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Jamie Koh | Women of Power 2022

Jamie Koh

Founder of Chupitos and Brass Lion Distillery

Ten years ago, Jamie Koh noticed that Singapore lacked a locally made spirit, prompting her to open the country’s first full-fledged microdistillery specialising in producing high-quality small-batch craft gin. Brass Lion Distillery uses Southeast Asian botanicals to create distinctive spirits that reflect Singapore’s heritage as a cultural melting pot. In addition to the distillery, it also houses a tasting room, R&D lab, retail space and herb garden.

With no precedent to follow when she first started out, it was a challenging six-year journey that finally led to the birth of Brass Lion Distillery in 2018. Determined to first master the art and science of distilling, Jamie had written to over 500 distillers all over the world to convince them to accept her as an unpaid apprentice. Fewer than 1 per cent of the distillers responded, and when they did, it was to reject her.

Eventually, through personal contacts, she managed to secure apprenticeships with various distilleries in the US and Europe, allowing her to gain the necessary experience and know-how.

It was another battle to get the relevant licences and approvals for the distillery, as government agencies were not familiar with the concept, but Jamie worked closely with them and as a result, Brass Lion Distillery has undeniably paved the way for Singapore’s growing distillery industry.

It is not the first time she has shown grit in the face of adversity. In her early 20s, Jamie opened Chupitos. The shots bar was the first of its kind, and the largely middle-aged local male-dominated industry back then did not take her seriously. Some even told her that she should expect to close in six months.

“Everyone, from people in the industry to suppliers and even new hires, would try to change our concept in favour of what they knew best, which was the traditional way of doing things,” she recalls. “However, I never once wavered and instead, stuck to my gut instincts. This allowed us to have a differentiated offering in a very competitive market.”

Chupitos is 13 years old now, and for Jamie, the longevity of the concept in such a fickle industry is a real achievement and testament to her effort put towards building the brand.

Her next goal is to make Brass Lion Distillery a world-renowned brand. Plans for global expansion were put on hold during the Covid-19 pandemic but Jamie is excited to get back in gear now that borders are opening up. She is also focusing on sustainability initiatives: Brass Lion Distillery recently joined the ecoSPIRITS movement that nearly eliminates packaging waste in the premium spirits supply chain.

“We will probably be the most sustainable spirit available in Singapore,” Jamie says. “In addition to distilling locally and sourcing our botanicals within a 5km radius, we will now significantly reduce our glass and packaging waste. This lowers our carbon footprint and allows us to pass on the cost savings to our venue partners. We are proud to be able to do our small part for the environment. Local spirits delivered through low-waste and low-carbon technology is the ultimate in spirits sustainability.”

Jamie wears the Hublot Spirit of Big Bang Titanium Pavé 39mm

Photography: Bryan Foong/BF Studio; Art Direction: Audrey Chan; Hair: Jimmy Yap/Kimistry Hair Boutique; Makeup: Keith Bryant Lee, using Chanel Beauty