How Brass Lion Distillery Redefined Singapore’s Spirits Industry

Recently, Singapore has ascended as a dominant entity in the global bar scene, propelled by a new wave of cocktail bars and seasoned mixologists. The city has cultivated a cocktail culture by introducing inventive drinks that feature Asian ingredients. This has, in turn, sparked a renaissance in its local spirits industry, with Brass Lion Distillery as one of the pioneers in a thriving craft distillery scene thanks to its novel utilisation of Southeast Asian botanicals.

Brass Lion Distillery stands as Singapore’s first full-fledged micro-distillery, offering a range of premium spirits crafted from local ingredients. Prompted by the 19th-century spice trade that established Singapore as a bustling trading hub, the brand employs well-known ingredients that epitomise the city’s heritage as a cultural melting pot. “I can’t disregard the influence, given the gravity of our spice trade in Singaporean history,” says founder Jamie Koh, reflecting on this historical context. “The deliberate choice to incorporate Asian components in our spirits stemmed from a desire to connect with the daily lives of our local community. Selected ingredients such as torch ginger flower, pomelo and chrysanthemum are all 100 per cent ethically sourced from traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) shops, wet markets or our herb garden.”

Taking a mindful approach to gin making, Brass Lion hand-processes each element—crushing, peeling and preparing them. It distils its gin in small batches, ensuring methodical control over its flavour profiles to ensure that every bottle meets its exacting quality standards. “In 2012, I conceived the idea of setting up a Singaporean distillery crafting Southeast Asian spirits,” Koh says. “I love gin and experimentation, and coupled with the absence of Singaporean spirits, I went on a six-year journey to master the art and science of distillation under the guidance of master distillers worldwide, from Portland and South Carolina to London and Germany’s Black Forest. This labour of love ultimately gave rise to Brass Lion Distillery and our flagship spirit, Singapore Dry Gin. Through our gins, we hope to showcase these native flavours on the global stage and firmly cement our position in the international spirits industry.”

Koh’s venture into the spirits realm began with the inception of Chupitos Shots Bar in Clarke Quay, followed by The Beast Southern Kitchen & Bourbon Bar. Looking back on her half-decade journey, Koh shares insights into the key lessons and challenges encountered. “We had no one to guide us, considering there were no predecessors. We took a proactive approach by travelling across countries, knocking on doors, learning the process of distillation and absorbing as much knowledge as possible.” Naturally, doubts arose regarding whether they could open in Singapore and secure the necessary licence. “The lingering thought was, ‘What if we’re putting in all this effort for something that might not materialise’?” Koh reflects. “But I’m glad we maintained optimism through it all.”

Experimentation is at the heart of everything Brass Lion does. Whether exploring flavours or techniques, it is continually looking to push the boundaries of what local distilleries can achieve. Just last year, the brand introduced its first single malt whisky—distilled, barrelled and aged entirely on Singapore’s shores. In collaboration with The General Brewing Co., it custom-designed a wash tailored to withstand Singapore’s high humidity and equatorial climate. With this historic introduction, Koh believes that “quality whisky can originate from any corner of the world”. She adds: “This accomplishment underscores our ability to create an authentic whisky right here in Singapore.” The brand has also experimented with rum in the past and continues to push the boundaries of what a Singaporean spirit can be, through unconventional ideas and sustainable efforts. Its most recent exploration features ugly fruits—misshapen or oddly coloured produce—as key botanicals.

Being a part of Singapore’s Made With Passion initiative led by the Singapore Tourism Board and Enterprise Singapore has also impacted the brand, serving as an important validation of its dedication and story. “It feels incredibly rewarding because Made With Passion is essentially a platform for brands with compelling narratives,” Koh says. This involvement allowed Brass Lion to connect with other like-minded brands, fostering collaborations that have come to fruition through this effort. “It’s reassuring to see our brand being recognised in such a meaningful manner, and we appreciate the acknowledgement to our passion-driven craftsmanship,” Koh shares.

At Brass Lion Distillery’s premises at 40 Alexandra Terrace, visitors can explore a variety of experiences such as its hands-on gin school, a distillery tour where guests can meet the brand’s custom-made copper still, and a guided gin tasting session. Visitors can also enjoy craft cocktails at the Brass Lion Tasting Room or its gin garden.

Brass Lion Distillery

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