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Whisky With A Side Of Cool Jazz: This Jakarta Whisky Bar Brings Jazz Legend Miles Davis Back To Life

Miles Davis stands out in particular as just being one of the coolest, baddest motherfuckers to ever live… He had an attitude where he really didn't care about people's opinions and was proud of his identity. In his spirit, we conceptualized Miles Whisky Bar as a place where we do our best to only curate the spirits, cocktails and music that we personally love.

– Kevin Susindra, Owner of Miles Whisky Bar

 

Found amid the upscale establishments of Senopati in South Jakarta, Miles Whisky Bar stands not just as a sanctuary for serious whisky lovers, but also as a modern day homage to legendary jazz musician Miles Davis. Stepping into this bar is like entering a realm where the only things that matter are the smooth melodies of Cool Jazz and the finer nuances of vintage whisky. The air usually hums with a selection of timeless jazz tunes from great musicians the likes of Davis himself.

I recently met with the man at the helm of this unique venue – owner Christopher Kevin Susindra, better known as Kevin, who has been a very prominent figure in the Indonesian whisky lovers’ community.

Kevin’s eyes would light up as he tells us about his inspiration for Miles Whisky Bar, describing Davis as one of the “coolest, baddest motherfuckers to ever live,” with a devil-may-care attitude about what others felt and a penchant for nonconformity that led him to develop new styles that influenced countless modern jazz musicians. Kevin has shaped the experience at Miles Whisky Bar to reflect these very qualities. “We conceptualized Miles Whisky Bar as a place where we do our best to only curate the spirits, cocktails and music that we personally love,” Kevin proudly explained.

 

(Source: @mileswhiskybar on Instagram)

 

Miles Whisky Bar is also a prolific and popular independent bottler of whiskies and rums – many of which are very well-received. We have in fact had the chance to taste and review a number of them. I spoke to Kevin about his passion for beautiful bottle labels and how several unique designs were conceived of.

Our conversation then drifts to Kevin’s personal trove of rare Scotch and seriously coveted Japanese whiskies, interesting observations of the Indonesian drinks scene, and how Kevin intends to uplift the scene with his latest venture – the Italian-aperitivo influenced Bar Miglia.

Join me in this conversation with Kevin!

Follow Kevin's bars' socials: Miles Whisky Bar | Bar Miglia

Visit Miles Whisky Bar at Senopati No.16A and Bar Miglia at Senopati No. 41C in Jakarta, Indonesia.

I do think that music and alcohol are alike in many ways, in the sense that it can be good on its own, but is incredible with the right company.

[88 Bamboo]: You’re a huge whisky and rum enthusiast and you know a great deal about spirits. You’re the owner of Miles Whisky Bar in Jakarta where people could enjoy hundreds of rare bottles with lovely jazz music. You also work closely with Nusa Caña, a modern and versatile Indonesian rum brand.

Besides that, you have been passionate about educating the community about fine spirits, and you’re a prominent personality in Jakarta’s whisky movement.

How did your love affair with whisky and rum begin? Do you remember your first drink that led you down the rabbit hole of becoming such a passionate enthusiast?

[Kevin Susindra]: First of all, I would like to say what a pleasure it is to be involved in your publication. I first started drinking whisky way back during my uni days – I think not everyone's relationship with alcohol started healthily, and that was definitely the case for me. I had a very unhealthy relationship with alcohol during my clubbing days, and it was until a friend of mine who introduced me to whisky during a poker game which really changed my perspective; that it was something that could be savoured slowly with ice or neat in a relaxing environment, and that you could really pick up nuances as if with wine or coffee. That time, I was introduced to a Glenlivet 15 French Oak, (which was a huge step up from shooting up Patron XO in clubs) which really piqued my curiosity, and then somewhere along the lines, I tried a Lagavulin 16 and seriously fell in love.

 

The bottles that sparked Kevin’s love affair with whisky.

 

Rum was a completely different story. I had started approaching it with a more informed perspective and had read so many things about rums from the Caribbean, and how it was so different to what is widely known as industrial / commercial rums. The person who was the most responsible for pushing me to try rum was Kabir Suharan, the head bartender and co-owner of Pantja, one of the best places for food and cocktails in Jakarta. He had shared so much to me about his experiences in drinking rum, which rums go well with which cocktails, and the history of how each rum came about. I owe most of my rum obsession to him. Coming off from my phase of loving very high proof cask strength peated whiskies also helped, a more potent and highly complex spirit that has so many styles, it was a very easy transition from being curious about it to overly obsessing over it.

 

Kabir Suharan is the visionary co-owner of Pantja, one of the most renowned bars in Jakarta (Source: Jeffrey Ma)

 

[88B]: How did your early passion for spirits lead you down the path to open a specialty spirits bar?

[Kevin]:This has always been a dream of mine. To be completely honest, the bar is more of an excuse for me and my friends to be able to open and try some of the crazier bottles in our collection without breaking the bank too much. We had no grand or noble goal whatsoever, but if it does help to elevate the scene in any small way, then that is a nice bonus! We have always found that in most of the bars in Indonesia, they emphasize more on the bottle service selection, and most things were not available by drams. Most places also tend to be on the noisier side, with live music and DJ booths being commonplace, we wanted a place that people could effortlessly have engaging conversations in, which was quite uncommon three to four years ago in Jakarta. Thankfully more of these bars have emerged, and it is being more seriously considered by the major players of the F&B industry in Indonesia.

 

Springbank, Ben Nevis & Clynelish. I feel like these are the three distilleries that have easily cemented themselves as my top 5 distilleries of all time. They have a clear distinct character that could work as young spritely whiskies, or mature complex whiskies.

[88B]: Which are the bottles that would always be present in your home bar? Are there any brands, distilleries or bottle series that you always find yourself returning to, and why?

[Kevin]: I love my SBCs. Whiskies from Springbank , Ben Nevis & Clynelish. I feel like these are the three distilleries that have easily cemented themselves as my top 5 distilleries of all time. They have a clear distinct character that could work as young spritely whiskies, or mature complex whiskies. Sadly, two out of these three have become more and more inaccessible in terms of availability and price point. However, I don't find that there are whiskies that would always be present in my home bar, my tastes keep changing and it reflects in my home bar and at Miles as well. I'm at a phase where I have been really enjoying bourbon cask whiskies from Speyside distilleries such as Linkwood, Glenburgie, Glen Keith, Glenrothes, Tormore , Tomatin, Benrinnes and more, which I have been enjoying for their light creamy texture and their floral, tropical fruity style. Tasting notes aside, the older and less color there is on a whisky, the more I am drawn to it.

 

Two of Kevin’s beloved Scotch distilleries which he also bottled: 25YO Glenburgie 1998 (by Miles Whisky Bar, Friends With Drams x The 1980s Bar) (Read our review!) and 10YO Ben Nevis 2011 (by Signatory Vintage & Miles Whisky Bar)

 

As a general rule of thumb though, I feel that Elixir Distillers' Single Malts of Scotland range and Taiwan's Whisky AGE / The Whisky Blues rarely (if ever) go wrong. I have also been very impressed and astounded by the consistency and quality of the selections by Animal Spirits , a Singaporean independent bottler who is also a dear friend of mine.

 

 

Other than whiskies, white rum is my go to at the moment, I find myself at a very interesting point in time where the newest white rums from Habitation Velier excite me more than most single cask whiskies. Mostly flavor-driven, accessible in terms of pricing and availability, and terrifically versatile as a mixing ingredient. They truly are the dark horse category of spirits right now.

 

[88B]: It is clear that you have great taste in music. Are there any similarities between your favourite music and the type of whiskies or rum that you enjoy?

[Kevin]: I really don't think I should qualify as someone who has a great taste in music. I've been stuck listening to music from the sixties to the noughties with the occasional anime J-pop for the last four to five years now. I do think that music and alcohol are alike in many ways, in the sense that it can be good on its own, but incredible with the right company.

 

[88B]: We couldn’t help noticing your coveted collection of Springbank 25, which you managed to get at the remarkable price of £300 a pop in the good old days.

 

(Source: @mileswhiskybar on Instagram)

 

All whisky lovers know that good bottles of whiskies are getting increasingly rare and pricey these days. If you could travel back in time to any rare or vintage drams you’ve had in the past, which one would you revisit and what would be the whisky in your glass?

[Kevin]: There was a phase in time where I was buying from bottle shops quite frequently during my travels, and luckily a majority of these bottles happen to be Springbanks. It's a shame that prices have become so inaccessible nowadays, and the only ones actually benefiting from it are the flippers and resellers. It also always seems that bottles always end up in the hands of resellers and flippers. I do think that there needs to be an overhaul of the buying systems of these bottles, so that bottles end up in the right hands more frequently. I absolutely love all the vintage drams I've had from Laphroaig and Banff, and have really enjoyed the few 60's and 70's Rosebanks that I've tried, so I will most definitely be hunting those if I could go back in time.

I didn't actually get to start trying these vintage drams until quite recently, so I do want to go back in time and try some of the more high-profile legendary drams like the Springbank 12 1980s Sherry Wood Samaroli , the Laphroaig 15 1967 Sherry Wood Samaroli and the Port Ellen Queen's Visit.

 

 

[88B]: Apart from Scotch, you also have a beautiful collection of rare rums, bourbon and Japanese whisky for several years now. Tell us about your collection!

 
(Source: @mileswhiskybar on Instagram)

 

Across the categories, which styles and brands do you favour, and what makes you decide that a bottle deserves a place in your display?

Do you have a one or two bottles that are always great conversation pieces with your guests? Which are they?

[Kevin]: My collection tells an accurate tale of my journey in whisky and spirits. An early phase of my collecting was from the many Japan trips that my family and I did, and a lot of the Japanese whiskies that I acquired were from the early stages of my whisky journey. I was quite lucky to get some single cask Chichibus in Japan before they became so sought after. I was also quite lucky to get some ceramic bottle Hibikis and some really lovely old ornamental Nikka whiskies, which I never intend to open, haha! Those are always such conversation pieces. Lately though, I have just been stocking up on the IB bottles that I love to drink.

 

(Source: @mileswhiskybar on Instagram)

 

[88B]: We heard that your fantastic Miles Whisky Bar is named after the legendary jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, famous for many pieces that evoke reflection, melancholy and a laid-back atmosphere.

Could you walk us through your process of conceptualising Miles Whisky Bar? What influence does Miles Davis’ music have as a source of inspiration for the bar, in terms of designing its ambience and spirit?

[Kevin]: I'm a huge fan of jazz musicians from that era, but Miles Davis stands out in particular as just being one of the coolest, baddest motherfuckers to ever live. He was talented, impeccably well dressed, ahead of his time, defined a genre and influenced future musicians for generations to come. He had an attitude where he really didn't care about people's opinions and was proud of his identity.

 

Miles Davis is one of the most influential jazz musicians of all time having shaped major developments in modern jazz. His most notable contribution is his slower paced, intense, laser beam style of "cool jazz".

 

In his spirit, we conceptualized Miles Whisky Bar as a place where we do our best to only curate the spirits, cocktails and music that we personally love. Other than typically blasting jazz through the speakers, we occasionally do play old rock, pop and even disco from the 80s'.

 

[88B]: What other sources of inspiration did you go to (whether it is a venue, place or event) and what sort of atmosphere do you want guests at the bar to experience?

[Kevin]: The atmosphere that we try to evoke with Miles was a place where it feels more like a cozy sleek penthouse, mainly for our own selves to enjoy but for other people to feel at their own (or a friend's) home. A bar specializing in whisky & spirits can be intimidating for many people, especially those who are new to the scene, so we try to make it as welcoming of an experience as possible. Most of all, we really liked the tiny cosy bars of Japan, and how conversational they all were, so we really try to emulate that.

 

The ambience and spirit of Miles Whisky Bar was designed with his music and personality in mind. (Source: @mileswhiskybar on Instagram)

 

[88B]: Miles Whisky Bar has an extensive collection of over 350 labels to explore. You guys have also bottled some amazing rum and whisky; a lovely Bordeaux Wine Cask Octomore, a tasty Barbados Rum in collaboration with Singaporean bottler Malt, Grain & Cane.

 

(Source: @mileswhiskybar on Instagram)

 

Could you share with us the backstory to these casks, including how they were selected by Miles Whisky Bar and your partners?

[Kevin]: There has been no defining characteristic or consistency in the selection of casks for our bottlings so far. All have been decided very randomly, mostly based on the stuff that we've been offered by brokers, our bottling partners, and friends. Some of the casks were even bought before we had the idea for a whisky bar. Most brokers nowadays also don't give out samples before purchasing, so a lot of these were gambles that luckily paid off.

 

 

The Port Charlotte 21 2001 Rum Cask that we bottled in collaboration with Malt, Grain & Cane was one such example. Marcus had been looking for a Port Charlotte cask, and he was one of the guys I talked to about rum the most at that time, so when the offer came, we just decided to take a punt. Admittedly, we were quite depressed when we received some really bad samples initially. Thankfully we persisted and are now quite happy with the result.

Tequilas and Mezcals have replaced whisky and brandy as the commonplace trophy item on tables of nightclubs and lounges, and have become the top shelf spirit category for most bars… I suspect that it is the influence of Hollywood and the emergence of celebrity-owned agave brands that have created this phenomenon.

– Kevin, on the surprising emergence of premium agave with spirits lovers in Indonesia

[88B]: What are your inspirations for the lovely bottle labels and art, and how did your designers bring your ideas to life?

[Kevin]: Most of our standalone bottlings feature labels that are a spin or a wordplay on the word Miles. For example, the Octomore bottling we had called "Milestones" because it was actually the first cask we ever bought together and it was a milestone for us. The Signatory Vintage 2011 Ben Nevis and the 1998 Glenburgie we recently did feature a passport inspired label and a luggage tag inspired label respectively, and that is our Frequent Flyer Miles series which was mostly inspired by travel documents and items related to travel. The 2007 Barbados Rum that we did with Malt Grain & Cane features a postcard inspired label, since Barbados seems like a pretty exotic location. Thankfully, we've worked with some fantastic graphic designers, one of which is Charlotte Then, (who used to work for LMDW Singapore) who is definitely a pro and very comfortable to work with.

 

 

[88B]: 2023 marks the two-year anniversary for Miles Whisky Bar since it opened its doors in July 2020.

Do you have any reflections on your journey running your amazing bar? Looking ahead, what exciting new bottlings, events or projects should your fans keep a lookout for from Miles Whisky Bar?

[Kevin]: Wow, time really flies since Covid. I still feel like we are in 2021! Miles has finally moved to its new location, and we have completed renovations and reopened on the 20th of September 2023.

 

The stellar new look of Miles Whisky Bar has just been unveiled.

 

We have also launched our second outlet in September, Bar Miglia , an Italian-influenced cocktail bar heavily featuring aperitivos, where we specialize on the quintessential Negroni cocktail. This is a project that we are doing with long time Jakarta F&B player BIKO Group, who has many exciting concepts all across town. This was a huge step for us, as it meant that we were properly getting into the F&B scene, and we're excited to contribute and learn from our partners, and hopefully inspire the scene.

 

Kevin’s exciting new concept is Bar Miglia, an Italian aperitivo cocktail bar in Senopati, South Jakarta.

 

As usual, we will also be having some new bottlings for Miles Whisky Bar, this year we still have a very special rum, a Bas Armagnac and an official bottling of a Teeling cask coming up. (Heard it here first, haha!)

 

[88B]: Apart from being a bar owner, you also work closely with the award-winning Nusa Caña, a traditional and modern Indonesian rum made with indigenous Indonesian ingredients and having a unique character.

From one rum geek to another, could you briefly tell our readers how Nusa Caña’s process showcases a unique Indonesian craft in its process and flavours?

[Kevin]: To be perfectly honest, I do not work that closely with the team at Nusa Caña. It was actually an investment proposition that came to me around 2017. We were offered to purchase shares as part of the earlier funding stages of the project, and I was very inclined to join in after I had heard about the project, the people running it, and after having tasted the rum itself. It was sort of a melting pot of two worlds, the flavor-driven world of Caribbean rums, and the light approachable texture of modern rums. I really believe that; with it being priced the way it is, it could replace the Captain Morgans and Smirnoffs at party tables and hopefully people would put more consideration into the flavor of their libations.

 

(Source: @mileswhiskybar on Instagram)

 

Nusa Caña closely resembles traditional Batavia Arrack, and a distinct feature of its production process is that it is fermented using yeast that has been started and propagated with red rice and the spirit is aged in large teak barrels. This process is responsible for the herbaceous, peppery and slightly funky notes and its clean texture. Nusa Caña is a very tropical appropriate drink, in the sense that it mixes so well with easy and simple ingredients. My favorite way’s to serve it in an ice cold Daiquiri, as a highball with lime, or poured into freshly opened coconut and mixed with the coconut water (ideally by the beach hehe).

 

(Source: Nusa Cana)

 

I've seen people make some seriously elaborate cocktails with it, and that's amazing, but I really like it when it is a little spirit forward. Nusa Caña's light refreshing and slightly tequila-esque flavor profile pairs really well with the big bold heavily spiced flavors of Indonesian cuisine. Not much of a contender for some mind-blowing pairing combinations, but they tend to simply complement each other nicely. I enjoy pairing it as a highball with foods that feature peanut sauces, such as gado-gado, ketoprak, and satay. The heavy / light contrast of flavors and textures make it more enjoyable to consume them both together rather than by themselves.

 

(Source: Bawah Reserve) 

 

[88B]: Looking broadly, what are some of the themes in whiskies and rum right now that give you the most excitement or optimism?

As someone who is really into the Indonesian spirits scene, how is the market like for premium spirits in Indonesia? Have you noticed drinkers getting more into any particular categories?

[Kevin]: I am very excited about the emergence of these new distilleries in Japan. Although it would be folly to call them new, Kanosuke, Shizuoka and Akkeshi are all doing very interesting things, and we see Japan emulating Scotland by producing many more flavor profiles.

 

 

I am also excited by the fact that South East Asia have emerged so strongly as a whisky and spirits drinking community alongside the rise in the prominence of Southeast Asian cocktail bars. Speciality spirits bars and independent bottlers have become more common in Southeast Asia, and consumers have a better understanding of their preferred spirits and cocktails. The premium spirits scene in Indonesia is currently shining its spotlight on one category right now, which is Agave. Tequilas and Mezcals have replaced whisky and brandy as the commonplace trophy item on tables of nightclubs and lounges, and have become the top shelf spirit category for most bars. A lot of tequila brands that were unheard of 5 years ago, have become household names in Jakarta, and a lot of importers and distributors are racing to find new brands to introduce to the market. I suspect that it is the influence of Hollywood and the emergence of celebrity-owned agave brands that have created this phenomenon.

 

(Source: 20/20 Cocktail & Agave Bar in Jakarta)

 

As a big picture though, our laws and regulations regarding the import of foreign liquor are predictably still very archaic, since we are a dominantly Muslim country. Not only is it expensive, it also takes a long and tedious process to register each product. I do wish that the government could see the potential benefits it would provide to further establish Indonesia's F&B scene as a driving force of the creative economy, and also see the potential economic benefits in terms of tax and tourism revenue.

[88B]: One final question before we let you go: Amongst the many spirits enthusiasts we know, you seem to have a knack for taking some of the most beautiful bottle photos, whichever bar you go to. We haven’t been able to take as beautiful photos ourselves!

Could you divulge your secret to taking such beautiful photos?

 

(Source: Kevin Susindra on Instagram)

 

[Kevin]: Wow, thank you for the compliments. This is actually not such a hard thing to do. One of the things I recommend doing is paying attention to the features of the bars that you visit, most bars have distinct features that make for a good photo taking trait, and it is good to sort of memorize that trait and take advantage of it. For example, the bar back at The Swan Song has single tier cabinets and multi-tier cabinets, I always try to use the single tier cabinets as a photo background because they are more softly and evenly lit. The bar table at Auld Alliance is very highly reflective, so it's always cool to do photos with mirror effects. Pay attention to which feature of the bar you could use to your advantage, and train yourself to find that feature and it would be second nature.

[88B]: Thank you for the wonderful insights, Kevin! 


Follow Kevin's bars' socials: Miles Whisky Bar | Bar Miglia 

Visit Miles Whisky Bar at Senopati No.16A and Bar Miglia at Senopati No. 41C in Jakarta, Indonesia.

@CharsiuCharlie