organisers are optimistic that the situation will soon be under control. The Straits Wine Company have begun planning for its annual Wine Fiesta, which is some seven months away. “While the outbreak is still evolving globally, we are also increasingly seeing stability in certain countries. We remain optimistically cautious and do believe that the virus will come under control and for our lives to resume normalcy,” shares Patrick Sng, CEO of The Straits Wine Company.

As for Whisky Journey, The Whisky Store’s Chief Marketing Officer Matthew Ferguson-Stewart insists that the whisky event will still happen, just at a later, more sensible date. “Obviously it’s frustrating for us to delay an event we are so excited about and have worked so hard on, but COVID19 is emerging as a serious threat to the public. We love the whisky community here – we’ve been a part of it since it began – and we cannot countenance putting them and others at risk. Rest assured, the journey will continue when it’s safe.”

“We’ve all seen jokes circulating about how ‘alcohol kills the virus’ and honestly, that’s a great reason to keep using hand sanitiser regularly. But it’s not a great reason to put 5,000 in one room sharing drams,” Fergusson-Stewart explains. “That’s just foolhardy right now.”


List of affected events on Singapore drinks calendar:

  • Beerfest Asia – Postponed, exact date TBC
  • FHA-Food & Beverage – Rescheduled to 2-5 March 2021
  • FHA-HoReCa – Postponed, exact date TBC
  • Gambero Rosso – Unconfirmed
  • Matter of Taste by Robert Parker Wine Advocate – Cancelled
  • ProWine Asia Singapore – Rescheduled to 2-5 March 2021
  • Singapore Cocktail FestivalSGCF City Takeover and SGCF Festival Village rescheduled to 23-25 October 2020
  • Whisky Live – Moved to January 2021, exact date TBC
  • Whisky Journey – Postponed, exact date TBC
  • Wine Discovery Weekend – September 2020
  • Wine Fiesta – Date TBC

*List to be updated as more details come in