2018 marked the arrival of Singapore-made gins. For the first time, the juniper spirit became commercially made and sold here, thanks to the likes of Brass Lion Distillery and Tanglin Gin.
Now, not just contending as a local gin, but also as the first locally-flavoured one, is the explicitly-named Rojak Gin. It’s made by the same guys behind Rachelle the Rabbit Meadery (who brought us Singapore’s first mead), now making full use of their newfound distillery in addition to their meadery.
It’s a labour of love by founder Simon “Moonshiner” Zhao and ambassador Vic “The Bootlegger” (who prefers not to share his last name just as a bootlegger should), who together took around nine months to R&D and got the flavours right. It’s all very clandestine, and the result is an amazing product that doesn’t need to rely on its novelty.
Wonder what it tastes like? On first sniff, you’ll be greeted with that familiar rojak punch, giving way to bright, fruity and layered botanicals as you sip on it. It’s also possibly one of the silkiest gins we’ve ever tried, thanks to them using fermented honey (they are a meadery too, afterall) to get the base distillate rather than using grains. It truly makes us wonder: if gin was invented in Singapore, this might easily have been one of the expressions.
With this Rojak Gin the first of several spirits to be released by them throughout the year, and with plans for them to take this local brand global, we find out from the duo how they managed to achieve this botanical marvel, why they chose rojak out of all the possible local flavours, and what other spirit can we expect to come out of their moonshinery.
The interview below has been edited for clarity.
Tell me about the process behind making the Rojak Gin.
Simon: We first ferment honey to get mead, then we distill the mead to get the honey spirit, before we infuse all the botanicals—juniper, lemon peel and torch ginger, just three ingredients. Then we distill it again to get our gin. We use a pot still and we focus a lot on the character of the mead and the botanicals we use.
Vic: Using a normal neutral grain spirit would have resulted in something more harsh. A honey-based spirit is more smooth, so there’s no need for too many ingredients. People add a lot of botanicals to cover up the harshness of grain spirits. For our Rojak Gin, we only need three ingredients, like the more complex torch ginger with a lot of flavours in it. They complement rather than cover up each other.
The design of the bottling is also really unique.
Vic: We’re going in the direction of how moonshine will look like, a continuation of our bootlegging [identity]. So we’re not just a gin company, but a distilling company. There will be a lot of other spirits coming along. So we’re positioned that way.
Simon: We’re trying to brand it differently from our meads. You notice the ‘C’ on the bottle here. As we release more products, we’ll reveal the name of the company letter by letter.
What cocktails do you think is suitable for this gin?
Vic: Negroni. Just Antica Formula, Campari, Rojak Gin and that’s it. I think it’s really good, very fragrant and good for those who don’t like that bitterness you get from your usual Negronis.
Simon: With some tonic it also opens up the flavours a bit.
I find it smooth enough to drink on its own. Do you encourage that?
Simon: Actually, it’s designed to be a sipping gin.
Vic: It’s a sipping gin but we know bartenders will mix it. In any case, it’s good just on the rocks. A drop of water will also open up more flavours and aromas.
Out of all the local flavours we have, why choose rojak first?
Simon: It’s because of the name too. It’s a mixture, rojak, which is representative of what Singapore is.
Which bars can people try the Rojak Gin now?
Vic: Native, Potato Head, El Tardeo, and for those who like Indian food, at Thevar. There are a few more hotels and bars but we’re still going though the paperwork.
What other products are coming out?
Simon: The next one will be a Chendol Gin. Instead of fermenting from honey, we’ll be fermenting from gula melaka. It’s our way of recreating this dessert from a molecular level. We take the gula melaka base spirit, then infuse it with juniper, pandan and coconut before distilling it again. There might be one more ingredient as we’re still experimenting. But we’re not buying any neutral spirit. Everything is fermented and distilled in-house.
And after Chendol?
Vic: We’re still discussing, but it might be an absinth. Not many are doing this because it’s very difficult to do. But we have a very good absinth, that I can tell you for sure. When I tasted it I knew we had to lock this down.
Will the absinth have a local flavour too?
Simon: Not a local flavour but with a local twist. I can’t say more for now.
You’re really low-key with promoting the Rojak Gin. Any upcoming marketing plans?
Vic: Mostly through word-of-mouth, just as a bootlegged spirit should be. But there will be a launch party, within the next month or two. We don’t just want a masterclass, we want there to be music, some food and then just let the party begin.
More info on the Rojak Gin here.