How does one make the gin-based Singapore Sling an even more iconic, and truly-Singaporean cocktail? The answer can be found in Jamie Koh’s Brass Lion Distillery, which has produced a locally-made gin that Singapore can call her own.
The idea of starting a micro-distillery in Singapore began when Jamie realised that her home country did not have a uniquely local spirit. On the other hand, neighbouring countries are home to famous liqueurs such as China’s Baijiu, Malaysia’s Tuak, and Indonesia’s Old Monk Rum.
Intrigued by the flexibility to experiment and showcase various botanicals in the liquor, Jamie decided to begin her distilling journey with gin.
Her end goal? A tropical and refreshing citrusy gin that uses Southeast Asian botanicals; elements that embody the characteristics of Singapore.
“To make gin, all you need is a predominant flavour of juniper berries. You can have as little as 3 botanicals, or as many as 100 botanicals.”
Distilling schools in Singapore were unheard of when Jamie began her journey. Inspired, she enrolled herself in schools across the globe to take the first step into the world of gin making. It wasn’t enough to just learn the techniques in theory; the practical application proved to be most valuable.
After writing to an extensive list of distillers, Jamie’s persistence paid off when she secured apprenticeships in the United States, United Kingdom, and the renowned Black Forest Distillery in Germany.
“During my training, I learned that honing an acute sense of taste and smell is one of the most important aspects of gin making. It helps you to distinguish a low-quality spirit from a high-quality one.”
The challenge of gin making didn’t stop there. When it came down to developing a gin recipe, Jamie realised that she couldn’t do it back at home as there were no distilling laboratories in Singapore.
Nothing could stop her. For months, she flew between Singapore and Germany, gathering and packing every tropical fruit, herb and spice she could find from Traditional Chinese Medicine halls, wet markets, and supermarkets.
Under the guidance of a Master Distiller, each ingredient was distilled individually before determining which botanicals would blend to create the desired flavour profile. It took months of countless distilling and tastings; eventually, she achieved the perfect blend of 22 botanicals.
There, the Singapore Dry Gin was born.
“When I first developed the recipe for Singapore Dry Gin, I didn’t want to develop a recipe that tasted just like a typical London Dry-style kind of gin, which is typically very juniper forward.”
The Singapore Dry Gin features a unique selection of Southeast Asian botanicals which include chrysanthemum flowers, kaffir lime leaves, and torch ginger flowers that are predominantly used in a traditional fruit and vegetable salad dish known as rojak.
Upon returning to Singapore, the doors of Brass Lion Distillery finally opened in 2018 after years of regulatory hurdles. Since then, Jamie has created her second concoction, the Butterfly Pea Gin. Taking inspiration from Singapore’s Peranakan heritage, the butterfly pea flower takes centre stage, giving the liquor its deep, rich blue hue.
Realising that cultivating an interest starts with education, Jamie launched Singapore’s first distillery tour and gin school in 2019. Held weekly at the distillery, the local public can finally gain a glimpse of how the process of distillation is done.
A 2.5-hour workshop gives gin-enthusiasts an opportunity to pick from a variety of botanicals based on their favourite flavour profiles and craft their own bottle of gin that they can take home.
To Jamie, this is just the beginning. She continues her quest for crafting more gin varieties and diversifying into other spirits. Not one to rest on her laurels, Jamie has plans to launch the distillery into the global market, while providing a platform for the iconic Singapore Dry Gin that it so rightfully deserves.