Every year, The Singapore Women’s Weekly gives prominence to 18 distinguished and powerful women who are successful in their own right as part of the Great Women Of Our Time awards. Meet Jamie Koh, Great Women Of Our Time 2020 Finance & Commerce Nominee, and founder of Brass Lion Distillery.
WATCH OUR VIDEO TOO:
Meet Jamie Koh – Great Women Of Our Time 2020 Finance & Commerce Nominee
Travel has always been the catalyst for Jamie Koh’s ventures. Chupitos was her first venture into the food and beverage industry. Right after she came back from her years in Atlanta, Georgia, she pitched the idea for a shots bar and won the competition. Later on, she opened The Beast Southern Kitchen and Bourbon Bar, with a menu of Southern food and American whiskeys that pay homage to her years in the south.
Years later, she took a solo trip to South America. She booked a one-way ticket to South America and traveled around different countries, and this was the trip where she first had the idea of opening a distillery in Singapore.
“Going to all the different countries and seeing that all these countries had their own unique spirit they could call their own was eye-opening. Like in Bolivia they had liqueur made with coca leaves, and then in Iceland they had beers made from their local berries. And I thought to myself, how come each of these countries had something that is so uniquely theirs, that highlights their native produce and we don’t have one in Singapore? So that was the trip that sparked the whole idea.”
Though the concept was instantaneous, Brass Lion Distillery was six years in the making. “I knew that I really wanted to go and learn how to distill. What happened was that I first went and enrolled myself in a distilling course. With the course it was great, but you only learn all the theoretical aspects of distilling, you don’t really get much hands-on experience. Of course, to distill properly you really need to get down and dirty and get your hands wet, right?”
“So I wrote to distilleries all around the world, telling them that I wanted to work for them for free. Of course, no one said yes, but then I decided to just fly there and speak to people. I managed to get a little stint in Charleston, then after that, I flew down to the Black Forest Distillery in Germany.” It was the ambitious and can-do disposition that led Jamie to knock on doors and offer to work for free to learn from the community of distillers.
“Through the years we went back every year to hone our craft and of course to develop the recipe once we felt that we were ready. Developing the recipes took about three years. And if you can believe it, that was all the easy part.” The lengthy process to get the logistics of having a tasting room stretched the time out for three more years. But determination and perseverance won over and she went on to start Singapore’s first micro-distillery producing homegrown gin.
Despite the six-year journey, Jamie still felt like another hurdle in the way was in getting people to understand the brand. “Globally there are a lot of very well-known gin brands as well. So it became about sharing with people why they should support local, why they should drink local and really having that space there to educate people about the level of craft and care that goes into making our gin.”
Even with the restrictions of the pandemic and the Circuit Breaker that widely affected businesses in the food and beverage industry, Brass Lion adapted to the times and started virtual cocktail classes. “With Covid, we knew that things were going to get bad but right before Circuit Breaker, we were already planning three steps ahead. We planned for the worst and that really helped.”
“I would say I’m a person who really thrives on change. As cliche as it sounds, I believe is the only constant in life, the only thing that is constant is that things are always changing. I would say that I’m a person that really thrives on change and I think that is why I became an entrepreneur as well because I can’t sit still. With Chupitos, The Beast, and Brass Lion, it all comes down to a love for what we do. It is all about sharing our products and our joy of creating all this, and the joy of creation with other people as well. I think food and drink is a very communal experience. It is all about hospitality. But it also has the ability to excite and delight.”
The Great Women Of Our Time Awards 2020 is brought to you by the presenter, Lancôme.