Abiding connections are formed through alignment. Take Yossi Schwartz – the founder of Single & Single – and take whisky. He’s the pragmatic perfectionist with an incurably romantic outlook on life. The amber liquid is a grassroots experiment, a simple recipe that reveals inexplicably complex character when exposed to an infinite number of influences. Neither is cut and dried…a match made in heaven.
Years ago, after being bitten by whisky’s depth and distinction, Yossi proceeded down the rabbit hole, fascinated by layers that gave way to surprises that took departures before confounding expectations. He read all the literature, over and over, scoured the internet, got lost in fireside chats, yet still admits to having so much to learn. That’s the joy of this journey…it never ends.
“Whisky for me is an escape,” he enthuses. “It’s better than anything else.” And what makes this timeout all the more powerful to him is the way in which it is experienced. Most collectors will tell you that, once it leaves the barrel, whisky doesn’t change, and that if the storage conditions are right, you’ll taste the same spirit for years to come. Technically, this is correct, but Yossi disagrees with the notion that each sip is identical to the ones that came before. To him context is paramount, and he explains how routine variations, often incredibly subtle, affect the final experience. It might be the time of day, or the temperature, or the glass being used, or the season, a prevailing mood and unequivocally the company being kept, but it’s never a carbon copy. These unique experiences first drove Yossi into whisky’s warm embrace, and eventually into the industry. All he wants is that those who encounter his whiskies, and really engage with them, are left with the single most important aspect to all of this: unique memories.
The First Steps
But as much he champions fluidity and imagination when it comes to enjoying his product, Yossi is an astute businessman who understands the importance of clearly defined lanes, recognised guidelines within which his passion can bear fruit. This is his fastidious side, the one that tabulates and strategizes, a methodical mind, the meticulous and motivated brain most often called to action during his long tenure as Group Chairman of Y&R Africa.
It’s this Yossi that received John le Carré’s blessing to name his company after the great spy writer’s eponymous novel. This was right at the start, in 2007 when, exhilarated by the prospect of his first expression, he released 3,840 bottles of a sweet, candy-coated Glencadam 16 Year Old. “What I did back then was crazy. Who does that?” he admonishes his younger self, admitting that this rookie mistake went against everything he wanted to achieve.
But he fixed it the following year with an 8 Year Old Bowmore. Limited to 890 bottles, it’s as audacious and punkish as they come or, as he likes to describe it, “A whisky that dresses only in black.” Then lady luck appeared in the form of a phone call from his broker at Milroy’s of Soho. There was a cask of sherry-finished Bunnahabhain 31 Year Old, and the London operation was wondering if he’d be interested. For a newcomer and relative outsider, this was like striking gold. Yossi agreed on the spot, and Single & Single’s third release went on to make an indelible impression. Jim Murray, in his 2011 Whisky Bible scored it 94.5, describing it as “delicious…dazzling…so special”.
For the next decade the dream was on hold as Yossi focused on his advertising career. But in 2017 he resigned himself to the world of whisky, first producing an unashamedly dark and silky Ben Nevis 21 Year Old that had spent every second of its life in a sherry cask. Next came the aforementioned Ledaig, followed by forays into more unfamiliar territory. There was a grandly aged Invergordon 45 Year Old, a single grain with perfectly balanced syrupy sweet notes, and another Bunnahabhain, this time 17 years in age, all toffee sauce and dessert cream. He bottled a delicately peated Ardmore 10 Year Old, secured a rare cask of twenty-four year old spirit from the closed distillery, Imperial, and has now released an inaugural blend called Cambridge Circus, a velvety 32 Year Old that contains juice from Macallan, Highland Park, Dalmore, Glenfarclas, Glen Elgin and Tormore.
None of these expressions are alike, yet all are unlike the usual. Each has played its part and paved a way for Single & Single to occupy a unique place in the world of whisky. From here, the future is boundless.