Homegrown wine and spirits retailer Bottles & Bottles has launched 8 by Bottles & Bottles, its first drink-in concept at Singapore Changi Airport Terminal 3. The bar features an extensive selection of wines, spirits and sake at bottle shop prices, a bar grub menu as well as the freedom to order in from other F&B establishments at no additional cost.
“Actually, our store at Parkway Parade has already been doing this for years, by allowing people to bring in food to eat with their wine,” says Koh Chin Liang, owner of Bottles & Bottles. “I don’t think food and wine should be complicated – you should be allowed to eat whatever you want with your drink, whether it’s fried chicken with red wine or sake with Old Chang Kee. And looking at our Parkway Parade outlet, we still see the same people coming back time and again to it, and it makes me happy that we’ve managed to create this watering hole for them, something we hope to do again with 8 by Bottles & Bottles.”
With 8 by Bottles & Bottles, that line-up of food becomes more curated, and offers those living in the east a communal and inviting approach to fine beverages. “Bottles & Bottles has always been about allowing everyone to explore different wines, spirits and, now, sake, in a comfortable manner. 8 is a culmination of our philosophy,” explains Chin Liang. “We’re offering a bigger, yet still accessible range of beverages and with a bring-your-own-food policy in this laid-back space, and we’re excited to be part of new pairings and experiences consumers might find here.”
Representing conviviality and togetherness, the logo – and name of the bar – draws inspiration from its location in the airport, in that it is always 8PM somewhere for a well-deserved drink. The colours take its cues from the expanded offerings, wine (red circle) to spirits and sake (white circle), for an all-encompassing destination for quality drinks.
This too is reflected in the establishment’s verdant design, presented as a welcoming garden with its dark wood furnishings and shelves. Following its geometric logo, wine red and dark grey metal accents juxtapose the semi-circular frames defining the shop periphery and rounded details of the communal tasting table and counter, creating a sense of intimacy. The sleek interiors also feature lockers for bottle storage, stowed away yet remaining in view within the shelves.
“17 years ago, we started Bottles & Bottles because there were just too many middlemen, and distributors at the time were just taking too much of a profit margin,” explains Chin Liang. “The price goes up because of the distributor, and it just wasn’t fair to either the retailer or the consumer. So the aim was to cut off the middleman, and bring in products where the price would be appropriate. I started off shipping small parcels of Australian wine to Singapore, and the majority of my buyers were expats. They all told me “how do you sell it so cheap?” All I wanted was for a $30 wine to taste like a $30 wine, and not a $10 one, and I got my suppliers to sell to me at nett price.”
As such, 8 by Bottles & Bottles will also be featuring a wide range of reasonably-priced wines, ranging from accessible to premium, New World to Old World, and familiar to lesser known varietals alongside exclusives curated by Chin Liang. Exclusives include great Australian wines, such as Domaine Naturaliste 1 of 3 from Margaret River, Taylors Wakefield from Clare Valley and 2021 James Halliday Winemaker of the Year, Eperosa from Barossa Valley. There are also historic wineries like Bodegas Faustino, which has been producing wine in DOC Rioja for 160 years, and the family-owned Champagne Cattier, run over 13 generations at Chigny-les-Roses, a Premier Cru village of Montagne de Reims.
“Nowadays, alcohol prices are very transparent, and there’s a lot more competition, where people can undercut by even 50 cents,” says Chin Liang. “There is no end to the price wars, and we have a team in the office checking prices to ensure that we’re selling our bottles at the right price. But ultimately, it’s about finding a way to differentiate ourselves from the competition, be it via our suppliers or the customer experience.”
8 by Bottles & Bottles will also offer up over 450 selections of spirits, are cognac exclusives from HINE and Davidoff, along with Tesseron. One of the finest exponents of cognacs, it blends traditional varieties of Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche and Colombard aged in the cellars of Châteauneuf-sur-Charente, France to present expressions of XO and above, such as Lot No. 90 XO Ovation and Lot No. 76 XO Tradition. Other highlights of the spirits list include single vintage Cognac Jean Grosperrin from Chermignac, Kyrö Gin from Finland, NIKKA Taketsuru Pure Malt, KAVALAN Peated Malt Singapore Edition 2020, and Louis XIII.
Plus, the brand will also be offering a comprehensive selection of sake. Aficionados can look forward to exclusives from Kunimare, a beloved Hokkaido brewery dating back to the Meiji era. The Kunimare Shuzo Jyunmai Ginjyo Hokkaido Limited is a rare treat with the finest ginpu rice grains at 40% polishing rate and pristine waters from the Shokanbetsu mountain range. The menu will also feature Junmai Daiginjyo Senshomasamune Takenisuzume from Katsuyama, previously enjoyed exclusively by the feudal lords of Sendai, and the award-winning Keigetsu CEL24 Junmai Daiginjo, which uses Kochi Prefecture exclusive yeast CEL24.
“The new generation does enjoy spirits more, and I think it’s because it’s hard to find an avenue for them to discover wine,” says Min Kiang, Son of Chin Liang, on the range of alcohols 8 by Bottles & Bottles is serving up. “These days, youngsters are also drinking more sake, and that is a good entry point. What we do then is to educate them about sake, and the different tastes depending on say the cask, and how it affects the notes the sake produces. It’s from there that we can get them to try wines that have a similar effect, and hopefully, spark their interest.”
“If I do take over, there’s some big shoes to fill,” admits Min Kiang, when asked if he has plans of taking over the business. “The staff like to call me young boss, but I don’t like that, because I haven’t done anything yet to be deemed worthy of being called that. I don’t want to be able to take over just because he’s my dad, and I am working hard to learn what I can and prove myself to him through blood, sweat and tears.”
Accompanying the beverages is a wide variety of dining options, including an in-house snack menu and a no cost bring-your-own-food alternative. The former includes fuss-free bites, such as succulent Beef Cubes with Red Wine Sauce (S$18.90) and a Cheese Platter ($21.90) with accoutrements, while the latter opens up the whole Changi Airport and beyond. Patrons can explore, dine on and pair 8’s many beverage options from one lifestyle destination through delivery platforms, such as Changi Eats. There are no hospitality charges on products purchased and opened at 8 by Bottles & Bottles. As part of the hospitality, service of glassware, buckets and ice are available without charge. Mixers are also available, charged by consumption.
“I think building up a good reputation is so important in a service industry,” says Chin Liang. “Sometimes we’d get a complaint at 10pm at night, and I insist on rectifying the problem then and there. There’s a reason someone bothers sending a complaint so late, and it’s because they value us, and to honour that, we try to follow up quickly. That reputations also earns supplier confidence in putting their products with us, and being able to market their products in our shops.”
“When I started this business 17 years ago at Tudor Court, it was just a small shop about 300 square feet. I had just left a corporate job where I was flying First Class and Business on the company’s expenses,” reminisces Chin Liang. “I knew my forte was in bringing in wine, and I would use that as the basis for my business. In my head I thought, maybe I can start something on my own, and there would be people who supported me.”
“The truth turned out otherwise, and it was a lot of hard work to build that business up from scratch. Most of the time I was using my savings to buy stocks and investing over and over to build income, while also waking up each day to man the shop for 10 hours by myself, as I didn’t have capital to pay staff. I did this for about 3 years, and there were so many times I went home crying. But I kept at it because I knew I had a wife and three kids, and I had to survive and support them.”– Koh Chin Liang, owner of Bottles & Bottles.
“I know that I’d love to see my own children take over, but I always remind them to go out there and experience the corporate world first before coming back and deciding for themselves if they want to work for me. But no matter what, I will not let this business die,” he says, on opening during these difficult COVID-19 times. “I’m not a perfectionist, but I always strive for perfection. Especially when dealing with human resources and finances, if you’re not strict about these things, it’s very easy to go bust. At the back of my mind, I know how to manage resources and manage this business. We make calculated risks when we open a new shop, and I know that even if I do retire one day, the business will be able to continue.”