The Gin-trification Of Singapore—How The Classic White Spirit Became Our Favourite Drink
For a long time, gin was simply not cool. It was that nondescript, workhorse-type of white spirit upon which old-school cocktails were built. However, the turn of the 21st century turned the tide of this juniper-based spirit’s reputation.
Buoyed by the rise of craft cocktail culture and the need for premium artisanal spirits, bartenders and distillers alike saw the potential of the gin’s versatility. As a white spirit distilled with and deriving its notes from any amalgamation of botanicals (as well as juniper), gin’s flavours and style possibilities are infinite. This has led to the current gin renaissance of the past decade or so, where a proliferation of distillers have sprung up across the UK, Europe, the Americas, Australia and Asia, crafting gins using indigenous botanicals and unique production styles to proudly relay their provenance. Bartenders are, in turn, using these distinct gins to create innovative cocktails or bring a modern touch to the classics.
The creative director at spirits purveyor Proof & Company and the master of gin at Atlas, Jason Williams surmises that this gin renaissance exploded globally five years ago. In Singapore, the introduction of Atlas affirmed the spirit’s popularity among local drinkers; the grand bar is known for its 1,000-plus gin bottle collection, which Williams took more than a year to amass.
“Singapore is very much a big part of the gin renaissance the world is experiencing right now and it’s the perfect city for the gin craze to hit,” observes Williams, noting the country’s history of gin—largely thanks to the world-famous gin-based Singapore Sling cocktail—and its maturing craft cocktail scene.
If there’s any indication Singapore has well and truly caught up with the gin-naissance, it’s that our island can now finally boast not just one, but two made-in-Singapore craft gins. In only the past five months, we’ve seen the launch of Tanglin Gin’s Orchid Gin and Brass Lion Distillery’s Singapore Dry Gin.
Introduced in June, Tanglin’s Orchid Gin is, in the words of head distiller Tim Whitehead, “an old-world modern gin, as we’re combining traditional gin botanicals found in the oldest recipes with new flavours that truly represent Singapore, such as orchid.”
Four months later, Brass Lion Distillery marked its launch with its Singapore Dry Gin. “We wanted to create a gin that blends familiar Asian herbs and spices—such as the torch ginger flower, mandarin peel and chrysanthemum—with traditional gin botanicals such as juniper and coriander seed, resulting in a product unique to our part of the world,” explains Jamie Koh, founder of Brass Lion Distillery.
She adds that the process of making quality small-batch Singapore Dry Gin entails many hands-on steps, from the peeling of fruit, to the labelling.
(Related: All You Need To Know About Awamori, The Japanese Spirit)
NO PASSING FAD
There’s certainly no lack of avenues in Singapore where gin lovers can seek out premium artisanal gins. Apart from Atlas, there are a handful of gin-dedicated craft cocktail bars such as Cin Cin, the party room at Mezza9, The Spiffy Dapper, Oxwell & Co and The Rabbit Hole, while many other bars boast robust gin programmes.
Now, thanks to the arrival of Gin Journey in Singapore, consumers can embark on an educational, guided gin tour around the country’s bars. Founder Leon Dalloway says that it’s the quality of cocktail bars here that drew him to choose Singapore as the first city outside of the UK to launch Gin Journey.
Bars here are also doing more. The Spiffy Dapper has just launched its Gin Club, where a monthly fee grants members access to a bottle (or two) of gin each month, a gin & tonic pairing workshop and various masterclasses. Over at Atlas, the year-old Juniper Society already boasts about 320 members. The society organises at least two events each month, which include visits by renowned gin distillers, special gin dinners and the regular Juniper Tuesday—a gin tasting session and social hour held every first Tuesday of the month.
To cater to this rising consumer demand for craft gins, many spirits distributors are seeking out and importing unique gins from all over the world. Some, such as Gain Brands Direct, focus solely on gins. Co-founder Michelle Fisher notes, “We started representing a couple of Scottish and UK distilleries, and now, nearly four years on, we have acquired more than 30 global brands from various countries such as Japan, Spain and France.”
Despite this continued proliferation of craft gins on the market, Williams doesn’t believe that we’ve reached the peak of this revival yet. He says that as long as distillers keep producing new quality gins that come with a genuine point of difference, they provide choices that will sustain what Koh describes as the “consumer-led demand for more authentic, more distinctive, more local, less processed and more interesting spirits brands”.
(Related: Singapore’s Top 30 Bars)
Five interesting craft gins to seek out
Tanglin Orchid Gin
Building on traditional herbaceous gin botanicals, Tanglin Orchid Gin is distilled with unripe green mango, two types of orchid, whole vanilla beans and organic oranges.
Brass Lion Distillery’s Singapore Dry Gin
Handcrafted with 22 botanicals including torch ginger flower, mandarin peel and chrysanthemum, this gin represents the unique flavours of Singapore.
Arctic Blue Gin
The Spirit of the Year 2018 and a double-gold winner at the World Spirits Award 2018 is a Finnish gin that uses native wild bilberries.
This craft gin pioneer from China is inspired by the Shanghai underground, and features rare Eastern botanicals such as Buddha’s Hand citrus and Sichuan pepper.
Never Never Distilling Company’s Triple Juniper Gin
A throwback to the times when gin had lashings of juniper, this Australian gin from Adelaide sees its juniper treated in three separate ways: partially steeped, partially fresh into the pot and partially in a vapour basket.