Cover Photo: Graeme Kennedy/Peddlers Gin

Taste the continent's many climes in our pick of idiosyncratic gins from Korea to the Philippines

Out of all the spirits, gin has a remarkable ability to carry nuanced flavours and capture the terroir of a place, which, combined with laissez-faire regulations defining what the spirit is, and the speed and small physical footprint of distillation, has primed it for the global moment in the spotlight that it is currently enjoying.

Asia is where this versatile spirit really meets its match, where hundreds of different locales with their thousands of indigenous botanicals have expanded the scope of gin beyond recognition. From malunggay oil and gunpowder tea, to orchids and Buddha's hand, anything goes when it comes to Asia's vast pantry of herbs, fruits, flowers and spices. 

As you might expect, this has led to a flourishing of new gins across the region, featuring seemingly innumerable permutations of botanical blends that, during these strange, home-bound times, act like a postcard from faraway places. Here, the Tatler Dining team spotlights 15 Asian gins that capture the essence of their birthplaces, creating utterly unique flavours in the process.


Eiling Lim's Small Batch Gins

Although Malaysia encounters more red tape when it comes to alcohol production, one woman has found a way to make it work. Eiling Lim’s three types of gin are distilled in Belgium, but their star ingredients such as nangka (jackfruit), pandan (screwpine leaves) and galangal are grown in Malaysia.

While gins aren’t made for sipping, Lim’s are so fragrant that the temptation is strong. “Each gin consists of 17 botanicals and all the ingredients are steeped for 36 hours before being distilled in a Holstein still, resulting in a more ‘rounded’ spirit,” explains Lim.

Unique ingredients aside, Lim’s small-batch gins (an annual output of 30,000 bottles in contrast to the million cases released by Hendrick’s) are coveted for their rarity and recognisable labels; the latter was realised through a collaboration with Malaysian designer Tintoy Chua and evokes comic book illustrations of supervillains.

“I wanted a villain or a monstrous character to represent the main ingredient in each gin,” laughs Lim. “I know it's not common to see that on a gin label, but that's the direction I wanted to go to differentiate my products from the rest.”

Samantha Lim, Dining Editor, Tatler Malaysia

See also: A Spirited Interview With Eiling Lim, Malaysia's First Independent Bottler


Shangri-La Hotels' BEE’S KNEES Gin

Created by the Shangri-La Hotel Group at their Fort Bonifacio location, Bee’s Knees lays claim to being distilled and bottled on hotel property, inside Shangri-La's own gin lab. General manager John Rice says, “Our journey is not only rooted in providing our guests with the experience they have come to know and love, but to embrace the community and ecosystem that surrounds our environment. In this case, we pay tribute and uplift the talent already present in the Filipino bar community. What better way to do so than to bottle that in a Filipino-raised spirit?”

Aside from celebrating local talent, Rice explains that the team purposefully wanted to showcase all the stunning indigenous ingredients the country has to offer. In Bee’s Knees you will find a plethora of botanicals like: sampaguita, luyang dilaw, manzanilla, malunggay and dalandan. With a more fruity and floral base, this gin matches well with citrus notes and tropical juices.

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Created by foodies and tastemakers Carlo Calma and Cheryl Tiu (both Gen.T Honourees!), Proclamation Gin is a loud and proud Filipino spirit, taking its name from a 1934 proclamation that declared the sampaguita as the national flower of the Phillipines. They work with and employ female farmers who hand-pick the best sampaguita flowers in Central Luzon—a promise Calma says they are going to keep. 

There are 12 botanicals inside Proclamation Gin, namely: juniper berry, coriander seed, angelica root, orris root, orange peel, lemon peel, liquorice root, cassia bark, almond nut, lemongrass, fresh sampaguita flower, and toasted sticky rice.

Carlo, as a talented designer, created the bottle and wanted to focus on a minimalist aesthetic. “My design intent was actually making it like a block or a brick so we could re-use the donated bottles and put it into homes at some point. We are really into upcycling, even the wrapper we did is made of recycled paper. We want the bottle to signify simplicity, purity and strength," he says.

Full Circle Craft's ARC GIN

Full Circle Craft Distillers by Laurie and Matthew Westfall entered the beverage scene with a bang several years ago as the country’s first-ever craft distillery. With the launch of ARC Botanical Gin they proved themselves to industry professionals, wowed drinkers, and definitely made Filipinos proud. 

There are 28 exotic botanicals in total—22 of which have been sourced, foraged, and harvested locally. Each small batch of ARC Gin begins with a premium extra-neutral alcohol base distilled from 100 per cent French wheat. This base is infused with various tropical fruit and herbs, including pomelos, dalandans (sweet green oranges), calamansi and dayap limes, mangoes, pine buds, sampaguita (native jasmine), ylang-ylang, and camia (white ginger) blossoms.

At first sip there is a noticeable and beautiful fresh zing from locally grown citrus, which is complemented by fragrant lemongrass that does not overpower. A woody and spicy touch comes to the palette from the use of cinnamon too. This tropical and refreshing blend is refined, with notes of juniper berries and lush, ripe mangoes.

Isabel Francisco, Editor, Tatler Dining Philippines

See also: 5 Unique Cocktails For Home Bartenders To Try


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Tanglin Gin’s Orchid Gin

You know the global gin renaissance of the last decade is only picking up pace when a city-state like Singapore can, in only the last three years, produce a handful of notable gin brands. Most of these are brewed on the island and, in a distinct nod to their provenance, use indigenous botanicals and unique production styles. One of early winners is Tanglin Gin’s maiden bottling, the Orchid Gin, which went on earn the prestigious Silver Award at The 2019 San Francisco World Spirits Competition only a year after it was launched. The gin gets its name from the use of the Dendrobium Nobile Lindl orchid within its blend of local botanicals, which also includes the likes of amchoor (mango powder), vanilla bean and organic orange. It’s a recipe, head distiller Tim Whitehead says, that combines “traditional gin botanicals found in the oldest recipes with new flavours that truly represent Singapore”.

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Brass Lion Distillery’s Singapore Dry Gin

Established in 2018, the young Brass Lion Distillery is best known for its flagship Singapore Dry Gin that is crafted using a blend of classic gin botanicals, such as juniper and coriander seed, with Asian herbs and spices like torch ginger flower, mandarin peel and chrysanthemum. The goal was simple: to create “a product unique to our part of the world”, shares founder Jamie Koh, despite the six-year journey that took her “touring, interning and apprenticing at distilleries from Portland to South Carolina, London and Germany’s Black Forest”. In keeping with the industry’s push to reduce waste and carbon footprint, the distillery’s gins are now available in the large ecoSPIRITS format, which also reduces the delivered cost to venues by a remarkable 25 per cent.

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The Orientalist Spirits’ Gunpowder Gin

Founded by veteran Singapore F&B entrepreneur Michel Lu, The Orientalist Spirits brand specialises in Asian articulations of popular spirits, such vodka (which the brand debuted with), whisky and, of course, gin. In fact, The Orientalist Gunpowder Gin was its second product following the launch of the award-winning Origins Vodka in 2019. Proofed with the same soft Japanese spring water that the Origins Vodka utilises, Gunpowder Gin is made by infusing the blend with an array of Asian botanicals, such as Taiwanese gunpowder tea, Cambodian Kampot peppercorns, Korean omija berries, Malaysian torch ginger, Siberian ginseng and Chinese osmanthus. It has performed well on the international stage, earning gold at the SIP Awards 2020 (USA) and a bronze award at the London Spirits Competition 2020.

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Compendium’s Rojak Gin

Speaking of a gin that speaks to the heart and palate of the Singaporean imbiber, the flagship gin of the Compendium craft distillery is a rich but balanced recipe that’s calls for only torch ginger, lemon peel and juniper berries. Of course, the fact that it also distilled firstly from fermented honey, and then re-distilled with the other three ingredients makes it ideal as a sipping gin or to have on the rocks. This is no surprise since the distillery first began by producing honey mead. The torch ginger flower will also be a familiar ingredient to fans of Chinese rojak—that quintessential hawker favourite. For dessert, follow up with the distillery's Chendol Gin!

Don Mendoza, Content Director, Tatler Dining Singapore

Check out: Mauro Colagreco Of Mirazur Spearheads Carne Burgers In Singapore



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Peddlers Gin Company's Shanghai Gin

Often cited as a pioneer of the craft gin movement in mainland China, Shanghai-based Peddlers Gin is a great entry point into the radically different botanical landscape of Chinese gins. Founded by three friends who wanted to tap into the uniqueness of Chinese herbs and spices, Shanghai Gin incorporates 11 botanicals sourced from across the country, such as lotus flower from Gansu province, Buddha's hand, mint and cassia bark from Yunnan, and almonds from Xinjiang, resulting in an adventurous medley of pepper, honey and rose-like citrus notes, bolstered by a pleasant earthiness throughout. The Shanghai Gin has previously won gold at the China Wind and Spirits Awards, and bronze at the San Fran World Spirits Awards. 

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Porcelain's Shanghai Dry Gin

Even among gins, Porcelain Gin's Ming-dynasty-inspired bottle—designed by Hong Kong's Loveramics and adorned with a pattern by Lala Curio—is a standout. The distillate within doesn't disappoint either, thanks to a a balanced mix of 18 botanicals that includes goji berries, Sichuan peppercorn, almond, grapefruit and rose. What sets its Shanghai Dry Gin apart, however, is the use of Mongolian juniper berries as opposed to the usual European variety, lending the spirit a sweeter, yet mellower character. Founder Hubert Tse's family business in spice distilling made a natural incubator for the operation, and the distillery's present location in Liaoning province is a nod to the region's history as a crossroads for the spice trade.

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Dragon's Blood Gin

Inner Mongolia is a land that isn't for the faint of heart, a reputation that New Zealand native and chef Daniel Brooker, who heads the culinary programme at Sofitel Macau, drives home with the blood-red hue of his Dragon's Blood Gin. Distilled in the Inner Mongolian city of Chifeng, the gin takes inspiration from the hardy, heavy-drinking Mongolian people and uses botanicals like orange peel that are grown on a small on-site orchard, alongside more exotic botanicals such as Mongolian mountain pepper and organic Yunnan golden roses. The final product is multi-layered and incredibly herbal, imparting flavour notes that mark it as utterly unique. Brooker also produces the Gold Dragon Gin, which adds Mongolian desert rose and is barrel-aged for 12 months.

Gavin Yeung, Dining Editor, Tatler Dining Hong Kong

Related: 5 Chinese Wine Producers Who Have Earned Our Deepest Respect


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Benizakura Distillery's 9148 Gin

From Hokkaido comes the northern Japanese region's first artisanal gin from Sapporo's small-scale Benizakura Distillery, featuring a tantalising palate of umami. Their 9148 gin is inspired by Hokkaido's temperate summers, complimenting the locally grown byakushin juniper berry with botanicals such as Hidaka kelp, dried shiitake mushrooms, and Japanese radish. The gin, the name of which was inspired by George Orwell's seminal 1984, has already won accolades such as Gold at the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Wine & Spirits Competition as well as a gold medal at the World Gin Awards, thanks to a poised and balanced character that is given an extra kick thanks to its 90 proof bottling.

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Echigo Yakuso's Yaso 80 Gin

Hailing from the mountainous Niigata prefecture—traditionally a hotspot for brewing sake thanks to the bountiful and clear mountain streams found there—the Yaso 80 Gin comes from Echigo Yakuso, a producer of herbal teas and health products centred around Japanese mugwort. The gin is based on Yaso 80 Spirit, which macerates a whopping 80 botanicals—including bamboo, fig leaf, persimmon leaf, chameleon plant, mandarin, pineapple, garlic, and kombu—in a ceramic container, left to ferment and then distilled after one year. Building on this base, 23 more botanicals traditionally used in London dry gin are steeped in the mixture and distilled once more to create Yaso 80 Gin. Given the distiller's health credentials, you can feel at least a little better about any Martinis made using this particular expression.

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Masahiro Shuzo's Okinawa Gin

Balmy Okinawa boasts an inimitable food culture thanks to a range of botanicals unique to the tropical island chain, as well as heavy influence from America due to a continued US military presence. Capitalising on this blend of culture, terroir and Okinawa's rich volcanic soil, heritage spirits producer Masahiro Shuzo Company utilised its 130-plus years of expertise in creating awamori (a shochu-like rice liquor native to Okinawa) to create Okinawa's only craft gin. Expect the likes of guava leaves, long pepper, roselle flower, bitter goya melon and shekwasha citrus. With a smoky shochu nose, the gin features piquant fruit sweetness balanced by herbal juniper and leafy notes. “At 46 per cent alcohol by volume, it is bursting with floral flavours, tropical fruit, and green notes from goya," says Masayasu Higa, 7th generation distiller.

—Gavin Yeung, Dining Editor, Tatler Dining Hong Kong

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South Korea

Buja Gin Distillery's Omija Gin

South Korea has a prolific drinking culture, yet for all the alcohol that is poured across the country every night, the variety is surprisingly limited to the national spirit of soju, the milder makgeolli, or your usual plethora of imported wine and whisky. Buja Gin claims to be the first Korean craft gin, and it's true that they are entering a space that has been eerily quiet despite the gin boom that has been happening across Asia for some years now. Founded by a father and son duo, where the father is a farmer of botanicals and the son, Tom Cho, is responsible for distilling the spirit, Buja Gin incorporates 16 native herbs and spices into its pink-hued Omija Gin, ranging from pine, mugwort, and omija berries, to the schisandra chinensis flower and the Jeju Hallabong citrus fruit. The gin imparts rich and herbal notes, making for a preeminently complex gin with just a hint of spices. Here's to hoping that Buja Gin is a sign of more Korean gins to come.

—Gavin Yeung, Dining Editor, Tatler Dining Hong Kong

See also: A Malaysian In Korea: Basira Yeusuff On Bringing Satay And More To Seoul

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