Whisky worshipper, Yossi Schwartz
Whisky worshipper, Yossi Schwartz
Image: Supplied

Whisky is quite the epic story, defined by dramatic gestures, grand inventions, skulduggery and poetic licence.

It has risen from the ashes, seen better days, fought the odds and survived as an outlaw. It inhabits mythical locations and invokes majestic memories. But for this story to resonate it needs a lead character equal to, perhaps greater than, its intrinsically complex palate.

Yossi Schwartz is one such character. Until he recently resigned as group chairman of Y&R Africa, he left an indelible signature in the world of advertising. Now he's telling a more private tale, one that he launches into within minutes of us meeting.

A natural storyteller, Schwartz, pictured, pitches his voice perfectly. He pauses with an assured mastery of suspense and leans forward ever so slightly. He speaks of an obsession that caught fire some 20 years ago. The seductive nose. The explosive taste. That mesmerising finish. Whisky promised depth... and in he dived, caught up by an insatiable quest to know, savour and experience it all.

He collected. He fell for the Japanese. He got hooked on sherry and gave his heart to peat. And then, after abandoning plans to make his own whisky, he toured Scotland and met the owners of its finest distilleries.

He was set on becoming an independent bottler, joining a niche group of whisky producers who produce no whisky, but instead purchase one-off casks to release under their own labels. To me, this group are the restless rebels of an inherently traditional world, kindred spirits to our maverick marketer.

Or so you would think. The whisky bosses were polite. The whisky bosses heard Schwartz out. The whisky bosses politely closed their doors. Seems like this group is a tight-knit clique. Locals only. No strangers allowed.But Schwartz is the kind of guy who says no to no, and on returning through London he met with whisky broker Philip Kirk from the esteemed Milroy's of Soho. Kirk could secure casks, and within the hour had agreed to find Schwartz a modern, atypical single malt.

Over the next few months Schwartz tasted many samples, eventually deciding that a brightly candied Glencadam 16-year-old would be his first release. He was going to market ... with almost 4,000 bottles.

The man who'd shaped many a brand needed to quickly create his own. A very particular man. Pedantic. Pragmatic. A perfectionist. He insisted on the elegant Oslo bottle from France, corks were sourced from Portugal and he mailed John le Carré, asking the great author for permission to name the company after his novel Single & Single.

The writer gave his blessing, with one condition: make an outstanding whisky. Schwartz did just that, later sending Le Carré bottle No 1.

Schwartz knew little of this vast new world when he started. His quick-fire baptism taught him extreme lessons, and he refined his vision, eschewing mass sales in favour of a more intimate connection with his growing fans.Next, in 2008, he gave them a dark, smoky Bowmore eight-year-old, all brazen, shameless and punk in attitude. He describes it as a whisky that dresses only in black.

And then Kirk phoned. He had a Bunnahabhain cask, sherry-finished and 31 years old.

It was a rare moment that  Schwartz had to seize. He bought the barrel and produced 560 bottles at cask strength. We taste it together. It's overwhelmingly good, with a rich, bombshell nose and a sweet, lingering finish.

Jim Murray was also impressed. In his 2011 Whisky Bible he scored it 94.5, describing it as "delicious... dazzling... so special". Schwartz smiles as we sip. "After the Bunnahabhain I knew if I died, I would die happy."

After the Bunnahabhain, Single & Single did go quiet. Schwartz let it rest. I suspect he wanted this venture to be more meaningful, but he also wasn't done with being an adman.

Now, almost a decade later, he's free to focus solely on his whisky.

He whips out another sample, his newest release, a Ben Nevis 21 year old. It's heavily sherried, ideally aged, cask strength and highly limited, everything Schwartz wants his whiskies to be.

His bottlings are self-expressions: dynamic, honourable, honest, ambitious. And he chooses who gets them. You won't find Single & Single everywhere. If you're deserving of a bottle, it will find its way to you.

It's somewhat ironic that a marketing man who spent years making big brands bigger is determined to keep his dream so carefully contained.

And therein lies the twist in this plot: our hero is quite modestly anti. It makes his journey all the more interesting, and it will keep fans absorbed as he continues to write a very singular story.

This article was originally published by the Sunday Times.You can view the original article here.

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