Low Boon Seong loves nothing better than to open one of his 3,000 bottles of whiskies and share it with friends and business associates. He says that it’s when you drink more that ideas, innovations and solutions all come together
People collect objects such as stamps, coins and handbags for varied reasons; a common reason is investment. For Low Boon Seong, his collection of whiskies is meant to be poured and shared with friends and business associates. To Low, whiskies are not meant to be collected and kept aside; sharing it gives him the greatest joy.
So it’s no surprise that when Options met up with him at his office on Circular Road, he was more than happy to crack open a Lagavulin 18 Casks of Distinction from his private cask to share. When I found it a little strong, he advised me to drink it slowly and to savour the taste.
It takes some careful treading to get from the main entrance of his office to the conference room as the place is chock-a-block with whisky bottles. Some are still in unopened boxes, while others are displayed on glass shelves. Low reckons that there are about 3,000 bottles and counting, joking that he buys them faster than he can consume them. Is there a system to this chaos? “To some extent, yes,” Low quips. He adds that he sorts the bottles by region. His collection is acquired from all over the world through his travels, contacts and auctions. Most of them are from Scotland, Japan, Taiwan, Italy, India, Australia, France and even Bhutan, with the old and rare bottles standing alongside the newer acquisitions.
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He does not keep any of his collection at home as his wife doesn’t drink and he has one-year-old twin son and daughter. In addition, his office is air-conditioned, providing an environment to store the whiskies that avoid temperature fluctuations or direct sunlight.
His road to collecting was unintentional; he only started out of curiosity, he says. And before he knew it, he had the start of an ever-growing collection. “I’m just someone who’s very curious with my senses and tastes. Before this, I used to collect wines in 2004,” he adds.
Back then, Low was working at Singapore Airlines (SIA) and his role in sales and marketing meant that he had to do a fair amount of entertaining. For example, he had to host gala dinners for PPS (Priority Passenger Service) customers. He recalls: “I was a young chap, and all these people, they talked about travelling which was so new to me. I joined SIA because I wanted to travel but I didn’t travel as widely as them. So, I couldn’t really add to the conversations; the only thing I could talk about was drinks.”
Wanting to fit in, he decided to study wines and was even about to get the Master of Wine (MW) certification for sommeliers. But he decided against it in the end. Plus, “back then, I’m just an employee, I couldn’t afford the expensive wines,” he says.
In 2013, Low, who had left SIA, started his own company, Align Group. The HR consultancy helps to run HR departments in SMEs such as tech start-ups and heritage family businesses while introducing best practices and structures to help them to scale up.
It was soon after that Low got into whiskies. He describes it as “an accident”. He recalls: “At a wine party I hosted, a friend came with a bottle of whisky. When I tasted the whisky, it was very novel to me. That was back in 2014. From then on, I started to buy whiskies and I would open every single bottle to try.”
According to Low, there are three types of collectors: a drinker, a collector and an investor. He says he falls into the collector category because “I just want to collect the whole series for completeness to drink”. Low’s top five brands are Port Ellen, Springbank, Talisker, Lagavulin and Dalwhinnie.
If he did sell any of his rare whiskies, he would probably make a handsome sum. He says: “The prices of some of the whiskeys have gone up like crazy. The Yamazaki Sherry cask 2013 cost $300 back then. When I bought it, it was $2,000. Today, it has gone up to $10,000.”
Yet, Low will not sell. He reiterates that it is a joy to share: “I hear many people tell me that they feel happy after sharing a glass with me,” he says. “When people appreciate whiskies, they enjoy it and I do enjoy sharing my knowledge of whiskies with them.”
Pictures by Albert Chua