While there are many reasons to invest in a luxury sports car, for Sukhinder Singh, a landmark birthday was the clincher. “I wanted to treat myself for my 50th,” he says. The co-founder and Managing Director of drinks specialist The Whisky Exchange pondered over a number of models before settling on the Vanquish — his very first Aston Martin. “I absolutely adore the shape — it’s one of the most beautiful Aston Martins ever.”
Singh has driven his Midnight Blue Vanquish faithfully every day since he bought it three years ago. In addition to his commute from Middlesex to The Whisky Exchange’s north-west London HQ, he enjoys being behind the wheel whenever he gets the chance. “Isn’t that the whole charm of having a nice car — driving it? I like to take it out on country roads, or even the motorway. I often go to Scotland for work, so sometimes I drive it up there.”
Like many others, Singh was drawn to Aston Martin at an early age. “All kids love cars. As a youngster, I watched James Bond and fell in love with the DB5. I always thought, ‘I’d love to own an Aston Martin, one day.’”
It was also in his youth that Singh discovered a passion for spirits — after all, the trade is in his blood. His parents, Narinder and Bhupinder Singh, were the first Indian-born citizens in the UK to be granted a liquor licence, and opened The Nest off-licence in Hanwell, west London, in 1972.
Post-graduation he spent a few years working at The Nest and “fell in love with the business”. Expanding the company with new locations and a broader product offering, the family created “the most amazing mecca for spirits, wines and beers”, though it was soon evident that whisky was where his heart lay.
“At that time, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the whisky industry was tiny, meaning our selection was very small — mostly Scotch. So I developed it into a larger part of the business,” Singh says. He also began amassing his own — now legendary — whisky collection, which currently stands at nearly 8,000 bottles and counting. “I love the history and the romance behind how whisky is produced... it’s as pure a product as you can get. It needs nature to take its course in how it changes and develops in the cask.”
In 1999, Singh’s parents announced their plans to retire, which included selling the business. Singh pondered his options before asking his brother, Rabjir, if he would join him in founding a new endeavour, focusing exclusively on whisky. The Whisky Exchange was established that year.
Starting out with nothing but leftover shop stock and a mates’ rates website, the modest, online-only company evolved into one of the industry’s most influential, comprehensive and respected names. The Whisky Exchange now has three bricks-and-mortar spaces in London, while the global e-commerce platform encompasses gin, tequila, cognac, rum, wine, Champagne and more. The company even blends its own spirits. “We do everything,” Singh says. “We’re probably the most important online spirits company in the UK, and worldwide we’re definitely in the top one or two for whisky.”
As you might expect, 30-plus years in the business have given Singh an eye for emerging whisky trends. He highlights the proliferation of micro or “craft” distilleries as a major development, not least the “abundance of new English ones, when 10 years ago there were none.” He draws comparisons to craft beer, saying that “in the UK, people are wanting to try whisky made locally, whether that’s in London or the Lake District.”
Although The Whisky Exchange’s store and hospitality sales took a knock as the result of Covid-19, online trade has been booming. “It’s unbelievably strong,” says Singh. “People have been stuck at home and drinking more, but whisky lovers have also had more time to spend on research and trying new varieties. Other people have been buying whisky with the hope of making a return on it in years to come.”
Singh does not regard whisky as an investment. “I’m still buying actively, paying small fortunes for bottles that are old and super-rare. I wouldn’t be paying those prices if they were investments. In many cases, I overpay because I just want the bottle.
Singh does not regard whisky as an investment. “I’m still buying actively, paying small fortunes for bottles that are old and super-rare. I wouldn’t be paying those prices if they were investments. In many cases, I overpay because I just want the bottle.”
Singh’s extensive, heavily insured collection is displayed in The Whisky Exchange’s boardroom, which features over 6,000 bottles of his bottles in elegant cabinets. “My collection is always around me — I can see and touch the bottles. For me, that’s the point."
His collection is organised into two groups. One is for precious, “historic” whiskies and many are one-offs, the sole surviving examples of their kind. “For me, they tell the story of Scotch whisky,” Singh says. “You can’t replace them.” Then there are the drinking whiskies, which he describes as “absolutely to die for — I cherish them, I could drink them forever. There’s a really big stockholding of 1960s Bowmores, for example. When people ask me about my ‘desert island whisky’, it’s got to be a Bowmore whisky distilled in the 1960s, such as the Black Bowmore DB5 1964. That decade was truly the golden era of Bowmore.”
The Islay distiller holds a special place in Singh’s affections. His long-standing relationship with the brand was forged during his days as a fledgling spirits merchant, when Bowmore was still family-owned. “I saw Bowmore evolve and develop at the same time that we were evolving and developing — that’s very special. In my line of work, I want to support the brands I love.”
This story is an extract from an article featured in the AM48 issue of Aston Martin magazine, out now. If you're not already a subscriber, visit magazine.astonmartin.com/magazine-subscription so that you can read the full story.