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How these regional brews and spirits make good use of Asian spices

Stranger & Sons Gin India

Above: A Gimlet made using Stranger & Sons Gin from Goa, India

Like in food, spices bring vibrancy and variety to alcoholic beverages too. Surfacing in unexpected ways on the palate and nose, find everything from cumin to tamarind, cloves to cardamom enriching these spirited drinks.  

Compendium Straits Vodka

Paying tribute to Singapore’s Straits Settlement heritage is this one-of-a-kind vodka by local distillery Compendium. Its founder and head distiller Simon Zhao was inspired by the abundance of spices found in the region, and wondered why they were never put to good use by alcohol producers here.

Thus, Southeast Asian spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon feature prominently in the Straits Vodka, turning the often-neutral spirit into an aromatic distillate best enjoyed neat over ice, or in a spirit-forward cocktail like a Martini. Or go the other direction and make a White Russian instead. The spices work just as well alongside the heavy cream and coffee flavours.  

The uniqueness of this vodka isn’t just in the spices used. Unlike most vodkas that use grains or potato as a base starch to ferment and then distill, Compendium uses wildflower honey instead, giving it a smoother, rounder mouthfeel. This also allows the spice aromatics to surface better while reducing the harshness present in most other grain-based vodkas.

While you’re at it, give their new Spiced Rum a try too. The distillery collaborated with local spice maker Hong Spices to produce the Oloroso sherry cask-aged dark rum that’s packed with Kampot pepper spice and comforting, deep caramel tones.

GudSht Red Sangrila Utama

A name that harks back to the founding father of Singapore and a red wine-based concoction doesn’t really add up conceptually, until you realise that there is also a white wine version of this cheekily-named bottled cocktail.

So wave Singapore’s red and white flag high as you sip on this spiced up drink that’s based on a classic red sangria, but given a big oomph of flavour thanks to generous use of spirits and syrup. Leave it to the crazy folks at GudSht – a gastrobar and online bottled cocktail retailer – to dream up such a recipe.

In each bottled tipple is a mix of cabernet sauvignon, cognac, Grand Marnier liqueur, homemade cinnamon syrup, and an infusion of an array of citrus fruits. Serve it like you would a red wine sangria. Pack a glass with citrus slices, then pour a serving of Red Sangrila Utama from the bottle into the glass. All that’s left to do after is to swirl, sniff and sip. 

Lion City Meadery Spiced Mead

Find honey, cloves, and everything nice in this flagship mead produced by Singapore’s Lion City Meadery. Like all meads, it’s made from honey, but not just any honey. The brave boys behind this local label have chosen to use a quality, custom-blended eucalyptus honey as the base ferment, giving the drink that much more nuance. 

The spices used – cinnamon, cloves and star anise – aren’t just dumped into the fermenter, but first roasted whole to bring out their flavours even more. It is also brewed and produced in such a way that craft beer drinkers will enjoy, offering complexity and drinkability in equal measure.  

Don’t be surprised to find the Spiced Mead tasting a lot like masala chai either, especially in the long finish. After all, the brewer was inspired by the spiced tea drink he enjoys so much drinking growing up.

Niang Brewery Co Warming Spirit

Singapore brewer Mark Chen of Niang Brewery Co doesn’t just produce beers, but chooses to foremost tell a story with his creations. Rather than deciding what style of beer to brew, he first figures out what style best suits the tale he is weaving. This is done through trial and error with small batches of homebrew.

What results is a narrative-driven craft label packing as much plot as there are flavours. And there are plenty of flavours to be experienced in Warming Spirit, a farmhouse style Saison Ale with a champagne-like dry crisp and long finish of banana and white grapes, coupled with aromatic hints of black pepper, ginger, coriander seeds and bitter orange peel.

The beer is inspired by the wide variety of cuisine found in Singapore. Many different spices are native to Singapore and this part of the world, and Chen wanted a beer that could be an homage to that diversity of flavour. He settled upon the Saison as the style is traditionally spiced as well. It is recommended to enjoy the Warming Spirit while feasting on curry fish head or a burnt cheesecake. 

Stranger & Sons Gin

No stranger to gin lovers in Singapore, Stranger & Sons from Third Eye Distillery in Goa, India is a sublime showcase of South Asian spices in a bottle. Looking at its long list of spices and botanicals used in the making of the gin alone is impressive – Indian black pepper, nutmeg, mace, coriander seed, angelica, liquorice, cassia and four kinds of citrus peels – but it’s also the fact that the spices are sourced fresh from within India that makes them more pronounced and impactful.

Ingredients are gotten fresh from the spice market or grown themselves (with the exception of juniper being the only one that’s outsourced), and often used whole to maximise flavour and be more sustainable. Even the water used to distill is recycled on-site, reducing wastage of water by several magnitudes.  

Thanks to the use of Indian bergamot and Gondhoraj lemon peels, the gin has a powerful citrus aroma. Opening a bottle of Stranger & Sons Gin for the first time often fills the air with a much-welcomed Kaffir lime-like perfume. Try it in a G&T using a light tonic and allow the gin to shine. Or feel free to make a classic Negroni as well. The gin is potent enough to surface and add complexity to the bitter cocktail.

[Read more: I had an early taste of Singapore’s first whisky, and here’s why I think it’s a game changer]

Dannon Har

About the Author
Dannon Har is the Managing Editor of Spill. Discovering his innate gift for drinking only at a ripe age, he spares no time trying to find more delicious drops to imbibe during his time on Earth. When he’s not minding every detail at Spill, he spends his time concocting luscious libations and sharing them with folks that visit his home bar.