After tasting native spirits from her travels around the world, during a one-year work break in 2012, Singaporean Jamie Koh returned home convinced that the Lion City needed a local spirit to call its own. In September 2018, she launched Brass Lion Distillery, ironically just months after the June debut of the city’s first craft gin distillery, Tanglin Gin. “As a Singaporean, I felt that it was a huge shame that we did not have a local spirit featuring familiar local ingredients – so I decided to create one,” says Koh, who also owns the city’s Chupitos Shots Bar and a southern American restaurant-bar, The Beast. How is Singapore’s next generation of chefs putting the nation on the culinary map? It took the entrepreneur “six long years” from ideation to realisation. During this period, Koh not only learned the art and science of spirit distillation, she also continuously tweaked the recipe for her flagship product, the Singapore Dry Gin. She aimed for a “lighter, more citrusy and floral” flavour to suit the city’s tropical weather, finally arriving at the current medley of 22 botanicals and herbs including torch ginger flower, lemongrass, galangal and mandarin peel, many of which are native to the region. Today, Brass Lion Distillery is a small batch distillery with three gin labels and counting, including Butterfly Pea Gin (“a floral colour-changing gin”) and Pahit Pink Gin (“it’s a spiced gin that reminds me of a Christmas fruitcake”). A single malt whisky, made in collaboration with a local microbrewery and aged in a 200-litre ex-bourbon cask, was released in 2020. Its distillery, which uses mostly locally and regionally sourced ingredients like dried mandarin peel, chrysanthemum, pomelo and kaffir lime, is set in a 4,000 sq ft industrial space in the southern part of Singapore. It also offers tours and classes to the public, the first of its kind in the country. And unlike commercial brands, its spirits are produced in small batches: juniper berries are hand-crushed and citrus fruits are peeled by hand because Koh believes that the “extra steps” will “enhance the quality of their products”. Deliberately inauthentic? Try HK’s first ‘British Chinese’ restaurant Like Koh, a cadre of local and expat entrepreneurs have jumped onto Singapore’s craft spirits bandwagon over the last two years. Fuelled in part by Singapore’s booming cocktail bar scene – and with it, a surge in demand for craft spirits – the city state is witnessing a never-before-seen renaissance in home-grown artisan spirit brands. The latest to join the fray is SoulSister Spirits, a brand that launched in May 2020 when Singapore was in full lockdown. Co-founded by Marianna Fossick and Michelle Fisher, its inaugural product made in collaboration with a local distiller is the Singapore Edition Gin, which bears Southeast Asian flavour notes of lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf and cinnamon, among others. Production is never going to be large scale on a tiny island like ours – that in itself, I feel, is its own appeal Matthew Chan, beverage director, Nouri But when it comes to boundary-pushing flavours and distilling techniques, no one in Singapore does it like Compendium. Founded by Singaporean Simon Zhao, who also owns Singapore’s pioneering Rachelle the Rabbit Meadery, the brand launched in July 2019 with a pair of experimental flagship gins that not only tout local flavours, but are distilled from alternatives to the neutral grain spirit that most distillers use. “Our spirits are produced from different production techniques, so from the get-go, our flavour profiles are already different from the traditional spirits,” Zhao says, further explaining that his gins have innately different textures from the usual London dry gin style. Compendium’s Rojak Gin, for instance, is distilled from mead with its dominant flavour derived from juniper berries. It’s also perfumed with torch ginger and lemon peel to convey the flavours of rojak, Singapore’s iconic fruit and vegetable salad dish. In the case of the Chendol Gin, fermented gula melaka, or palm sugar, forms the base distillate, which is then redistilled with juniper berries, pandan leaves and coconut. Every sip reminds you of the popular iced Southeast Asian dessert chendol, which the gin is named for. Coffee or cocktail? Why not both, as Hong Kong (finally) embraces cafe-bars “Currently, we have six types of craft spirits – namely gin, liqueur, rum, vodka, arrack and mead – that are all in-house, small-batch produced,” Zhao says. In time, the chemical engineering-trained entrepreneur intends to release more spirits in different formats. Some are festive flavours, like Compendium’s iconic Gingerbread Liqueur for Christmas. Others, he says, will be limited edition – such as the Suuankou Gin, which was released to commemorate the fourth anniversary of his meadery. But given the infancy of the city’s nascent craft spirit brands, it’s not surprising that sales of made-in-Singapore spirits have largely been confined to local soil. “The vast majority of drinkers are generally used to larger commercial brands, and building awareness to reach the masses requires intense marketing and education,” Koh says as she walks me through her experiential facility at Alexandra Terrace. Here, the public may partake in the distillery’s bevy of made-in-Singapore gins, sign up for a gin-making class at the Gin School, or engage in one of many group experiences like gin-blending in the Private Room. Those who sign up for the tour will also get to see the imposing German-made copper steel distillery equipment on the production floor. Still, Koh says that people are generally “very curious about Singapore spirits and are willing to give it a try” – mostly drink enthusiasts, people who are interested in trying new things or who support the craft. Zhao concurs. “Most consumers start off intrigued by our locally inspired spirits,” he says. Over time, he shares, several have become repeat customers, even purchasing the range as gifts for friends, family and overseas colleagues. The responses from local bars and restaurants have been just as encouraging. “When we first started the bar, we had no local distillers,” says Vijay Mudaliar, co-founder of Native, currently ranked No 14 on Asia’s 50 Best Bars list. “The new wave of spirits gives us a lot of options, and it’s great to work with the local distillers on collaborations.” How molecular mixology is shaking up Hong Kong’s bar scene Known to showcase local and regional spirits as well as foraged ingredients in its swizzles, Native currently serves Compendium’s rum in its coffee cocktail with coffee kombucha and wild flower honey. Brass Lion Distillery’s gin also appears in Mudaliar’s smoked longan cocktail, which features kefir whey and chaff mead too. As we speak, Matthew Chan, beverage director of Nouri, is putting the final touches to a drink that, he says, takes “a whole tonne of local inspirations”. It incorporates Brass Distillery’s Singapore Dry Gin with torch ginger flower soda as well as durian syrup in the final product. A champion of local sourcing whenever possible, Chan says that he supports the ethos of locally sourced and made-in-Singapore by Singaporeans. “To claim to be locally made is already a draw for a country that does not have a history of alcoholic beverage production,” says Chan. “To want to use locally sourced ingredients further raises that bar. “Production is never going to be large scale on a tiny island like ours – that in itself, I feel, is its own appeal.” Want more stories like this? Sign up here. Follow STYLE on Facebook , Instagram , YouTube and Twitter .