Move over, Japan. Singapore distillers know a thing or two about Asian gin botanicals, too.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Move over, Japan. Singapore distillers know a thing or two about Asian gin botanicals, too.

More so that any other spirit, gin has the ability to capture the flavours of a region. Because, aside from its defining flavour of juniper berries, there are no hard and fast rules on what botanicals can go into the spirit. The Japanese have dived in using local botanicals, with Roku Gin, Nikka Coffey Gin and Ki No Bi Kyoto Dry Gin gaining popularity and curiosity around the globe, thanks to the nuances of yuzu, sansho pepper, gyokuro tea and so on. Now, Singapore is putting a South-east Asian spin on the trend.

Jamie Koh, founder of Chupitos Shots Bar and The Beast Southern Kitchen & Bourbon Bar, has finally realised her dream of becoming a distiller with the opening of Brass Lion Distillery, Singapore’s first standalone micro-distillery. Its debut product, the Brass Lion Singapore Dry Gin, contains 22 botanicals, with all but the juniper berries (which are imported from Macedonia) sourced from within 5km of the distillery’s location in Alexandra Terrace. These include herbs and spices like torch ginger flowers, lemongrass, chrysanthemum flowers, pomelo peels, angelica root and galangal.

But making a good gin isn’t a simple case of gathering ingredients that sound delicious together. Koh enrolled in a distilling school in the US in 2012. Subsequently, she went back to the US every year for three years, looking for an apprenticeship.

She found one in Charleston, South Carolina, and eventually another in Germany’s Black Forest. By 2015, she was ready and began the process of getting the proper licences to open an outfit here. While the Brass Lion Singapore Dry Gin is available for preorder on www., here’s what went into the distillery, the first of its kind in Singapore.


“Modern distilling has become very computerised and simple. You put all your ingredients in a stainless steel still, press a button and, three hours later, gin comes out,” Koh explains. “But we want to do things traditionally. It took the manufacturer six months to build our still, which I wanted in copper, with five bubble plates. The bubble plates allow me to determine how pure I want the spirit and how much flavour I want from each botanical.”
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It took a seven-figure sum to get the 4.000 sq ft space up and running. It houses a 150 litre copper still, tasting room, bar (pictured), herb garden, barrel room, retail corner and bottle personalisation room.
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The trade-off for having more manual control during the distillation is time, with the distilling process taking about five hours. This isn’t counting the time it takes to peel the citrus fruits, grind the juniper berries, write the batch and bottle numbers onto the labels, stick them on the bottle and cork them – all of which are done by hand.
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Customers can make their own gin by selecting botanicals from the tasting room or herb garden and distilling them in miniature stills no bigger than a coffee maker. Even Koh isn’t finished experimenting herself; the bar offers cocktails that use the distillery’s yetto-be-released Butterfly Pea Gin and Pahit Pink Gin. “I’ve made one with curry leaves and I may even experiment with tongkat ali in the future.” 


Local gins that come with unique Asian flavour.


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Based in Mandai, this distillery uses two types of orchid in its gin – the powdered form of the dried stalk of the Dendrobium nobile (famous for being one of nine “immortality herbs” in Chinese medicine), and the vanilla orchid, which adds richness to the flavour. Another prominent botanical is the Indian amchoor, a dried powder made from unripe mangoes which gives the gin a prominent citrus note.
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From its distillery in Chiang Mai, the Singapore-based Paper Lantern Distilling craft spirits company uses Thai rice for its base spirit (relatively uncommon in the gin world) and combines botanicals like Sichuan peppercorns, makhwaen (prickly ash seeds), lemongrass, ginger and galangal with juniper for a gin that is spicy and fresh. Longan berry honey is added at the end for just a hint of sweetness. A gin unlike any other.