At PrestigeOnline, we take pride in honouring people who are not afraid to take risks, especially women who shatter glass ceilings and stereotypes to leave a mark of their own. Jamie Koh, a notable name in the F&B industry, is one of them. With over 10 years of experience and two noteworthy bars — Chupitos Shots Bar and The Beast Southern Kitchen and Bourbon Bar — under her belt, Jamie is not content to rest on her laurels. Brass Lion Distillery, Singapore’s first micro-distillery producing homegrown gin, is her latest baby. Her aim? “To educate both international and local audiences on the art of creating handcrafted spirits, and to diversify the Singaporean market with locally-made spirits,” she says. More importantly, she also hopes to “elevate the city’s local drinking culture and further affirm Singapore’s thriving bar scene on the world map and build a global spirits brand.”
You have two businesses: The Beast Southern Kitchen + Bourbon Bar and Chupitos Shots Bar. What made you want to start another with Brass Lion Distillery?
Whenever I notice a demand or a sliver of opportunity to create something unique, I act on it. Through experience at my own bars, I noticed a demand for hand-crafted small batch spirits. I realised that there were no Singaporean spirits at that time (2012) and set out to create one. With Brass Lion Distillery, I want to create an undeniably great-tasting Singaporean gin perfect for our tropical weather, and with this distillery, we will continue to explore creating other spirits — the possibilities are endless.
Tell us about Brass Lion Distillery.
Brass Lion Distillery is Singapore’s first full-fledged micro-distillery specialising in producing high-quality small batch craft spirits. The brand debuts with the flagship Brass Lion Singapore Dry Gin — a tropical and distinctly Singaporean gin that evokes the island’s sense of place. Inspired by the flourishing spice trade that made Singapore a trading hub in the 19th century, Brass Lion Distillery uses familiar Southeast Asian botanicals to create distinctive spirit creations that reflect Singapore’s heritage as a cultural melting pot. In addition to being a distillery, it is also home to a tasting room, R&D lab, retail space and herb garden.
What obstacles did you have to overcome to get to where you are today, with all your ventures?
With Brass Lion Distillery, nothing like this had ever been done before in Singapore. I knew that I had to master the art and science of distilling before I would be able to open the distillery. I had to write to distillers all over the world, convincing them to take me on as an unpaid intern, in order for me to gain the necessary know-how. Less than 1 percent of the distillers responded, and when they did, it was to turn me down. Eventually, through personal contacts, I managed to secure internships with various distilleries in the US and Europe, allowing me to gain much needed experience.
It was also extremely challenging getting the relevant licenses to open Brass Lion Distillery, because there was no precedent and the various government agencies were not familiar with the concept. We had to work very closely with them over the course of two-and-a-half years in order to obtain the necessary approvals.
Did you always want to be an entrepreneur?
Yes I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur. I enjoy working on new concepts and bringing it to life.
What’s one leadership lesson you’ve learned in your career?
That the most important factor that contributes to a successful company is the people. This is why it is essential to invest in talent. It is extremely challenging to find experienced and committed staff in the restaurant and bar industry in Singapore. The experienced managers I hired in the beginning were used to the traditional way of running F&B establishments and could not understand my concepts and how I wanted to disrupt the industry. Younger staff who were more receptive to new ideas usually do not view this industry as one in which they could build a career on. By ensuring a good culture and putting a career progression plan in place, I was able to build a young and enthusiastic team. I have always valued one’s attitude over work experience, and spent a significant amount of time on training and building up a strong core team.
What’s the proudest moment in your career so far?
Brass Lion Distillery was conceptualised in 2012 when I realised that there were no spirits that Singapore could call her own. My dream was to create Singaporean spirits that featured botanicals native to this region. The biggest breakthrough for me was finally seeing our bottle as a finished product on the shelves in restaurants, bars and hotels all around Singapore. The journey there was a long one, from gaining the necessary know-how with trips all over the world, to developing the recipe, procuring the botanicals, bottles, labels, outfitting the space, and finally navigating the web of licenses required to open the space. It was not an easy journey and having an actual physical product that I can proudly say is made in Singapore is in itself an achievement.
What do you think is the secret to success and happiness?
Deciding on your own personal definition of success and happiness and building a concrete plan to achieve that. Living your life and not comparing it to others.
How do you achieve work-life balance?
By building a team of trusted people and giving them autonomy. Fortunately, I enjoy my work as well so it does not feel like I am working.
What advice do you have for the next generation of women entrepreneurs?
Be bold, dream big!
All outfits are from Karen Millen Spring/Summer 2019 collection and are available at ION Orchard and Paragon.
Photographer: Julian Ong
Stylist: Lena Kamarudin
Makeup: Chris Siow
Hair: Junz Loke
Fashion assistance: Kristal Sulaiman
Photography assistance: Joe Ong