About seven years ago, I decided to create a spirit that would tell the Singapore story. I own a bar and a restaurant here, and I could see that people were really getting into craft spirits. As I travelled the world, I also saw that almost every country has a spirit unique to them or that features local flavours, and I thought that it was a shame that, despite the strength of its bar and cocktail scene, Singapore didn’t have a spirit to call its own.
Gin is the perfect vehicle because the flavour combinations are limitless, and it really allows us to showcase local botanicals such as chrysanthemum and torch ginger flower in a way that you simply can’t with other spirits. Gin is also experiencing a renaissance right now. I think that in the past a gin and tonic was perhaps seen as an “old person’s drink”, but within the last few years, trendy brands such as Hendrick’s, Monkey 47 and other craft distilleries have done a great job of creating unique products and marketing gin to a younger crowd.
“Gin is the perfect vehicle… the flavour combinations are limitless”
A few years ago, there was a relaxation of micro-distillery laws overseas, and this allowed many smaller distilleries to open up and caused a surge in gin brands entering the market. In order to be classified as a gin, however, the spirit needs to have a predominant juniper note, and there is now a lively debate about whether some gins on the market can truly be considered gins when the juniper flavour is lacking and they mostly consist of artificial flavouring and essences.
There are pink, fruity raspberry- and strawberry-flavoured gins, for example, or even bubblegum- and candy floss-flavoured gins, which are very popular. But gin traditionalists who tend to favour the classic juniper-forward gin do not consider them gins at all, as they are not distilled in the traditional way.
At the end of the day, I say to each their own with regard to flavours. I believe that eventually the market will stabilise, and consumers will be able to recognise the brands that care about their craft and that are committed to producing a high-quality product.
This is why we started our Gin School, where visitors can make their own small-batch gin. They learn about the distillation process, and we give them the opportunity to play around with local botanicals. In this way, they can begin to understand more not only about different flavour profiles but also about the craft and effort behind making a well-balanced spirit.
Our first product, the Singapore Dry Gin, is distilled in the same traditional way as a London Dry Gin. We wanted to create a gin which is citrusy, fresh and slightly floral – a refreshing gin which showcases local flavours and is suited to our tropical climate. We use botanicals that aren’t commonly found in gin but are familiar to us in this part of the world – pomelo and mandarin peel, galangal, kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass. It has become part of our core product range.
The botanicals used should work together seamlessly – the top notes on the nose combining with the mid and base notes harmoniously to make a well-blended and balanced product. It can’t be one dimensional. That, in my opinion, is the mark of a good gin, and it is here to stay.
Illustrations by Michael Driver
This article was originally published in the December 2019 issue of SilverKris magazine