Introducing Charmaine Thio, mixologist extraordinaire and regional brand ambassador of Hendrick’s Gin. Among her accolades include being the first Singaporean to be accepted into the Tales of Cocktail Apprentice Programme, among the first Asian cabin to be invited to the spirits camp in USA as well as a distinction in a Level 2 Award for Wine and Spirits. We find out the story of this Singaporean lass with a love for literature and of course, Hendrick’s Gin. Plus, she also shares one of her recipes for you to make at home!
Tell us about your passion for mixology
I’d always been interested in flavours and how different ingredients in the right hands could come together to form something more than the sum of its parts. It started with food and I have my mum to thank for that. She’s always championed being open to trying different cuisines and culinary styles. Mum is my dining buddy and has always been game to check out new restaurants and cafes with me.
When I got to a legal drinking age that quite naturally grew to include the realm of cocktail bars as well. What drew me to spirits and cocktails was that they represented a whole new world of flavours that I was not at all familiar with and I just needed to know more. I also really love stories. Literature has always been my favourite subject in school and I even pursued an honours degree in English Literature. After spending some time drinking in cocktail bars and chatting with bartenders I very quickly realised that every spirit and classic cocktail more often than not has an intriguing story behind them and that only served to pique my interest more.
Being a bartender wasn’t something I had planned. It wasn’t a career path that I had even remotely considered. In the months leading up to the submission of my final year thesis I spent many a day writing said thesis at a bar called Ah Sam Cold Drink Stall. It’s at this same bar that I ended up working in just one day after graduation but “just on a temporary basis until I found a full time job,” or so I told myself and my bosses.
I wasn’t even hired to work behind the bar; I was hired to work in the kitchen gutting squid, peeling prawns and frying Hokkien Mee. I enjoyed my time in the kitchen and it definitely taught me plenty of invaluable lessons but the bartenders always seemed to be having way more fun so I asked if they would teach me how to make drinks. I was working with a great team that treated me like family and were very invested in my learning even though I was adamant that I wasn’t staying for long. So on slow nights they would teach me basic techniques and eventually trusted me to make a few drinks. Funny enough the first drink I ever made for a guest was a gin & tonic so perhaps this was all written in the stars.
After six months of failed interviews I had had enough of being told I didn’t have enough experience and had at the same time unintentionally fallen in love with the craft of bartending. At that point I decided to pursue bartending full time so I walked into what was then the highest ranking bar in Asia on the World’s 50 Best Bars list and asked if they were hiring. I started at 28 HongKong Street in 2015 and worked my way up from bar back to head bartender and after 3.5 amazing years of literal blood, sweat, and on my final day plenty of tears, I left to start my new adventure with Hendrick’s Gin.
How did you become the brand ambassador for Hendrick’s Gin?
Before taking on the role of brand ambassador for Hendrick’s Gin I’d been working in cocktail bars in Singapore for a couple of years. The cocktail industry in Singapore is relatively small and we’re a pretty tight knit community so I’d known some of the other ambassadors from William Grant & Sons as they would come in to support the bars I worked in. I knew the role had been vacant for a while and just out of curiosity I asked one of the other brand ambassadors if it had been filled. Next thing I know I’m sending in my resume, then giving a presentation to the global Hendrick’s ambassador and now here I am spreading the gospel of gin and cucumbers.
I’m a huge advocate for all things odd and peculiar. That coupled with my love for cocktails and spirits education made the move from bartending to being the Hendrick’s brand ambassador a natural one in my mind. It’s in every way possible a dream job. It’s essentially an amalgamation of all of my favourite elements of my days working in bars. I get to meet wonderful and interesting people on a regular basis, travel and experience different food and drink cultures, plan events, throw amazing feasts and parties, develop new cocktail recipes & menus, and every now and then I still get to jump behind the bar, make drinks for people and show them a good time!
How has the drinking culture changed, after lockdowns came into place?
One immediate change was of course that people no longer had the option of going out to drink in bars and cocktail consumption, if it was going to happen, had to happen at home. However drinks aren’t the only reason why people go to bars. An integral part of the cocktail bar experience is that element of social interaction. In response to both this need for human connection as well as our partner bars’ fundamental need to generate cash flow to survive, we at William Grant & Sons (WGS) created the 1887 Virtual Bar.
The 1887 Virtual Bar experience was created in support of the local bartending scene in Singapore where consumers could tune in to support their favourite bars both financially and emotionally. Named after the year WGS was founded, 1887 Virtual Bar featured weekly guest shifts by bartenders from some of Singapore’s favourite watering holes. Each session was hosted by myself and Brett Bayly, our regional brand ambassador for Glenfiddich. For 12 weeks, cocktail enthusiasts could tune in via Zoom to watch their favourite bartenders mix up some
cocktails as we chatted about their bars, DIY drinks at home tips and pretty much any other topic under the sun. Audience members could also choose to make a donation in support of their favourite bars by purchasing cocktails off the featured menu in the form of digital cocktail vouchers which they could redeem when the bars reopened. WGS then matched the value of the total donations up to S$1,000 per bar to help the bars put some extra cash in their pockets to weather out the unexpected storm. We just wrapped up our last session on 25 June and have managed to raise over S$14,000 since the 1887 Virtual Bar began in April.
We’ve seen a number of other creative virtual drinking sessions that have emerged since the lockdown and connecting with friends in a virtual space might be something that carries on into the post-pandemic future. Beyond connecting digitally I also think that not only has how we drink at home changed but also what we drink at home. Prior to lockdowns not many bars explored the realm of providing ready to drink bottled or canned cocktails that could be enjoyed outside of their venues. As a result, most of what we drink at home has been limited to wine, beer or simple mixed drinks like gin & tonics and whisky highballs. We’ve seen many cocktail enthusiasts pick up basic drink slinging skills since the lockdowns began and can now whip up their favourite classics with fair aplomb. However complex cocktails that require more technical skills or hard to acquire ingredients remain out of reach for most amateur home bartenders. Should bars continue to make cocktails available for takeaway/delivery, this could very well change and we will see a lot more interesting drinking options available in homes.
What other exciting thing has Hendrick’s Gin done during the lockdown?
If you guys haven’t checked out our new game, The Cucumber Horticulturist in celebration of World Cucumber Day this year, go give it a whirl! It’s live until 20 July, so get your green thumbs out and play to win some discounts today! This is the first time we’ve launched WCD digitally and also it’s Hendrick’s Gin’s first-ever augmented reality game.
We’ve all been hit by some tough times due to COVID-19 and as a team we had to think about how to engage with curious imbibers this World Cucumber Day despite being unable to physically interact with them in our partner bars. We created The Cucumber Horticulturalist game to allow imbibers to take part in the World Cucumber Day festivities while in the comfort and safety of their own homes. Keeping true to the spirit of World Cucumber Day, the game involves growing a virtual cucumber which can be used as “cucumber currency” to exchange for discounts off your next Hendrick’s Gin purchase.
To win the game, simply grow the cucumber plant by collecting falling water droplets on the screen. But steer away from the roses! A stray petal can bring the round to a thorny end. With enough water gathered in the pot, you’ll be able to grow a majestic vine with fruits ripe for the picking.
We hope the game brings you some lighthearted fun and delightful peculiarity amidst the uncertainty. Happy planting and don’t forget to share your results with me on Instagram!
What’s your signature cocktail, and what’s the weirdest drink you’ve concocted?
I always say my signature cocktail is the Hendrick’s and Tonic as it’s without a doubt the drink that I make and serve the most. As for the cocktail I’ve been known to order most often at a bar, it would be the 50/50 Hendrick’s Gin & Amontillado Sherry Martini, garnished with a slice of cucumber of course!
The weirdest drink really depends on what your threshold for weird is. I’ve infused Hendrick’s Gin with smoked salmon before, made a Beef Pastrami Manhattan and experimented with using roasted parsnip as an ingredient. I’m not sure I find those all that weird though. Perhaps unusual is the word?
The Leslie Gracey recipe
This particular cocktail is how our master distiller, Ms. Lesley Gracie, enjoys her Hendrick’s and so naturally we named it after her! This drink champions the floral elements of Hendrick’s Gin by playing up the flavour of elderflower, which is also one of the eleven botanicals in Hendrick’s. This, alongside some refreshing soda water, makes for a delicate but balanced cocktail that’s perfect for our tropical weather.
- ● 50ml Hendrick’s Gin
- ● 15ml Elderflower Cordial
- ● Top up with Soda Water
- ● Garnish with 3 slices of cucumber
- Add all the ingredients into a tall glass filled with ice, give it a gentle stir, add on your cucumber garnish and you’re ready to go!