N.I.P Distilling's Jeremy Li & Nic Law: Two "Not Important Persons" Shaking Up Asia's Craft Gin Scene
They might be Not Important Persons, but Nic and Jeremy don't let that stop them.
Nic Law and Jeremy Li are the founders of N.I.P Distilling, a Hong Kong based craft gin distillery that has been making waves for their distinctive gins that evoke nostalgic regional scents and flavours. N.I.P Distilling was founded in 2019, yet notably, the duo (who have known each other since they were teenagers) had had no prior distilling experience before. They did, however, have the steadfast belief that anyone - no matter how humble the backgrounds - can achieve something of consequence if they just have grit. This was also the inspiration behind the name "N.I.P", which is an acronym for "Not Important Persons".
Armed with this tenacity, the duo have been slowly but steadily building N.I.P Distilling's reputation as one of the leading craft gin distilleries in Hong Kong, debuting a slew of gin expressions designed for sipping and made from uniquely Hong Kong botanicals. The duo also recently partnered with Proof and Company to expand export of N.I.P gins across APAC, which only indicates further things to come from the brand!
We recently had the honour of interviewing Jeremy and Nic themselves to learn about their journey building the N.I.P Distilling and shaping a distinctive Hong Kong's spirit. Along the way, the duo shares how they've braved a blizzard or two, designed their own distilling apparatus, and experimented with botanicals!
Let's get started!
88B: To start off, could you walk us through what’s a typical day in your lives now? We’d love to know what goes on behind the doors of the distillery!
Jeremy and Nic: Each day looks very different for us depending on what we have going on at that moment!
I would definitely say that we are very hands on - our daily tasks range from washing the stills, and making drinks for tour visitors to discussing our next design venture while we work with local artists! We also have days where we just put our heads down and get to the making of the gin. We also host a lot of events both inside and outside of our distillery, whether it be a distillery tour or visiting bars and hotels - we’re always running around as we are committed to being fully involved with every single thing that happens in N.I.P!
"We both have an aspiration to start something of our own, so we decided to explore our common passion - alcohol. But instead of opening a bar, we decided it would be far more interesting if we could create our own brand of spirits, gin in particular as it’s our favourite spirit, or better yet, open up one of the first gin distilleries in Hong Kong."
88B: N.I.P Distilling was founded on the philosophy that anyone of any status and level can set out to make a difference - and it’s a message that we find truly inspiring. Both of you did not have distilling backgrounds when you decided to create a uniquely Hong Kong gin, but took the plunge to start your own venture together. Could you share more about your lives pre-N.I.P Distilling, and what made you both decide you wanted to pursue this path?
Jeremy and Nic: Well - we have both known each other since we were young, more than 20 years ago, playing tennis together. To be very honest here, we both love to drink and we thought - well instead of opening a bar, let’s open our own distillery!
Prior to opening our distillery, the only involvement we had in the F&B industry was drinking. We both have an aspiration to start something of our own, so we decided to explore our common passion - alcohol. But instead of opening a bar, we decided it would be far more interesting if we could create our own brand of spirits, gin in particular as it’s our favourite spirit, or better yet, open up one of the first gin distilleries in Hong Kong.
N.I.P is half a passion project and half the reason we began this journey is because we see the potential in craft spirits in Asia. Gin is also an extremely versatile spirit and we truly believe that this is the new wave of what’s needed in Asia.
88B: Prior to started N.I.P, you both visited and apprenticed at various distilleries in Scotland in order to learn from the best! What are some of your fondest or most unexpected memories from your time in Scotland when you were learning the rope?
Jeremy and Nic: The whole experience will always be unforgettable to us both as there were many moments in that trip which have shaped us into who we are today - and why N.I.P is what it is. It was intriguing to see all the processes we have read and seen in books and then to be able to physically experience it all for ourselves, getting our hands dirty scraping out mash tuns and making whisky and gin.
Loading the barley and checking the still. All in a day's work for Nic and Jeremy during their apprenticeships in Scotland. (Photos courtesy of N.I.P Distilling)
We also got to visit various types of distilleries - from large brands to craft distilleries and still to this day feel extremely grateful for all the people who have opened their doors to us along the way - showing us how it’s done in their culture.
Nic and Jeremy with the team at Strathearn Distillery (Photos courtesy of N.I.P Distilling)
Another thing that we definitely will never forget would be that time we drove into a blizzard without any snow tires - it was meant to be a one-hour drive and it took us more than 3 hours, from Perth to Speyside. The drive started off with sunshine and then it suddenly got really dark halfway and the snow became a blizzard - blowing horizontally! We were gliding everywhere, up down left right - got lost a couple of times and it was pitch black. We’re thankful to be able to be here speaking to you right now!
88B: Once you guys had a sense of the kind of gin you wanted to create at N.I.P, we understand that you designed your own still, which you commissioned the production of from CHRISTIAN CARL. What were some of the considerations that you had when it came to the design and assembly of the still? What kind of elements did you request and why did you make some of those choices?
N.I.P Distilling's specially commissioned CHRISTIAN CARL copper still. (Image source: N.I.P Distilling)
Jeremy and Nic: The most important thing was that we wanted a still that was flexible enough for us to create different flavours in gins, or even other spirits. As such, we decided on a pot-column hybrid still with three copper plates and a botanicals basket - this way we can use various configurations during our production process, in creating different profiles and types of spirits.
Fun fact about N.I.P gins: The base of each N.I.P Gin bottle has “勝” indented into the bases In Cantonese, this word means Victory, and is also used in the popular phrase “飲勝” which means "bottoms up and cheers to victory"!
88B: What’s your typical process when it comes to curating and deciding on which botanicals to use? Do you gun for a specific profile and then backwards induce the type of botanical to create that – or does it begin with a botanical in mind which you then experiment distilling with? Were there any surprises when it came to flavour payoffs with the different botanicals you have experimented with in the past?
N.I.P Gin utilises over 20 different botanicals selected to evoke the flavors and scents of Hong Kong. The ingredients often prioritise a sense of provenance and locality, such as aged tangerine peels, kumquat, osmanthus, Shoumei tea and goji berries. (Image source: N.I.P Distilling)
Jeremy and Nic: Firstly, it depends on the use of the product - whether there are specific requests or specific purposes the spirit is going to be used for. There can be more dynamic and complex profiles if the gin is to be used primarily for cocktail drinking, and alternatively, if it’s only for simple gin soda/tonic, we may choose something more simple and straightforward - much like our CATNIP tea gin series.
In terms of botanicals, we tend to want to work with local ingredients and flavours, as at the end of the day, this is a Hong Kong spirit, so we definitely prioritise expressing everything Hong Kong in all of our gins.
The process isn’t set in stone, sometimes we have set botanicals we want to work with, and we build a recipe around them - or other times it can be completely random, and purely experimental.
We definitely have experienced some major failures with botanicals that we thought would be very tasty, but with that being said through lots of trial and error we were also able to explore and discover all the botanicals that just work well together for the perfect blend.
"We definitely have experienced some major failures with botanicals that we thought would be very tasty, but with that being said through lots of trial and error we were also able to explore and discover all the botanicals that just work well together for the perfect blend."
88B: The Catnip Gin series celebrates the use of Chinese tea. From our understanding, tea can be a tricky botanical to distil – yet you guys have pulled it off beautifully with Catnip Gin No. 1 and No 2! What are some of the things to keep in mind when distilling with tea that you guys had to make special considerations for?
Jeremy and Nic: The key is to really understand the tea that you are using, its real flavor profile and how to handle the temperature during the production process. There are certain techniques that we can put in place in working with various types of teas - essentially knowing how to respect their original flavours and it’s history of use.
88B: You recently did a special umeshu bottling - a limited edition N.I.P Rare Umeshu that’s produced 100% in Hong Kong. What was it about Umeshu that got you guys excited, and can we expect that N.I.P Distilling might venture into other spirits categories?
Jeremy and Nic: Well, who doesn’t like umeshu!
My (Nic's) sister always made lots of umeshu at home, so it only felt natural for us to make one of our own! In fact, the recipe is merely a twist of my sister's - staying true to what I grew up with.
In terms of other spirits, we currently do not have plans to venture into any other category, but we always have that in the back of our head. One day, perhaps we may decide to create yet another Hong Kong’s first.
88B: Finally, could you share 1 or 2 easy cocktail recipes that our readers can whip up at home using the N.I.P’s Rare Dry Gin or other N.I.P gins?
Jeremy and Nic:
Savory Negroni - Our favourite is special negroni recipe. This is our go to negroni that is savoury and sweet.
- N.I.P Rare Dry Gin - 30ml
- Mancino Rosso Vermouth - 40ml
- Campari - 20ml
- Olive brine - 1 bar spoon
Method: Stir and serve in rock glass with a large block of ice. Garnish with an olive.
She-So-Sexy - For something fresh and light - try this.
- N.I.P Rare Dry Gin - 45ml
- Mancino Bianco Vermouth - 15ml
- Dover Shiso Liqueur 10ml -
- Simple Syrup - 10ml
- Yuzu Juice - 15ml
- Shiso Leave - 2pcs
Method: Shake, double strain and serve in a coupe glass - garnish with Shiso leaf.
88 Bamboo would like to thank Nic and Jeremy for taking the time out to share their experiences thus far creating and championing Hong Kong craft gin! If you'd like to read more about N.I.P Distilling's various gin expressions, check out our review of N.I.P Rare Dry Gin, N.I.P Exotic City Gin, Catnip No. 1 and Catnip No. 2 here!
Follow N.I.P Distilling: @nipdistilling