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02 Jun 2016 By

Parched spoke to Simin Kayhan Ames and Rick Ames, co-Founders of Paper Lantern Distilling, about their soon-to-be-released Sichuan Pepper Gin, available in Singapore mid June, 2016. Want a limited-edition bottle? Read on.

Paper Lantern Distilling is a Southeast Asian craft spirits brand based in Singapore, created by co-founders Simin Kayhan Ames and Rick Ames. As itinerant expats, they’ve worked around the world (experienced many different cultures and cuisines) and settled in Singapore around 2010. They noticed that on the shelves in the liquor stores and behind the bars, they didn’t see many local flavours showing up in the bottles. In fact, they didn’t find many local spirits at all, which is how the idea for a gin to showcase Asian flavours started.

Simin and Rick aren’t just dilettantes, they have a shared history of brewing their own craft beer and mead (they kept their own bees!), and have a passion for ingredients and process. What they needed was to find world class distillers who shared their vision, and they got lucky with their search. (You can read more about the distillers Nikolaus Prachensky and Miko Abouaf, and also pledge on Pozible and be the first in Singapore to get a limited-edition numbered bottle from these guys.) We’re gonna go all DisneyCollectorBR when ours arrives.

Parched spoke to them about the Sichuan Pepper Gin, which we’re excited about, just before the first batch is due to arrive in Singapore.

What style of gin is this – London Dry? Sloe?

We make what’s called an International Gin. London Dry gins come off a column still at a very high alcohol percentage, leaving behind very little character of the ingredient used during the initial fermentation. We wanted to keep some of the rice character to build on with our botanicals, so instead of using a column still, we triple distill from a pot still in a method more commonly used for making Irish whiskeys. International Gins are gins that still maintain their juniper character, but also allow other botanicals to play a big part in the flavour and aroma story.

Is there a special distillation method you are using: Old school (a la Sipsmith) or ultra modern?

Our distillation method is much more the traditional method. We start with bags of rice, locally sourced in Thailand, and mill and ferment on site at the distillery. We don’t use computers to make the cuts. The heads and tails cuts are made by smell, just like master distillers have been doing since the early days of distilling.

Paper Lantern Distillery Gin

Simin is from Turkey, the home of Raki, a spirit which has been made by the Ottoman Empire since the 1300s; (right) Ames was born in Kentucky, the home of Bourbon Whisky.

What does the Thai rice add to the flavor or texture of the gin? Does it impart a sake-like property to the product?

There aren’t flavour similarities to sake, but that is mostly because sake uses the koji fungus to break down the rice. We use distilling yeast, similar to the yeasts used to make beer or cider. But there are elements of the rice that come through in the final product for sure. Not in the taste, but in the mouthfeel. The rice base gives the gin a softness to the flavour. There is a subtle sweetness that comes through and provides the perfect platform for our other flavours of ginger, galangal, lemongrass, makhwaen and Sichuan pepper to come through.

What tonics will go with the Paper Lantern Sichuan Pepper Gin?

The flavour goes well with a number of different tonics, but given the complexity and beautiful aromatics of our gin, we recommend you try a gin and soda instead. Just simple soda water, Paper Lantern Sichuan Pepper Gin and a squeeze of lime served over ice in tall glass. Simple, easy to make at home, and a great way to enjoy all the flavours of this truly unique gin.

Was it hard to consider distilling it in Singapore, or does Thailand just offer more exotic and economic reasons for you?

For us, Thailand was a great location for not only the readily available rice and spice, but also because that is where our distiller has lived for more than 30 years, so that made the choice of Thailand easy for us.

Paper Lantern Gin

And how do you like your G&Ts?

Over ice, a healthy splash of lime. Often.

What would be a great gin martini to concoct?

That depends on how you like your martinis. We prefer our martinis very dry as we love getting as close to the spirit as possible. A Paper Lantern Martini would work either way, especially because this gin is so drinkable and smooth. Also, similar to our Gin Smash cocktail, we like to add a slice of lemon peel for an extra zing.

Paper Lantern Distillery Gin

Bonus: Parched also spoke to Jimmy Tan and Karen Huang, the husband and wife team from Manic Design, the creative agency which designed the Sichuan Pepper Gin bottle and its collaterals. They also (just by chance) designed our favourite Maracatu Cachaça bottle, as well as the identity work for 28HK.

What was the design brief for the Sichuan Pepper Gin bottle?

The client wanted something that was “modern and contemporary” which was very much in line with our studio’s aesthetic. They also wanted to steer clear of the “small batch hipster look”. For our part, we wanted to create something fairly unique. Another part of the brief was also to add an Asian touch, because the gin is made entirely in Asia with Asian ingredients. We decided that an Oriental style might be appropriate because of the origins of the pepper, and got our inspiration from traditional Chinese paper cuttings. They also wanted something beautiful and celebratory, because that was what alcohol, and the parent company, Paper Lantern, was all about. 

We like the modern aesthetic of the bottle – how did you arrive at the final look?

We focused on the Sichuan Pepper because it was the main flavour profile of this gin, and was what differentiated it from other gins. We were also inspired by the beautiful plant, especially the red/pink berries. Even though there were other Asian botanicals used, such as makhwaen, lemongrass etc., we felt that featuring just the key ingredient would make the message more singular, and less of a formulaic gin story. 

How much gin did you have to drink to get inspired?

Not nearly enough.

Like this? Here are 11 things you did not know about gin

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