The Distillery That Put Singapore On The World Map: Tanglin Gin
Unless otherwise stated, all images are courtesy of Tanglin Gin.
I have a working theory why the British love their gin more than whisky or rum. They really love exotic spices, so much so that they sailed all the way to India looking for its spice trade. But growing up in Southeast Asia, I do realise many of these spices and botanicals - the same ones that got these early English traders excited - are right in my backyard. On a weekend grocery run with my grandmother to a wet market, I would easily catch the smells of coriander, cardamom, anise and kaffir lime – many of the “exotic” botanicals often used to flavour gin.
So it seems fitting that a country in Southeast Asia, where most of these spices are natively grown, which has a stylish bar scene (if memories from the Before Covid era are intact), should have a voice on the global gin stage. No need to sail to some faraway lands in search of exotic spice – those can be found on our doorsteps. Yet it wasn’t until 2018 that the first gin distillery was set up in Singapore.
Tanglin Gin Distillery is nestled within the lush tropical greenery of Singapore’s upscale lifestyle enclave Dempsey Hill, which was once a nutmeg plantation in the 1800s. The typical botanicals are used - this includes juniper, coriander seeds, cardamom. What makes Tanglin Gin different is its use of Orchids (Singapore’s national flower) and spices sourced around the region including vanilla, kaffir limes, chili and amchoor powder.
Not quite either. What they have is a modern electric still known as a Genio still that resembles a pot still with a reflux column on top. Baskets of botanicals are placed in the reflux column to be infused with the gin throughout distillation. The still is electronically operated and has intelligent algorithms to ensure precision and control throughout distillation. There is even a “Pot Still Distillation Mode” that produces a thicker, more flavourful spirit. Here, it appears that distillation is more science than alchemy.
Gin botanical baskets look something like this (Image Source: Australian Home Brewing)
The distillery has swept up awards from international spirits competitions since it began operating in 2018, and can genuinely be credited for putting Singapore on the gin world map. Early this year, the World Gin Awards 2022 named Tanglin Gin’s 3 core bottlings as country winners in 3 categories (i.e. London Dry Gin, Contemporary Gin, Navy Gin)
Its latest accolades are from the prestigious San Francisco World Spirits Competition (SFWSC) 2022, the world's largest spirits competition, which awarded Tanglin Gin’s 3 core bottlings the Platinum, Double Gold and Gold awards respectively.
Tanglin's Black Powder Gin took home the Platinum award at the SFWSC - an award given to bottles that have consistently scored Double Gold three years in a row.
But nobody impresses their date by rattling off a long, boring CV. What matters is how the gins taste and whether you like them yourself. So let's find out if this is your tipple.
1. Orchid Gin, 42% ABV
Notable Botanicals: Juniper Berries, Coriander Seeds, Amchoor, Vanilla Planifolia, Java Pepper, Liquorice Powder
Their flagship gin is called the Orchid Gin. The “Orchid” in its name is represented in two botanicals. Vanilla beans are used, and lest we forget, vanilla pods come from the Vanilla plantifolia - a species of orchid.
On the nose, this opens with an aromatic piney scent of juniper, followed closely by fresh lime zest. Smooth and friendly.
On the palate, this has a pleasantly oily and full texture. Opens with sweetness, tartness, slight savouriness and a mild heat reminiscent of Thai green mango salad. Loosens into light notes of elderflowers before turning to finish of lime zest and lingering liquorice. The viscous mouthfeel with smooth flavour profile is memorable.
Our local Singaporean food pairing: Chicken Rice and Assorted Red Bean Paste Dough Fritters
The fragrant and perfumery vanilla complemented the sweet and rich red bean paste dough fritters, making for a great midday snack that left us refreshed and all up in florals!
The vibrant lime zest and green mango notes helped us cut through the opulent chicken rice and balance fat with brightness - a yin yang combination.
This is a great modern reinterpretation of the classic London Dry Gin. You can certainly taste the OG juniper-forward notes - with a jazzed-up twist of citrus and light florals.
Tanglin Orchid Gin, 42% ABV
Available in our Bottle Shop
2. Singapore Gin, 42% ABV
Notable Botanicals: Juniper Berries, Mandarin Orange Peel, Kaffir Lime Leaves, Dried Chilli Seeds, and Young Ginger, Liquorice Powder
The Singapore Gin comes in a more contemporary style and exhibits slightly more pronounced flavours not seen in classic gins using spices like ginger and dried chili seeds. Young ginger is used to provide a mildly floral, less spicy note (old ginger tends to be very spicy and biting).
On the nose: bright hit of fresh orange peel with grassy lime leaves. A subdued scent of juniper with notes of very light oakiness.
On the palate, immediate luscious notes of sweet mandarin oranges and lemon zest, balanced with slightly dry notes of wood, juniper and a mild hoppy bitterness. Contrary to expectations (from the listed ingredients of ginger and chilli), I don’t perceive a lot of spice besides a gentle warming finish.
Our local Singaporean food pairing: Chicken Rice and Chwee Kueh (Steamed Rice Cakes With Pickled Radish
While the Orchid Gin gave a delicate balance to the chicken rice, we cracked open the Singapore Gin to find that conversely, the essence from the ginger and chilli seeds used in its making amplified the sharp Hainanese chicken rice chilli sauce and brought it to a whole other level.
This also brought us to the next delight - Chwee Kueh. The bright citrus notes and mild hoppy bitterness cut through the oiliness and richness of the soft, warm freshly steamed rice cake and complemented the pickled radish topping. Just what we needed to lighten the gelatinous stickiness with a whole lot of flavor.
This is a refreshing, lush and verdant dram that evokes my memory of visiting an orange orchard when in season.
Tanglin Singapore Gin, 42% ABV
Available in our Bottle Shop
3. Black Powder Gin, 58% ABV
Notable Botanicals: Bruised Juniper Berries, Coriander Seeds, Amchoor, Vanilla Planifolia, Java Pepper, Fresh Lemons
The final bottle of their core range is the Black Powder Gin that is based on the Orchid Gin’s recipe but bottled at “navy strength”. Why the association with the Navy? The story goes that in the 18th century, gin was rationed to sailors on board British Royal Navy ships at very high strength. This was because gin was kept below deck near gunpower (or black powder), and there was a concern that spills would spoil the gunpowder. However, high-proof gin is flammable by itself. If a gin was bottled at 57% ABV and above, the gunpower would still be ignitable even after a gin spill.
To balance out its intensity, some tweaks were made to the original recipe. Half of the junipers are bruised, to unlock more notes of pine and sweetness. Whole fresh lemons are also added to increase the citrus notes.
Perhaps I’m an alcoholic but this bottle is my favourite of the lot.
On the nose: this one has a much more potent, heady aroma than the previous gins, but not to the extent of pricking your nose. There are more distinctive notes and complexity here. Opens with a similar aromatic scent of juniper, but quickly joined by herbaceous notes of rosemary and liquorice.
On the palate: full-flavoured with great mouthfeel. This bursts open with sweet, fruity notes of lychee and lemon hard candy complimented by distinct notes of lemon grass and pepper mint. A mild vanilla note develops in the mid palate, before ending in a short and dry finish. Very well-balanced between the notes of fruit and herbs while the thick texture continues to impress.
Our local Singaporean food pairing: Curry Chicken Cutlet Rice and Fried Carrot Cake
The biggest Oomph of the trio - we thought it best paired with something that was just as fiery! What better than some Fried Carrot Cake with that incredibly fragrant wok hey char and Curry Chicken Cutlet Rice that brought out the robust big flavors from the Black Powder Gin.
The herbaceous lemongrass and peppermint notes gave a more rounded edge to the Fried Carrot Cake (in particular the chopped spring onion topping!) and brought out a more crisp side of the local favorite.
The sweeter, fruitier notes and vanillic touch did wonders to enliven the Curry Chicken Cutlet Rice that reminded me of an old school recipe where duck and lychees were used to make a sweet and rich curry! It's sweetness gave a more perfumed and fruity side to the curry that almost makes you forget the thickness of the dressing and brought brighter notes to the chicken cutlet.
This is heady and potent (when drunk neat), but still demonstrates great smoothness, balance and complexity. A Mt Krakatoa eruption for anyone who hasn’t yet tried good craft gin.
Tanglin Black Powder Gin, 58% ABV
Available in our Bottle Shop
Respected French chefs often say that you can judge a cook’s prowess by asking them to cook an omelette. A perfect (or should I say an eggcellent) egg dish represents many, many little things done right, which could be harder to achieve than a flashy, ostentatious dish.
Want to get a little bit of everything? Try the variety pack.
For me, these 3 core bottlings from Tanglin Gin are an example of a mastery of the little things. They blend a wide range of local Southeast Asian botanicals and have captured these disparate influences in a harmonious, balanced and well-integrated way. I’m also fond of the slightly thicker texture. They stand on their own in terms of quality and nothing too fancy is sought. No reliance on a one-dimensional novelty (I can imagine some Singaporean distillers making a novelty Durian-beancurd Gin or something).
All 3 bottles have been sampled neat. And while we often pair gin with tonic water, these bottles remind us that there are some very good gins around that do not even require a mixer.
The bottles are now available on our store. Check them out!
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