As an aspiring adult in his mid-20s, I cannot overstate the importance of understanding what we put into our bodies. Because the harsh truth about life is that you are what you
eat drink, and let me state now in no uncertain terms that I do not wish to become a bottle of bottom-shelf gin.
So in the spirit (ha ha) of lifelong learning and skills upgrading, I enrolled myself into Singapore’s first ever gin school, Brass Lion Distillery.
Nestled in a quiet corner of Alexandra Terrace, the intimate experience is a paradise for alcohol lovers. Limited to 10 seats, each of us were equipped with our own mini copper still, and given access to a variety of fresh botanicals to craft our desired gin profiles – floral, herbal, citrus or spicy.
Led by Head of the Gin School, Satish and R&D Assistant Javin, the three-hour session takes you through the intricacies of distilling the spirit, from temperature control to balancing out the alcohol content of the final product.
It’s a deceptively simple process, demanding both precise measurements and an instinct for pairing flavours. Foodies and those who cook will find themselves right at home.
But we’re reminded the aim is not to make a perfect product. Think of it as a sandbox to get acquainted with gin’s fundamentals: test combinations, take risks and understand why it’s one of the most versatile spirits out there.
I settle for a spicy take consisting of smoked tea, kaffir lime and torch ginger. The goal was to evoke memories of balmy nights on a tropical beach (cue out-of-office auto replies) but the end result tasted more like Mediterranean dessert.
Each student leaves with their own custom-labelled, full-sized gin bottle, ready to be sampled with tonic at the bar.
Bask in the endless DMs from friends demanding to know exactly when you became this cool. Also, it’s 150% guaranteed to impress the drink snob you meet at your next party.
There’s also an easy sense of camaraderie that you feel amongst the staff: Speaking to Popspoken, founder and managing director Jamie Koh says she works closely with her team (including bartenders) on the product development front.
Her team also fought for six years to get the concept off the ground.
From the painstaking task of clearing each step with the authorities to personally buying rarer ingredients from traditional Chinese medicine shops — Brass Lion’s offerings are an impressive and necessary addition to the landscape.
What are some of your personal favourite botanicals?
I enjoy using local ingredients that are not commonly used in gin such as chrysanthemum flowers, curry leaves and torch ginger flower. These ingredients add a unique depth to the gin.
Tell us about the work and training required to run a program like this.
You will need intimate knowledge of the distillation process, the ability to understand different flavour profiles and how they blend together harmoniously, and an acute sense of taste in order to extract the hearts, which is the best part of the distillation run.
There were also multiple regulatory challenges because the concept that we wanted to open, namely an experiential distillery that encompasses a tour, tasting room and a workshop space on top of a manufacturing facility, has never been done before in Singapore.
How does it benefit consumers to stay educated about their spirits?
I think it is important for consumers to know what they are drinking. The more they know, the better informed they are about what they are putting into their bodies. It is important to drink high quality products.
People now care more about what they drink. They are more willing to deviate from the known brands and try new products. They care a lot about high quality products and are curious to learn about the creation and process in making these products.
In a market already packed with exciting gin options, what does a bespoke gin experience offer the cocktail/home bar enthusiast?
The Gin School experience is unlike any other in Singapore. Instead of working with the finished product and mixing it into cocktails, participants will actually get to create their own product from scratch, customised to their desired flavour profile.
The key to making a fabulous bottle of gin is _____.
Your own personality! Everyone has different flavour preferences. And with Gin School, you get to make your gin just they way you like it!
There’s a 20-strong party swinging by in an hour — what’s an easy drink you’d serve?
Calamansi Gimlet. Our refreshing twist on a classic gin cocktail, using calamansi instead of lime.
Brass Lion’s Gin School runs every Sunday at 2pm, and are open to private bookings by request. Book your slot here.
Raising the Bar is a new Popspoken series by Kenneth Chia, for kindred spirits by kindred spirits, about kindred spirits on our sunny island. As the saying goes – it’s 5pm somewhere in the world.