People 3 minutes 15 November 2018

5 Questions with Brass Lion Distillery’s Founder Jamie Koh On Making Gin In Singapore

This made-in-Singapore gin features local ingredients such as galangal, mandarin peel and kaffir lime leaves.

Singapore gin 5Qs

Here is one patriotic reason to say cheers with gin — there is now a made-in-Singapore version of the juniper-flavoured spirit.

Called the Brass Lion Singapore Dry Gin, the New World-style gin is made by one-month-old home-grown craft distillery, Brass Lion. Made in a 4,000-square-feet industrial warehouse space in the western part of Singapore, the Singapore Dry Gin ($88) is a concoction of 22 botanicals that are found in many Asian dishes, such as rojak, double-boiled soups and curries. The floral and citrusy gin is infused with ingredients such as torch ginger flower, mandarin peel, angelica root, galangal and lemongrass.

The Singapore spirit is the brainchild of Jamie Koh, who is part of the burgeoning wave of made-in-Singapore craft alcohol producers. In fact, the very first local gin label, Tanglin Gin, was launched in July and is distilled with powdered dried stalks of the Dendrobium nobile orchid plant.
The Brass Lion Singapore Dry Gin is made with more than 20 botanicals, most of them are Asian herbs and spices. (Credit: Brass Lion Distillery)
The Brass Lion Singapore Dry Gin is made with more than 20 botanicals, most of them are Asian herbs and spices. (Credit: Brass Lion Distillery)

Koh, who also runs Chupitos, a popular shooters bar in Clarke Quay, says: “Starting out in the bar industry back in 2010, I have always been surrounded by spirits and cocktails. It was my constant thirst for knowledge that led me to learning how to distil spirits.”

Two years later, she enrolled in a distilling school in the United States and began a series of internships in distilleries across the US and Europe. Six years and a few million dollars of investment later, she turned her hobby into a business and her gin label was born.

Of all the spirits that she could make in her very own distillery, why gin?

Koh shares: “Gin is definitely a personal favourite of mine. I enjoy the alchemy of combining different ingredients to craft a unique-tasting spirit.” She also relishes the clear spirit’s versatile nature — its flavour profile can be tweaked by adding or removing various botanicals.

Besides the Singapore Dry Gin, she has also come up with the Pahit Gin, a pink Angostura bitters-tinged gin, and the Butterfly Pea Flower Gin, which sports a blue hue. Response to the Brass Lion gins has been good. The first two batches of 100 bottles each were sold out in three weeks and the distillery is entering its third round of production. 

Gin aficionados can also attend distillery tours or customise their bottles of gin, from selecting herbs in a nearby garden to learning how to concoct a well-balanced gin. For those who prefer to just imbibe, head to the bar and order a gin cocktail.

The 150-litre custom-made copper hybrid pot still is produced by German company Arnold Holstein. (Credit: Brass Lion Distillery)
The 150-litre custom-made copper hybrid pot still is produced by German company Arnold Holstein. (Credit: Brass Lion Distillery)

1. What is the process of making the Brass Lion Singapore Dry Gin?

First, we source our fruit and botanicals from markets, traditional Chinese medicine shops and our herb garden. After we hand-peel the citrus fruits, we leave the rind to dry for three days. Then, we hand-crush the juniper berries and macerate them with a neutral grain spirit for about 36 hours.

After that, we add the more delicate botanicals into our external botanical basket while the rest of the botanicals go into the pot still with the macerated juniper berries. After five hours of distillation in our copper hybrid pot still, we collect the gin in three batches — the heads, hearts and tails. We only bottle the hearts, or second portion of the distilling process.

2. You took six years to set up Brass Lion Distillery. What is the most challenging part of making gin in Singapore?

It was navigating the regulations of multiple government bodies and acquiring the appropriate licenses to set up the distillery. That came with many logistical obstacles as there was not much precedence in Singapore for licensing stand-alone distilleries. Another challenge was to find a space that was centrally-located and large enough to fit a distillery, bottling and storage area, tasting room, research and development lab, and a herb garden.

Gin lovers can customise their preferred rendition of the juniper-flavoured spirit. (Credit: Brass Iron Distillery)
Gin lovers can customise their preferred rendition of the juniper-flavoured spirit. (Credit: Brass Iron Distillery)

3. What equipment do you use in Brass Lion’s distilling facility?

After visiting the three largest still-makers in Germany, we decided on using distilling units by Arnold Holstein because the copper smiths have generations of experience and they also allowed us to customise the still. The 150-litre German copper hybrid pot still, which was handcrafted and shipped from Germany, is a key part of our distillery. The still is fitted with an external botanical basket and column with five bubble plates.

4. The Singapore bar scene has a long history of using gins from Europe such as London Dry Gin and Plymouth Gin. Why do you think there’s a market for a Singapore-inspired gin here?

I realised that Singapore did not have a spirit to call its own and we needed one that encompasses our nation’s identity. There are cocktails like the Singapore Sling — a fruity gin-based cocktail — dedicated to our island, but we have always used gins that are not from Singapore. Creating a Singapore distillery was right, given how the cocktail and spirits scene here has matured. With locals becoming more discerning about their cocktails, it was the perfect time to create a spirit that alludes to Singapore’s history and culture.

5. What is a flavour of gin that you hope to produce?

For our debut Brass Lion Singapore Dry Gin, we always wanted to create a gin that is best suited for tropical weather, citrusy yet floral with a strong juniper backbone. We are in the midst of creating a Christmas edition gin as well as a Navy strength (58.5% alcohol) version of the Brass Lion Singapore Dry Gin.

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