By Shamilee Vellu
Feb 25, 2019
MOVE OVER, SINGAPORE SLING—new twists on gin have edged out the tourist go-to as the nation’s de rigueur drink. Local bars such as Native infuse gin with everything from matcha to laksa leaf, while others, like Atlas (with its staggering 1,000-plus labels), build menus around their sizable collections of mother’s ruin. Now, Singaporean distilleries are taking the spirit to the next level, crafting innovative gins that spotlight local flavors.
BRASS LION DISTILLERY
Setting up a boutique distillery in regulation-heavy Singapore requires no small amount of gumption, as Brass Lion’s founder, Jamie Koh, knows well. But Koh, a Singapore-born F&B entrepreneur who exited New York’s finance industry post–Lehman Brothers crisis, is not short on derring-do. After stints at various U.S. distilleries, she hand-carried more than 40 ingredients to a master distiller in Germany, determined to create a gin that showcased her heritage.
“I brought a lot of funky ingredients like goji berries, dried longan, pandan leaf—stuff we like here,” says Jamie, who proceeded to distill and taste-test every ingredient over five days. “We knew the flavor profile we were after—something quite light, soft, floral and citrusy, but still with that juniper backbone.”
The resulting Singapore Dry Gin (S$88) is a crisp New World–style blend of 22 botanicals including torch ginger flower, angelica root, chrysanthemum, lemongrass and calamansi, mostly sourced from nearby Chinese medicine stores, wet markets and Brass Lion’s kitchen garden. A pink Angostura bitters–tinged Gin Pahit (a colonial-era favorite), and azure-blue butterfly pea gin are also available.
A tasting room serves gin-based cocktails (S$15–$18) and light bites. Opt for a distillery tour (and two cocktails) at S$40 or craft your own customized gin using miniature pot stills (S$160), and take it home in personalized bottles.
PAPER LANTERN GIN
Started by husband-and-wife duo Rick and Simin Kayhan Ames, the brand Paper Lantern was born when the expat couple—avid homebrewers back in Boston—became dismayed by the dearth of local fruit- and spice-based craft spirits. Their award-winning Paper Lantern Gin (S$115) was launched following a successful crowdfunding campaign in 2016.
Paper Lantern makes its own base spirit using Asian rice, in what Simin calls “a grain-to-glass experience” and uses fiery Sichuan peppercorns to create a unique botanical mix. The spice, which imparts aromatic hints of pine and clove, combines beautifully with lemongrass and makhwaen (a Thai variety related to the Sichuan pepper) to add a distinctive citrus high note. Spicy ginger and galangal give an appealing warmth and depth.
While Simin works closely with Rick to design their gin recipes locally, these are then created in what she terms “living distilleries,” where they collaborate with different partners throughout Asia. The first two batches of Paper Lantern Gin were produced in Thailand, with the current one made in Vietnam.
The couple’s upcoming releases include a new spirit that will have the same unique profile as Paper Lantern, and a gin that Simin says will unite influences from Singapore and Turkey, her native home. “There are so many interesting spices and teas in Turkey. It’d be fun to make a limited-edition gin blending these and Asian spices.”
The team behind the first made-in-Singapore gin is composed of, ironically, a group of expats. Despite this, Tanglin Gin is a paean to their adopted home: it’s named for a former spice plantation and its Tanglin Orchid Gin (S$108) is described as “Singapore in a bottle.”
It deploys the national flower in two forms: the dried, powered stalks of the Dendrobium nobile lindl orchid and whole vanilla beans. Citrus notes come from organic oranges and, intriguingly, Indian amchoor, a punchy spice powder made from unripe mangoes. The result is smooth, creamy and complex, adding layers of flavor.
“We want our customers to think, ‘Wow, that was unexpected, the flavors aren’t something I’ve tasted before,’” head distiller Tim Whitefield says. Tim and his team are focused on finding botanicals that express their location: Singapore and Southeast Asia—the latest creation headlining mandarin peel and Cambodian kampot pepper. “In 10 years we want to be recognized not only at home but worldwide,” says Whitefield. “Our goal is to be Singapore’s international gin brand.”
tanglin-gin.com; the distillery is not open to the public, but the gin is available to buy at retail stores The Standish and DFS at Changi Airport.