Craft Gin Inspired By Singapore
Jamie Koh is the founder of Brass Lion Distillery. The first of its kind in Singapore which specializes in craft gin. Jamie wants to define the gin market while expanding to other distils. We love the continuous innovation and unique marketing she has built!
Tell us a bit about your brand? Brass Lion Distillery is a local brand. We specialise in making Asian craft spirits, because I saw that there were none in Singapore and decided to create one. Fast forward six years later and we have Brass Lion. We predominantly specialise in gin for now, but we are looking at producing other products.
What inspired you to start out with gin? My other two businesses are both bars and I realised that there was a growing appreciation amongst consumers, they were getting more discerning. They were really appreciating what they were drinking, and they wanted to know more of a back story – what goes into a product. It was an elevation of the overall standards of what people were drinking. Craft brands were starting to take off, which got me thinking ‘why isn’t there a craft gin in Singapore?’. I felt that it was such a shame because you think of a Singapore Sling, a gin-based cocktail and iconic Singapore drink and we use a foreign gin! We designed the gin so that it fits this flavour profile and our climate.
How did the experience of running these ventures help you set up Brass Lion? You face a lot of issues when you’re trying to bring a new concept to the marketplace - there’s always that first level of education. For example, ‘what are shots and how do I drink them?’ There wasn’t a shots culture here 10 years ago – people only drank from beer towers. So, it was about introducing that shots could be fun and interactive. Even introducing American whisky was hard, as Singapore had a Scotch market – they would drink bourbon with coke! So, because of the two bars, I knew what it took to educate people about local craft spirits. Knowing the customers from the bars and seeing where the trends of the market were, that helped a lot. Also, now I’m coming from a different perspective as a supplier, but I know what a bar owner wants and needs, so that helps!
Jamie tells us what it means to be first-to-the-market in the Singapore craft gin industry and how her previous ventures have propelled her in this venture.
What’s it like being at the forefront of the Singapore craft movement? Many years ago, people thought that local products wouldn’t be as good as imported products. But that mindset is slowly changing now – everyone is using the hashtag #shoplocal now. A lot of local crafters and makers are coming up and making really high-quality products, but it is still a niche market. We’re trying to really expand the brand and get people to know about it – not just niche but reaching the mass market. Our price is not the same as a mass market brand produced at a factory somewhere, we come at a premium. But it’s about letting people know why they have to pay that premium and the care and the quality that’s behind each bottle. We hand cork, we hand seal, we crush the juniper berries! It’s all the factors that add into that.
Tell us about opening the distillery? I started the process of the distillery in 2012 and opened the distillery in 2018. The reason why nobody has opened a gin distillery in Singapore before, like ours where customers can come in, make your own gin, do the tour, is because there’s no rulebook for it - it’s an unknown. So, it took a very long time! Nobody knew how to handle the situation, we were being moved round and round and I questioned myself, is this ever going to materialise? It wasn’t in my control; the decision was with someone else and beyond our control. So, one milestone was when we actually created the first bottle – labelling it bottle number one, batch number one and we put it on the shelf [in our distillery]. Then we had a physical product – that was a milestone for us!