Spencer Forhart on The Proof Flat, a hidden bottle shop on Hongkong Street
Advocates for extraordinary spirits
Top-shelf spirits, a small but mighty library, and insider bar recommendations for your next overseas jaunt
When Spencer Forhart, chairman of Proof & Company, hands me his namecard, it comes packed with more than the usual litany of contact details. The monochrome calling card reveals his spirit of choice (agave), favourite cocktail (1146 Old Fashioned), and mantra in life: "Always carry a flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite and futhermore always carry a small snake," W.C. Fields. If a namecard is reflective of a company's ethos, one begins to get the sense that Proof & Company isn't quite your typical wholesale distributor of spirits. After all, these are the cool cats behind the award-winning speakeasy 28 HongKong Street, where well-measured cocktails find pride of place next to bar snacks that pack more than just a punch.
Those in the know might pride themselves on their ability to locate the unmarked door of 28 HongKong Street, but those truly in the know would make their way down to 43A Hongkong Street, head up a flight of stairs, and ring the buzzer next to a cream-coloured door. Once inside, you'll find yourself standing in The Proof Flat, ahandsome retail and education salon by Proof & Company's new retail brand, EC Proof. Below, Forhart lets us in on the workings of their secret lair.
The Proof Flat is the fictional apartment of our fictional founder. Mr. EC Proof is his name. This is EC's apartment. Who does he hang out with? He hangs out with bartenders and distillers. He travels all over the world. The designers at Hassell helped to bring this concept to life.
When you enter the flat, you'll find yourself standing in our living room. Because EC is in the business, he's got a baller home bar. We welcome guests to come in, sit down, and chill. They can read a magazine. They can sample anything they want — for free.
There're about 350 bottles available at any one time and around 200 bottles are available for tasting. And again, it's free. We are not a bar. We are not going to sell you a cocktail. If you wanted to taste all the American whiskies here, no problem. Be our guest.
Beyond helping guests to select their bottles, we also have recipe cards to share. We can give them bar connections. If they are travelling in London and want to know which bars to hit up, we can share that too. If they are really good customers, we can call and make a booking for them. We're not selling or advertising these services, but we do have guests who come here regularly and become friends, so we have this relationship going with them.
We also sell bar pantry items, ranging from bitters to tonics and sodas. Bar tools can be found here as well as it's pretty hard to find nice bar tools for the home in Singapore. We try to curate higher quality bar tools people will be proud to display in the home.
We also use the space for workshops, events, and training sessions. We've done a lot of distiller events, where famous distillers come by to give talks. We've done about 35 of those in the last nine months. We've also done other things such as hosting a book club. The members of the club had read a book on rum and we had a bartender come in to make rum-based drinks. We like to conduct classes on cocktails and spirits. We are not interested in having people do birthday bashes. We try to tie our events back to the industry and make it somewhat educational.
EC's apartment would feature all his friends. So these photographs hanging on the wall are all important people in the world of spirits that are somehow connected to us. Everybody here is famous in the industry, but they are not here just because they are famous, but because they are our friends or business partners, such as master blender Tito Cordero from Diplomatico, and Steve Schneider from Employee's Only. You'll also find Rickhouse here, it's a bar in San Francisco that one of our guys managed for a couple of years.
We chose to have custom art made. It's our way of expressing our brand without putting ads and posters on the wall. We have black and white drawings—commissioned works by an Australian artist who drew our distillery partners—that illustrate the Diplomatico rum distillery, Saint George in San Francisco, and the Willett bourbon aging warehouses in Kentucky.
Here's what we like to call the world's coolest little bookshop. You'll find hundreds of titles on cocktails and spirits. They are all for sale. We give a really substantial discount to the industry, especially to the young bartenders, as this is how they really expand their knowledge and it can be quite expensive to do so. But anybody can walk in and just buy these books. These are all curated very carefully. It's all really good stuff.
If you want to entertain at home, you can get everything you need in the one place that is EC's Closet.There're about 350 bottles or expressions here. 300 of them are from our own portfolio and about 50 are from brands beyond that. Every spirit category is present here with very curated independent brands. Mostly artisanal. We don't care which part of the world you're from as long as you're honing the highest level of your craft. If you like to collect say tequila, bourbon, whisky, or rum — we've got beautiful collectables as well, including really special, rare bottles.
We like to identify what's legitimately special for those in the know. Take for example these ultra-aged agaves. These are very old tequilas. It's unusual to age tequila for more than three years. It's just not a part of the tequila culture. But there's one man, Enrique Fonseca, who has become the world's foremost expert in aging tequilas for a long time. There's no other brand in the world that ages tequilas as long as Fuenteseca Tequila does. Fonseca is a true master craftsman working at his highest level after 25 years. He's wealthy. He doesn't need to do this. But this is art. The French talk about the great French winemakers as authors, and Enrique is what I'll regard as one.
We try to price our bottles according to what we consider reasonable, international standards. We're not a discount joint by any stretch, but we consider ourselves to be quite fairly priced.
More than half of our customers are women.If anything, the growth area is with female consumers.One of the things about spirits or wine spaces is that they tend to be quite masculine. Through the design of our space, we want to put women at ease and have them feel welcome when they come here, so we have flowers, touches of teal. Nothing too masculine.
We're on the cusp of launching our online store, where customers can buy all the bottles we stock in the flat.
The Proof Flat is located at 43A Hongkong Street and open from Monday to Saturday, 11am to 7pm. No appointments required.