Thursday, August 9, 2018

Malaysian Flavors for Gin

My No. 1 cocktail is gin and tonic (right). My all-time favorite.

And so, when I saw this article in the page in The Star on Monday, I was excited. 

It seems that Malaysia is finally getting its very own gin, made with uniquely Malaysian botanicals. 

Eiling Lim, best known as Malaysia’s first independent bottler of whiskies, is working on a range of gins that incorporate the uniquely Malaysian flavors of pandan (screwpine), jackfruit and galangal. 

She explained why she chose these three: 

“When I was young, we used to have a pandan plant in our garden. Whenever we needed pandan leaves (left) to make a dessert, I would just go to the garden and get some. It is so common in Malaysia, but so foreign in other parts of the world. It emits a very nice aroma which acts as a natural air freshener and I thought it would be nice to experiment with it in the gin”, said Lim.

“I found that jackfruit (right) is also another favorite ingredient as it has a very pungent sweet aroma and it tastes like a ripe pineapple. I have seen bartenders infusing gin with pieces of jackfruit and I decided that should be one of the botanicals in my gin”.

As for galangal (left), Lim says she chose it because it has a unique, sharp, citrusy and almost piney flavour that is close to ginger, but not quite ginger. 

Besides the three main flavours, the gin also uses 17 other botanicals, including juniper, of course, cardamom, coriander, orris root, cinchona, black pepper, and ironheart. 

The flavors may be Malaysian, but the gin itself is made in Belgium’s Flanders region – the birthplace of jenever, the forefather of gin.

Also the fact that Lim is presently residing in Belgium.

Anyway, it is produced at De Cort Distillery, run by a distiller named Manu De Cort, who supposedly makes 30,000 bottles a year.

Eiling Lim (L) and distiller Manu De Cort (R), who produces the gin in Belgium. Photo: Eiling Lim

I did a little bit of research and read that gin starts off as a neutral spirit – before it is flavored. 

You can either add flavors to the distilled spirit and bottle it, or you can infuse botanicals into the spirit by distilling them together – I think the second method is better from the little knowledge I gathered. 

I’m guessing that it makes for a wholesome gin – but what do I know? I’m not an expert. 

Since De Cort prefers to work with fresh ingredients, and those used in Lim’s gins are not available in Belgium – she had to fly them in from this part of the world. 

I read that no extracts are added to the gin – and all the ingredients are steeped for 36 hours and distilled in a Holstein still to create a more “rounded” spirit. 

And to make her spirits “come alive” on shelves when they are put on sale sometime this year itself – she had the bottle labels to feature original monster characters designed by Tintoy Chuo, a creative designer who is also the co-founder of Fusion Wayang Kulit, best known for their wayang kulit renditions of Star Wars and other pop culture characters. 

Tintoy came up with a monstrous character for Pandan, Nangka and Galangal – all drawn from scratch and inspired by the looks of the leaf, root and fruit.

The gin labels feature unique monster characters that are based on the ingredients of the gin. Photo: Eiling Lim

For more information, e-mail or visit the Wholly Spirits Facebook page.

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