What a fine time to be savouring gin. With a good pour of tonic and a thin curl of lemon peel, it is the perfect tipple for a mid-day sip, or a nightcap. It’s a spirit that’s as nuanced as a glass of Bordeaux, and the interest in gin is continuing to explode. Today, there’s no shortage of starry-eyed producers attempting to create even greater flavour dimensions.
Jamie Koh is one of them. She took time off in 2012 from Chupitos — her famed shots bar in Clarke Quay — to travel the world. Somewhere along the way, the idea for a local gin distillery dropped.
“I noticed how every country I visited had a spirit that belonged to them, and it made me wonder why Singapore doesn’t have one to call her own,” she says. “You can’t even call the Singapore Sling Singaporean. The base itself is so foreign.”
Gin, she says, is versatile, and apt for Singapore’s sweltering heat. It is the perfect canvas, she adds, for crazy flavours. With this in mind, she enrolled herself into a distillery school in Washington State and created the Brass Lion Distillery.
A Singaporean Spirit
Six years in, and she’s invested close to a couple million dollars into the business, which just saw its official launch. The Brass Lion might be a little behind in terms of being the very first local gin label to burst onto the scene – Tanglin Gin launched its first batch of orchid gin in September. But the Brass Lion is also Singapore’s first multi-concept craft spirits distillery, and an invaluable addition to Singapore’s growing craft spirits scene. Housed in a 4,000 square foot space and fitted from an old two-storey warehouse, it goes all the way when it comes to the gin experience.
“I didn’t want it to be purely production,” she says. “I wanted the full works, where people can come in to check out the process, sample spirits and imbibe cocktails.” The two-storey distillery features a bar, courtyard, tasting room and an R&D lab. A cool $160 will get you a tour of the distillery, a cocktail sampling session and a crash course on gin. You’ll be able to distill your own bottle of gin based on herbs and spices you select, and you’ll also learn to understand how different it is from vodka. Vodka, notes Koh, is distinguished only by purity and an absence of flavour, while gin is jam-packed with flavour.
What Brass Lion Gin Tastes Like
While gin is also typically juniper-forward, the Brass Lion style falls under “New World”, which veers towards the experimental. Koh points out that the botanicals used include chrysanthemum, torch ginger flowers and pomelo peel. Even so, those aren’t meant to steal the thunder from the tried-and-true juniper berry. Koh is quick to emphasise that a strong juniper backbone remains in the Brass Lion’s flavour profile.
The spirit itself is soft on the palate, and is bright, well-rounded, with a faint floral hue. In all, there are 22 botanicals, all sourced within five kilometres of the distillery. Everything is done by hand, from crushing the juniper berries to peeling the citrus fruits. And here’s a unique Singaporean twist – one of the four water sources it uses is NEWater, the highly treated water that actually softens the taste and ensures extra smoothness. The distillation process takes five hours in a customised 150-litre German hybrid pot still, and about 120 bottles are produced per batch.
The Brass Lion is a small-batch distillery that one could say has an uphill climb. It’s pitted itself against a saturated market, after all. But it helps that the bar culture is highly supportive. Orders are coming in and the gin’s going out. Native, The World is Flat, Spiffy Dapper, Atlas and The Great Beer Experiment are some of the bars where you can find the Brass Lion’s spirits. (We like it in a Negroni.) As for the future, Koh foresees entering Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and beyond. She’s also looking forward to taking things further – barrel-aged gin and making other spirits like rum are on the top of her list. We can’t wait.
Brass Lion Distillery opens today at 40 Alexandra Terrace. Each bottle of gin is yours for $88