Soon after expats SIMIN KAYHAN AMES (Turkish-American) and RICK AMES (American) started dating, they were spending their “couple time” brewing different types of beer. Fast forward more than a decade, and the parents of three–who have been in Singapore for four years – have created a unique craft distilling business. Paper Lantern Distilling, which made headlines last year for being Asia’s largest crowdfunder, reeled in over $15,000 in just 30 hours. We chatted with the dynamic pair about their success so far.
Tell us the story of how you founded Paper Lantern Distilling.
We had sampled some home brew at a party one night, and pretty soon we had a 60-litre stainless steel pot on our stovetop and a two-tap kegerator in our living room! It’s the kind of hobby you can really lose yourself in, and we did just that. To get fresh hops, we started growing them on our porch. We then moved from beer to fruit wine and mead. As you move up the alcohol by volume (ABV) ladder, the next level can only be achieved by distilling, so that was where we knew we wanted to go.
You managed to raise more than twice what you had initially targeted in your crowdfunding campaign. Did you expect such a response?
We had hoped our story would resonate with people, and that was certainly true from the feedback we received. The market for spirits, gin especially, has no lack of choice, but the fact that we were doing something to showcase the Asian flavours of the region gave us a special edge that folks were supportive of and interested in.
How would you describe Paper Lantern Sichuan Pepper Gin?
Distilled in Chiang Mai, Thailand, this delicious, Thai rice-based gin is made from eight botanicals including ginger, lemongrass and galangal. We continue to distil in a pot still, so the gin maintains some of the character of the Thai rice that makes up the base spirit. It’s soft and delicate on the palate, but there are also flavours upon flavours layered into each sip. The taste is fresh; a bit peppery from the galangal, but sweet with a touch of citrus from the lemongrass. It has an aromatic tease of ginger, and a bold greeting from the Sichuan peppercorns. It works perfectly well as a sipping gin, but also adds another dimension to your favourite gin cocktails.
Why did you decide to produce the gin in Chiang Mai?
One reason was the availability of ingredients right outside the distillery door. Our rice is sourced from local farmers, so this really is a regional spirit. Our Makhwaen seed pods (a close cousin of the Sichuan pepper used in Northern Thai dishes) come from the nearby Lana hills in Mae Rim. With the abundance of fresh produce and spices from the amazing markets of Chiang Mai, we couldn’t have asked for a better location to create an Asian-inspired gin.
Why Sichuan pepper?
If you can get your hands on some Sichuan peppercorns, take a few and roll them back and forth between your palms. Crush them between your fingers, then spend some time with the aroma. So many levels of flavour come out of these tiny red peppers – from soft notes of lavender to earthy notes of clove and smoke. The Sichuan pepper works well in many beautifully prepared dishes; we just knew it would translate perfectly into a spirit.
What’s next for Paper Lantern Distilling? Will we be seeing additional flavours?
Short answer, yes! For now, we’re focused on getting our gin out there and showing people that it is so much more than just the alcoholic portion of a gin and tonic. A lot of people say they’d never thought of drinking gin without a mixer; but gin is a complex and beautiful spirit, not just the base for many amazing cocktails, but also worthy of being enjoyed neat or poured over ice.
Any word of advice to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Businesses are simply collections of people and ideas; so, there’s nothing more important than your network. It’s also essential that you not only take an honest look at your strengths and what you do well, but also at where you struggle. Finally, you need a support network, be it a group of like-minded entrepreneurs, a supportive family or a group of friends, to keep you positive as you face the uphill climb. Oh, you’ll also have to find twice the time and thrice the money you think you’ll need!
Psst… While Sichuan pepper is notorious for its tongue-tingling, numbing qualities, you won’t get that feeling from Paper Lantern gin. The alcohol evaporates into the still, bringing with it the flavours and aromas of Asian botanicals, but leaving behind the numbing agents so you get to enjoy the pepper’s distinct taste without the burn.
BY: ANTHIA CHNG
Paper Lantern Sichuan Pepper Gin can be found in cafés and bars island-wide, including Oxwell & Co., Native, Slake, as well as all PS. Café and Chopsuey Café outlets. Find out more or order a bottle online at drinkpaperlantern.com.
See what else is out there for when you’re feeling thirsty in Singapore.
This article first appeared in the March 2017 edition of Expat Living Singapore. Subscribe now!