We might be playing catch up out here in the East, but the gin revolution is revving up on our side of the world. Thank the easing up of spirits making legislation around the region, or the rise of intrepid entrepreneurs putting their investments into the category – Asia is now home to a growing clutch of makers aiming to pour their gins in your glass.
But why gin, and not rum, or whiskey or vodka? It helps that gin is an easier entry point into the world of spirits making – gin doesn’t usually rely on barrels or time to age, and some brands choose to forego purchasing expensive equipment to distil their own base liquor, relying instead on commercially available neutral grain spirit as the canvas for their creations. The region’s botany and flavours are also a treasure trove of inspiration for makers looking to add a new point of view to the vast category that’s growing every year. Here are five makers adding an Asian perspective to the juniper spirit:
Rachelle the Rabbit (Singapore)
The latest player to join the Asian gin game is Singapore’s Rachelle the Rabbit. You might know them as makers of mead, but its owner Simon Zhao is shoring up the distilling knowledge picked up during his chemical engineering uni days to create two labels, inspired by local dishes. Launching at the end of June, Chendol Gin builds on a distillate of gula melaka with flavours of juniper, pandan and coconut, while Rojak Gin sees Zhao distilling mead to match with additions of juniper, torch ginger and lemon peel. While we’ve yet to give these a sip yet, Zhao assures us that we should taste hints of their namesake dishes in our G&Ts or when drunk neat.
The creation of three expats in China, Joseph Judd, Ryan McLeod and Fergus Woodward, Peddlers Gin is made in Shanghai and proudly flies the Chinese flag in its makeup. Its 18-month process research and development process by Woodward and the team led to the creation of a gin that uses lotus flowers, juniper berries, Buddha’s hand and the numbing sting of Sichuan pepper to help it stand out in the busy marketplace.
This boldly named gin is also quite audaciously made in glass and copper filled room at the Iron Balls Gin Distillery on Sukhumvit 45 in Bangkok. And really, we expect no less from its maker, Ashley Sutton, who’s also the man behind quirky and inventive bars like The Iron Fairies, Bookshop Bar and Sing Sing. In the bottle, which looks like half a glass cannonball, is a base spirit made of coconuts and pineapples – about 500 pineapples and 100 coconuts go into each batch. To that, a blend of botanicals including Cambodian pepper, ginseng, lemongrass and Chiangmai ginger join the mix, adding to a taste profile described as rich in hits of tropical fruits and tamer in the sharp and soapy citrus of juniper. A good gateway into the world of gin, if you ask us.
Hailed as the first gin to be made in the SAR, Handover Gin has yet to launch to the public, but according to its Indiegogo campaign, will ship out soon to its backers. Its recipe that reads a bit like a traditional Chinese medicine prescription. Handover’s New Zealand maker and founder Steven Newton flexes his years of experience distilling informally, and training as an artisan distiller in the US to meld ginseng, bitter orange, Chinese cinnamon and horny goat weed with seven other more traditional gin botanicals, and the result is an award-winning gin that picked up silver medals at the Cathay Pacific International Wine and Spirit competitions in 2017 and 2018.
Fun fact: Filipinos are prolific gin drinkers, so it only makes sense that the archipelago is home to its own craft brands. Archipelago Botanical Gin is made by its co-founder and master distiller Matthew Westfall in Laguna (just an hour south of Manila) and boasts 22 botanicals sourced from the Philippines – not bad for a gin that features 28 ingredients in the bottle. Described as smooth, with notes of tropical sweetness, citrus and heat, the add-ins such as dalandans (sweet green oranges), calamansi, dayap limes (Philippine key limes), pomelos, sampaguita (local jasmines), camia (white ginger) blossoms, and more, are a primer themselves in Philippine botany. A Barrel Reserve Gin is also on offer, for drinkers who like their aromas mellowed with time and in American oak barrels.