Gin isn’t quite mother’s milk to me the way that it was to a certain Eliza Dolittle’s aunt (George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion), but I do like a good gin. So when the chance came to learn to make my own, I naturally accepted. Arriving at Brass Lion Distillery’s Gin School triggered memories of practical sessions in the science lab. This one definitely smelt better though – of herbs and flowers instead of preserved amphibian specimens in murky bell jars.
A vast cabinet against one wall housed shelves and drawers of glass jars containing every conceivable botanical that has been used for gin making. On a counter at the front of the room were also several trays of fresh herbs. These were what gave the room the fresh aroma that greeted me. I settled into a work station – equipped with a mini copper still, a rack of essential ingredients, a micro scale, a tasting flute, several beakers, and a journal – and eagerly waited for the lesson to begin.
Now Let’s Make Some Gin
The class was first introduced to different gin profiles via a tasting flight of the Brass Lion gins: the Singapore Dry, the Pahit Pink and the Butterfly Pea. The instructors then walked the class through the process and intricacies of distilling the spirit, and provided tips on creating a well-balanced bottle of gin.
At the word ‘go’, I made for the trays of fresh herbs to discover what I might want to include. I decided against pandan, basil and kaffir lime leaves as I didn’t want flavours that I regularly experience in my food. I also left spearmint and peppermint alone as I didn’t want a mouthwash. I conceded to using a little cologne mint for a hint of freshness though.
The aromatics and flavours that I chose included buahlonglong, fennel, lemon balm and moringa leaves, galangal root, torch ginger flower and, for some softness, rosella. I weighed the basic ingredients: juniper berries (which is what makes gin, well, gin), coriander seeds, orris, cubeb, and angelica for stability, and put them all in the pot, into which I’d already poured the requisite measures of water and ethanol. Then I hit the switch, turned on the heat, crossed my fingers and waited for magic to happen.
The Brass Lion Story
In 2012, on realising there wasn’t a spirit that was crafted here, founder Jamie Koh embarked on a quest to create a spirit that captures the heart of Singapore. Her journey began with a series of internships at distilleries across both sides of the Atlantic, from Portland to London, and even Germany’s Black Forest. Returning after six years, she created a wholly Singaporean gin.
Since launching Singapore Dry Gin, the boutique distillery has been conducting weekly distillery tours ($45). With the launch of its gin workshop ($198), gin lovers now have the chance to distill and take home their own bottle of gin. “We absolutely want to share our love for gin and the art of distilling. And at our distillery, we are able to provide a truly hands-on and enjoyable experience,” Jamie said.
Back to the gin I was trying to make… I tried what I’d collected in the beaker and, without meaning to boast, it was rather good. Magic did happen. I’ve decided to call my bespoke gin Faery’s Breath and was actually proud to put my name on the label where it said “Master Distiller”.