April 23, 2020

Around three weeks ago, my French boyfriend and I had moved into a tiny shoebox apartment in Balestier. Initially, I was worried about cabin fever but cooking and drinking have gotten me through the days of disarray and isolation. I had my first virtual masterclass experience with Nyetimber brand ambassador Steffan Griffiths and we drank prestige cuvee together; his tipped into a pretty flute against the cosy backdrop of a quaint living room, while mine was in a shoddy glass tumbler. 

Later that evening, William Grant & Sons launched their virtual bar experience on Z00m, which doubled as a fundraiser to support local bars during the Covid-19 period. I joined the video chat, with a Balvenie whisky and soda on the rocks in hand, occasionally dashing to the fridge for a refill. Needless to say, the rest of the night was a hazy blur.

It’s clear that 2020 will go down in history, as millions of people grapple with the devastating effects of the pandemic. While some are trying to stay positive, others may be knocking back one too many drinks to cope with the anxiety. In fact, alcohol sales have spiked since the global outbreak began. But will that fuel compulsive drinking habits that arise from social isolation? To discuss the awakening of alcohol consumerism in Singapore, I speak to Mathieu Musnier, GM of La Maison du Whisky Singapore and Jean-Christophe Cadoret, owner of Galiena Fine Wines.

Since the start of the circuit breaker, have online sales increased significantly? And are most of the customers new or regulars?

Mathieu Musnier: We are thankful to have launched our platform in late 2019. Now we are getting up to three times more traffic than we had expected. Currently, 60% of our customers are new to La Maison du Whisky (LMDW). Since we are not involved in price wars with some of the bigger companies that carry mostly big brands, our customers are approaching us in search of niche products. And our strong offerings ensure that a home bar is amply stocked at all times.

Jean-Christophe Cadoret: Aside from our holding companies Napolean and Gaston, we have a website that offers business-to-consumer (B2C): wine-family.com. In addition, we are the unofficial distributors for Vivino here, and we distribute at least up to half of their orders. Since the announcement, we have extended our usual B2B discounts of 20-30% off to individuals who have to request for private access on this unique site based on referral. The platform is quite viral and the success we have garnered is very assuring; it shows that our clients have an understanding of the price-quality ratio they are getting. Regular customers are coming back too and sales have increased significantly.

Is there a stark change in order volumes after the announcement that the circuit breaker will be extended?

MM: Before that, we were receiving a lot of big orders. With the announcement, there have been tons of small orders trickling in, mostly single bottle purchases. With home bars quickly being depleted, consumers are just looking to stock up on single gin or vermouth for making cocktails. The fact that most people haven’t been through Changi for the last two months means that people are struggling to replenish their low stocks at home. We’ve seen a stark increase in locals placing orders as well, but our biggest spenders are expats who don’t get to travel anymore. 

JCC: Since Galiena has been coined an ‘essential business,’ we’ve seen a second wave of orders after the announcement of the extension. Currently, we are averaging 58 orders a day, which is a lot.

What is appealing to your customers at the moment?

MM: Small items like vermouth. Back bar essentials. Workhorses—gins and rum. People are starting to realise the immense amount of pleasure in making their own cocktails at home, and I foresee that there are going to be more home parties. When the time comes, people can come to us to purchase their alcohol. We’re a one-stop-shop.

JCC: If there’s one thing that the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us is that we should be acting on climate change. During this period, consumers have a greater appreciation for nature and that in turn drives them into the arms of smaller artisanal vignerons who adhere to organic, natural and biodynamic wines, which we have a large selection of at Galiena. Now that everyone is more conscious about reducing their carbon footprint, our range definitely sticks out.

If you could only single out one bottle from your range, what would it be?

MM: Tough one. I would have a different answer for a different time of day. But if I had to choose one, it would be the Neisson Rhum Agricole from Martinique. You’ll want to make a Ti’ Punch with this. All you need is brown sugar and lime.

JCC: Domaine Vincent Pinard’s Sancerre Pinot Charlouise. It’s a red wine from the Loire Valley that was mistaken for a Burgundy Volnay 1er Cru by a famous sommelier in Singapore during a blind tasting. This bottle actively displays the vibrant personality of Loire Valley wines and is a great introduction to the underrated wine region.

Are we becoming closet alcoholics? No, even though the general perception is that we’re drinking more. Being indoors removes the element of social pressure (one more nightcap?), so we can make wiser decisions like hitting the sack early to get more sleep. Or to drink better than before. There’s a reason why the government has sanctioned alcohol distribution as an essential service. Sure, it may not be for everyone, but if you are imbibing six drinks a week (like me), alcohol definitely falls in that category. History has shown that alcohol bans can backfire and God knows we don’t need another prohibition period again.