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Award-winning gin celebrates the Asian spirit

Source:Food Bev Asia

Date Published:5/24/2019 11:05:29 AM

A shot at gin manufacturing wins awards and a growing list of clients for Singapore-based company, writes JEAN ALINGOD-GUITTAP.  

INDUSTRY experts say gin has edged out vodka in the global drinks arena, with Asia-based manufacturers sharing the limelight with established brands. One such company is Paper Lantern Distilling. Food Pacific Manufacturing Journal talks to Co-founder and Managing Director, Simin Kayhan Ames, to find out more about the award-winning Sichuan Pepper Gin, and its aim to raise more glasses for the brand.

Simin Kayhan Ames, co-founder and managing director, Paper Lantern Distilling

How did Paper Lantern Distilling come about?

When we came to Asia in 2010, we were enchanted by the wonderful flavours of various fruits and spices found in this region. I was expecting to find the local ingredients being used in craft spirits but was surprised to find that wasn’t the case. Equipped with our skills in homebrewing, we set out to create a gin that would embody Southeast Asia’s rich legacy of spice and botanicals. The company was incorporated in 2013 and it was a nights/weekends project for a couple of years. In 2015, I left my corporate job to focus on Paper Lantern, and that’s when the company was fully launched.

What is the significance of the name Paper Lantern for your gin brand?

We wanted to use a name that possesses a cultural significance across the many nations in Asia. A lighted paper lantern is a symbol of celebration and bringing friends and family together, and each culture has a unique paper lantern. In the same sense, Paper Lantern Gin is a celebration of Asian spirit through the wonderful flavours representing the region. 

Does Paper Lantern own a distillery in Singapore? What is in Sichuan Pepper Gin, and what sets it apart from other gins?

While we are incorporated in Singapore and launched the gin in Singapore, we don’t own a distillery there. We are truly a Southeast Asian gin operating a concept of living distillery which means we are not restricted by geographical boundaries or traditional methods of distilling. We go to where the purest ingredients are found and discover where the best capabilities lie. One of the most unique aspects of Paper Lantern Gin is the base spirit. Most distilleries buy neutral grain alcohol for their base spirit but we make our own from rice. We are also one of the first brands that distilled Sichuan peppercorns for gin; not infusing but actually distilling the peppercorns.

How would you describe your customers?

These are global citizens who are not defined by age, location or gender. Rather, they are defined by discovery. They love to go off to explore and discover new things. They are spirit lovers and modern day connoisseurs, who love to understand the detail behind the craft. They go off on their own journey, embracing the world from tech to tradition.

In Sichuan Pepper Gin, the Thai peppercorns are distilled, not infused in the gin.

How do customers get hold of your products?

Paper Lantern Gin is currently listed in cocktail menus of popular hotels, bars and restaurants in Singapore and we are also in select retail shops. Consumers may also order online through our website. We are working hard so we can start exporting to other countries this year—expect to find a bottle of Paper Lantern Gin in Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, Vietnam, Australia and India later this year. 

How do you prefer enjoying your own Sichuan Pepper Gin?

I love it neat or in a Gin and Tonic. My favourite cocktail with it is the classic Bee’s Knees. The honey in the gin blends itself perfectly with the cocktail.

Do you collaborate with bars and other establishments to offer customisation? If so, what are some of the ones you concocted together?

Our gin is used in various cocktails, and we are working closely with all of our trade partners to come up with unique recipes. SKAI Bar in Swissotel has the Butterfly Effect as part of their Rainforest series using our gin and cachaca. We were featured in Native’s break-out series in 2018, and they paired the gin with coconut water. Bar Stories can also create your very own bespoke cocktail using our gin!

Could you explain the nature of these collaborations?

Both parties work in areas of strength. Before establishments get us on board, we take the time to explain our flavour profile so both can come up with wonderful food pairing and cocktails. We also conduct training and masterclasses where needed so establishments can explore the many things they can do with our gin. The cocktail creativity is left to the bartenders and venues as we wouldn’t want to interfere with their creative process, but we do take the time to explore the botanicals together.

Let’s talk about ingredients. Why the preference for Asian flavours?

We are fascinated with the wonderful flavours found in Asian fruits and spices. I am a true believer in regional ingredients and supporting local craft. The great challenge initially was to pick from the countless botanicals and finding ones that work well together in distillation. After about nine months of trial and error, we perfected the recipe that presents a unique drinking experience. Instead of the usual lemon or orange used in distilling, lemongrass and makhwaen—a Thai peppercorn—are used for citrus notes. Sichuan peppercorns lend aromatic hints of pine and clove. We also add longan berry honey sourced from nearby farms in Northern Vietnam to the gin. It’s important to us to use the freshest ingredients, and it’s a constant lookout for the best sources of these ingredients. 

How do you ensure quality of ingredients sourced as well as that of the gin you craft?

Quality of ingredients is very important to us as well as using natural ingredients – there are no added preservatives, flavourings, colourings or anything like that in the gin. That goes against the spirit of what we’re trying to do – highlighting the regional ingredients and our dedication to craft. The juniper is purchased from a European source who supplies to many companies and the fresh ingredients are purchased from the markets and then macerated in the base alcohol. The honey is sourced from local farmers who are also dedicated to quality. We pay careful attention to the suppliers and also every step of the distillation (the distillates), are tasted by the distillers and we are there to oversee quality control of final product.

Could you tell us more about your entry to The Gin Masters 2018, and what winning silver for both the Superior Premium and the Contemporary categories means to your company?

Spirits competitions are an important way to get recognition from experts who judge thousands of spirits and are connoisseurs in this field. This was the first competition we ever entered and to win a silver in both categories that we entered in was a great recognition of all of our hard work and efforts. This is a very competitive space, and we’re relatively new in the world of spirits so this was a great moment of pride for us.   

After such an accomplishment, what is next for the company?

Paper Lantern is a spirits company, and we have plans to launch different spirits. I want our company to be recognised as an innovative craft spirits brand focused on regional ingredients. We are working hard to start exporting to other countries as well so that we can expand our foot print.


Boardroom Connection: Simin Kayhan Ames

Company: Paper Lantern Distilling

Position: Co-founder and Managing Director

T: +65 9179 8629


A: 16 Raffles Quay, #41-01 Hong Leong Building, Singapore 048581



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