RISE OF SOUTH­EAST ASIAN SPIR­ITS

Epicure (Indonesia) - - CONTENTS -

Why the re­gion is a hot­bed for pre­mium rums and gin

Sur­prise - the next ar­ti­sanal, award-win­ning rum or gin you reach for may just come from Thai­land, Cam­bo­dia, the Philip­pines or In­done­sia. June Lee in­ves­ti­gates the new wave of pre­mium spirit-mak­ers wash­ing up on our shores.

When Na­tive Bar opened in Sin­ga­pore in 2016, owner Vi­jay Mu­daliar im­me­di­ately grabbed lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional head­lines with his com­pelling pitch – it’s Asia’s time to shine in the mixol­ogy world. As re­cently as 10 years ago, would a rum from Philip­pines or Thai­land have been taken se­ri­ously in the craft scene in Lon­don or New York?

In the last decade, Asian craft bars and craft bar­tenders have swiftly made it to the top of the game, thanks to the best they could find, from tal­ents and fran­chises to equip­ment and in­gre­di­ents – in­clud­ing the top al­co­hol brands. While those jug­ger­naut spir­its still form the back­bone of the craft bar scene, a small glim­mer of pre­mium, lo­cally pro­duced tip­ples are start­ing to stand out. For­get the lo­cally made cheap al­co­hol that gave booz­ing at Ka­mala or Kuta Beach a bad name – this wave is more likely than not to be twice dis­tilled, hand­crafted in small cop­per stills, corked in unique bot­tles and sipped rather than slugged back. We take a look at four rums and a gin that are mak­ing it into our glasses this year.

He ex­plains, “The name comes from ne­ces­sity.

Thai law pro­hibits the type of al­co­hol from be­ing printed on the la­bel, so you can only put ‘White Spirit Dis­tilled From ___’. Some peo­ple get around it by putting a large R (rum) or V (vodka) on the la­bel but we didn’t want to do that. Jinn is ac­tu­ally a very com­mon Thai nick­name for peo­ple of Chi­nese de­cent and also the nick­name of my wife’s grand­mother. It’s a way of say­ing gin with­out say­ing it.”

It’s a daunt­ing task to cre­ate a gin recipe from scratch. Chi’s ah-ha mo­ment came when he tried but failed to make a neu­tral grain spirit. “I was in­spired by St. George’s Dry Rye gin and re­alised I didn’t have to fol­low all the tra­di­tional bound­aries of gin. Why couldn’t I use an agri­cole base? Sug­ar­cane is na­tive to Asia and is one of the few spir­its that has its own ter­roir. In­stead of shy­ing away from that, I leant into it and em­braced Thai flavours.” The re­sult­ing recipe #1 uses an agri­cole rum dis­tilled up to 80 per­cent to re­tain a bit of earth­i­ness that’s the flavour of the land. Aside from ju­niper berries, all the other botan­i­cals such as co­rian­der seed, an­gel­ica root, fresh ginger root, tan­ger­ine peel and Thai saf­fron leaves are from Thai­land. Recipe #2, now in the works, will play around with Thai flow­ers.

With over 2,400 gins be­ing pro­duced in the world and grow­ing ev­ery month, there is no con­sen­sus on what ‘New Asian gins’ should taste like, says Chi. “The same can be said for New World gins com­ing from Amer­ica and all around the world. I like what Pa­per Lantern and Iron Balls are do­ing; the more play­ers there are in Asia, the bet­ter.”

Much more es­tab­lished by now is Cha­long Bay Rum, started in 2013 by French ex­pat cou­ple Thibault Sp­i­thakis and Marine Luc­chini in the area of the same name in Phuket. It was an up­hill

task to set up the first rum dis­tillery in Phuket, with ob­sta­cles in im­port­ing equip­ment and con­vinc­ing the farm­ers to work with them, along­side mar­ket­ing the pi­o­neer­ing prod­uct to scep­tics.

De­scribes Sp­i­thakis, “The lo­cally made pre­mium (craft) rum and even the rum mar­ket in gen­eral was quite small at the time. In fact, the Thai mar­ket was dom­i­nated by brown spir­its of the lao khao cat­e­gory (very low priced white spir­its). Very few peo­ple then would be­lieve in a lo­cally made white spirit, as the Thai mar­ket was far from be­ing known as a qual­ity white spirit pro­ducer.”

To­day, the com­pany works with 10 farms, em­ploys 28 staff and pro­duces more than 40,000 bot­tles an­nu­ally, which is a “rea­son­able” stage. “Num­ber of bot­tles and growth is good, but we also mea­sure suc­cess through qual­ity and so­cial pa­ram­e­ters. We be­lieve in sus­tain­abil­ity and th­ese qual­ity and so­cial pa­ram­e­ters are fun­da­men­tal pil­lars of our vi­sion to con­tinue bring­ing di­ver­sity and drive the pre­mium craft rum seg­ment in South­east Asia,” he it­er­ates. Cha­long Bay’s story was de­vel­oped along the way as the cou­ple dis­cov­ered the plight of small farm­ers within the sugar in­dus­try, and their grow­ing tech­niques that were dis­ap­pear­ing be­cause of the con­stant re­search for bet­ter yields. As a re­sult, Cha­long Bay’s rum ad­heres to mak­ing nat­u­ral rum from fresh sug­ar­cane juice, from an in­dige­nous va­ri­ety of plants, grow­ing pes­ti­cide-free pro­duce, and us­ing the most tra­di­tional dis­till­ing prac­tices.

Sp­i­thakis sums up, “Even though spir­its can be per­ceived as just ‘com­modi­ties’ for some con­sumers, the cock­tail rev­o­lu­tion through cock­tail bars and the cock­tail cul­ture has had a strong role in pro­mot­ing the qual­ity of what we drink.”

The Rosita Cock­tail with Sa­mai Rum

Grandma Jinn’s

Thibaut Sp­i­thakis and Marine Luc­chini from Cha­long Bay Rum

Don Papa Sa­mai Rum

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