In a drinks market inundated with world-class spirits, Don Mendoza explores the need for Singapore-branded gins
In a drinks market inundated with world-class spirits, where do the Singapore-branded gins stand?
By industry standards, the rules that define and regulate what gin is and how it is made are arguably one of the most relaxed. Granted, popular labels have over time helped define the spirit’s traditional, or more common, taste profiles (or styles of gin), but unlike any other category of spirits, gin continues to inspire more creative interpretations. The last few years have been some of the most exhilarating for lovers of craft spirits, in particular this juniper berry-based option. And it is possibly the same growing significance of products with provenance we have seen in the world of gastronomy that has fuelled a desire for more local gin. A few brands have made their mark in the past three years, but until the launch of Tanglin Gin in June this year, there were no bespoke gins distilled in Singapore. “The rise of gin (in Singapore) is in my view directly connected to the rise of cocktails,” shares Andy Hodgson, one of four brand owners behind the nation’s first locally distilled gin, which boasts the dendrobium orchid among the 11 botanicals carefully chosen to “represent the cultures and flavours of the city”, including coriander seeds, liquorice root, cassia bark and amchoor (Indian dried mango powder). “I guess we’ve seen for some time the demand in the local market for a gin (or even just a spirit) that Singapore can be proud of and celebrate on an international stage,” he continues. The company is also planning to launch its second expression—one that its head distiller Tim Whitefield has been planning since the start. It has been dubbed the Mandarin Chilli Gin and they have already begun “testing”. This, too, is targeted at a regional market, Hodgson reveals. “Tim has in the pipeline two other flavour profiles, ” he shares. One is an international gin called Noir. The other will be
called The Botanic Gardens or The Gardens of Singapore and is very much a work in progress.
GOOD ON ITS OWN
Despite the temptation to be boldly creative with the recipe, Tippling Club head bartender Joe Schofield affirms that it is not only about creating something different. In collaboration with chef-owner Ryan Clift and Australian master distiller James Young, Tippling Club launched, for the first time, its very own Sons of Tippling Gin in July. “We wanted to create a delicious gin that people wanted to drink again; at the moment, there are so many gins around using wacky botanicals for the sake of giving themselves a USP,” says Schofield, adding that in truth, not all of them are tasty. “We wanted a gin that could hold its own in cocktails as well as in a humble gin and tonic; the gin itself is unashamedly citrusy with a bold texture and a slightly higher ABV (alcohol by volume),” he explains, adding how these factors help the gin shine through other ingredients in mixed drinks. Even so, it would seem that opportunity to come up with something uniquely delicious remains all too appealing for some, given that one would only need to ensure that the flavour profile revolves around juniper berries. Paper Lantern, for instance, was established with a focus on Asian flavours and ingredients. Founded by Simin Kayhan Ames and her husband Rick in 2013, it is a Singapore company and brand that distils its gin in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The Paper Lantern Gin, Ames explains, has eight botanicals including juniper berries, Sichuan peppers, makhwaen (a type of prickly ash related to Sichuan pepper), ginger, galangal and lemongrass, while longan berry honey is added at the very end, after the distillation process. “The gin’s very unique and that’s the goal,” she affirms. “We wanted to create a gin that matters and that stands out whether you’re tasting it neat or in cocktails.” The gin was launched in May 2016 with the help of a crowdfunding campaign, and the company has since been growing the business in Singapore, getting the gin into hotels, bars, restaurants and consumer fairs.
Another unique aspect of the Paper Lantern Gin is that Paper Lantern makes its own base spirit from rice, whereas most distilleries, Ames says, purchase grain neutral spirit and start distilling the botanicals with that neutral base. “We’re truly grain-to-glass: purchasing, fermenting and distilling the rice, and then starting the botanical distillation with that base,” she declares. But it is not the first local brand of gin with a focus on a unique balance of botanicals inspired by the region. Created to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Singapore Sling, Raffles 1915 Gin—a collaboration between Raffles Hotels & Resorts and Sipsmith, the pioneers of London’s artisanal gin renaissance— features botanicals of the Malaysian peninsula. Jasmine flowers, fresh pomelo peel, lemongrass, Kaffir lime leaves, nutmeg and cardamom are distilled alongside some of the classic gin botanicals found in the award-winning Sipsmith London Dry Gin. Launched in 2015, the Raffles 1915 Gin perhaps boasts one of the most uniquely objective marriage of two worlds, not to mention a romantic tale of serendipity to boot, as Sipsmith co-founder Sam Galsworthy is related to Sir Stamford Raffles. It is a great piece of history to mull over drinks. But the beauty of these gins has little to do with age. You don’t need to age gin. A new brand, however, would need to have a great recipe and brass confidence, especially if it were to debut with a bespoke gin. And that’s exactly what Brass Lion Distillery, Singapore’s first standalone microdistillery, did last month with the launch of its Brass Lion Singapore Dry Gin, which is made with 22 botanicals that allude to the island’s unique location and blend of cultures. Hodgson, too, is confident the number of new gin fans will continue to grow, but recognises that many local consumers would have grown up with dark spirits and beer. “So we’re providing a choice rather than a replacement,” he says. And goodness knows how much we love being spoilt for choice.
CELEBRATORY TIPPLE Created to mark the 100th anniversary of the Singapore Sling, the Raffles 1915 Gin also spotlights uniquely Southeast Asian flavours such as jasmine, cardamom and Kaffir lime leaves, to name a few
THE IDEAL START Gin is a good starting spirit for many distilleries as it doesn’t have to age, says Paper Lantern co-founder Simin Kayhan Ames
Year on year, gin consumption is growing globally, says Tanglin Gin co-founder Andy Hodgson, who thinks “it’s a shame that it has taken so long for a country with such a gin heritage to have one of its own” SPIRITED AWAY