What did you do before setting up Tanglin Gin Distillery?
I grew up in Dorset, did all the normal things a country kid does growing up like collecting sloe’s for my dad’s sloe gin. When I was about 13 I went overseas for the first time and that changed my world view. I went to college, became an Architect, travelled a lot, spent 5 years living in Hong Kong, nearly moved to Canada, before finally settling in Melbourne, Australia. Life was normal until 2009, when my wife and I went through one of the biggest fires in Australia’s history. Then a series of events led me to sell my company and start working internationally again, which is what led me to Singapore and meeting Andy, Charlie and Chris, the other founders of Tanglin Gin.
What made you decide to set up a distillery?
Back in 2017, Andy and I were working our way down the gin list at a roof top bar, now sadly closed down due to Covid. We were talking about the fact that Singapore didn’t have its own Gin -while it has a world famous cocktail named after it in the Singapore Sling, it doesn’t have a gin to put in it. Over the next few months the conversation kept coming back to the idea of opening a distillery. Charlie and then Chris joined in the gin drinking conversation and the idea stuck.
How did you get from the idea to beginning to make gin?
We had a go at making a little test still, gave up on that, then I got hold of a little pressure cooker still and we started experimenting. Andy started digging into the regulations, and we started throwing around ideas for a name. Almost 18 months after the first conversation, in July 2018 we started making Gin.
Singapore has a bunch of interesting rules, like the one about bubble gum (which is illegal to import or sell in Singapore). One of the challenges was finding a location. Singapore is one of the most expensive cities in the world and there weren’t any cow sheds around we could convert - what is it about gin distilleries and cow sheds?!
Can you tell us more about the distillery?
The rules in Singapore are that if you’re making food (gin is classified as food) to sell to another business, you need to produce it in an approved food zone. For us that meant a multi-storey concrete food factory. We got lucky and found a ground floor space in a new food factory in Mandai, which is in the north of Singapore, near the zoo. We’ve got about 200sqm, but our lease is ending soon, so we are on the hunt for a new location, trying to find a place that’s more central.
What can visitors expect and experience if they visit the distillery?
We offer tours booked in advance. The tour includes a broad gin learning experience, about how we make our gin, the stories behind the botanicals, and of course the story behind Tanglin, and the odd taste of gin as the tour progresses.
Due to the this year’s travel restrictions Singaporean’s are looking for more local life experiences. We introduced an immersive 4+ hour experience that starts with the distillery tour and ends with a cocktail making master class at our experimental bar, Oriental Elixir, located on the famous Haji Lane. George and Johnny there have created over 100 bitters, elixirs and potions, and everything is made using our gins, our heads and tails and our base spirit. The Mandarin Chilli Goats Cheese Daquiri tastes way better than the name suggests.
What have been the biggest challenges and successes so far?
Our challenges are also connected to our successes. Singapore is a small country so we had our sights on being an international brand from the start. Within 3 months of opening we were asked to supply duty free at Changi Airport and before Covid we’d been taken to something like 52 countries. Getting noticed on the world stage of gins was a challenge and we went head-to-head with world gins in a number of awards programs. In our first 3 years we’ve picked up Silvers, Golds, Double Golds and in The Gin Guide Awards we were amazed to win the 'Best in Asia 2020' award and to be a Winner in the Traditional Gin category.
Our next challenge is finding Distributors, in the competitive market of gin its not easy. We’ve started exports to the US and Malaysia, and we’re in discussions with Hong Kong and China. We currently self-import into Australia, so we are on the lookout for a Distributor down under and we are already stocked in a few retailers such as BWS, Dan Murphy’s Online and a number of independent retailers too. Our next goal is to be available in the UK - it’s frustrating having fans of the gin in the UK and Europe and not being able to supply them.
How would you describe your gin in 3 words?
Unexpectedly memorable gin
What’s your favourite way to drink your gins?
I designed our original Orchid Gin to work in a Negroni, a gin that can survive the vermouth and Campari, a Negroni where you can actually taste the gin. It's also smooth enough to be sipped neat and works well over ice with a squeeze of an orange wedge.
Our signature Tanglin and Tonic serve would be a tonic with a floral hint like Fever Tree Mediterranean, and it works really well with Folkington’s English Garden, a great Tonic from Suffolk. We would serve it with a garnish of a fresh orange wheel and a cinnamon stick.
Which gins would you always have on your gin shelf?
I’d have three gins, The Farmers Wife Gin from New South Wales, Fossey’s Gin (any of them!) from Mildura, Victoria in Australia, and a bottle of Conker Gin - I love everything these guys are doing down in Bournemouth.
What’s next for Tanglin Gin - any exciting plans?
There will be a new location for the distillery, with an expanded front of house offering. We are developing an exciting new hands-on Gin Making Experience, a new core gin that’s in pre-trial development, and we have our fingers crossed for expansion into the UK and China, so 2021 is going to be pretty busy we think.