Interview with Paper Lantern Gin

This month, we sat down with Simin Kayhan Ames, Managing Director of Paper Lantern Gin, to talk about their product: Sichuan Pepper Gin.

This month, we sat down with Simin Kayhan Ames, Managing Director of Paper Lantern Gin, to talk about their product: Sichuan Pepper Gin.

PS: Who’s behind Paper Lantern Gin and what’s the story behind the product?

S: Paper Lantern distilling is a company founded by myself and my husband, Rick. I’m the Managing Director, whilst Rick handles the Sales and Marketing. I left my corporate job and focus exclusively on Paper Lantern since 2015 and we launched our first product, Sichuan Pepper Gin, last year in 2016.

As a couple, we’re always interested in how things were made in drinks so we always knew this is something we wanted to do. Ever since we lived in the US around 2002, Rick took courses in distillery so we’ve experimented with home-brewed beers. We had a balcony so we grew plants and had beehives in our porch which we harvested honey to make honey liquor.

When we moved to the Middle East, it was something we couldn't really do there, so we spent time putting together a business plan. 

In 2012, we moved to Singapore and were really inspired by the tropical fruits and spices that were available at the local wet market. There are so many beautiful options in Asia from dragonfruits, lychee, passionfruit and what surprised us was that there weren't any Asian Gins in the market. So we thought it would be a great time to start. 

We raised money through an Australian crowdfunding campaign and shot the promotional video production ourselves. Through the platform, we hit our goal of $15,000 in 30hrs and doubled it by the end of the month. Launched in Singapore because this is where we live now and we find that Singapore is a great market for craft spirits. There’s so much enthusiasm and talent in Singapore in terms of the bar and spirits scene since 2012, so it’s a great launching platform for Paper Lantern.

PS: What makes Paper Lantern Gin unique from others out there in the market?

S: Even though it is a Singapore based company, it is produced in Chiang Mai, Thailand. We chose Thailand because of the readily available ingredients that we wanted to use in our gin. We use rice that is native to the region as a base, a lot of other companies would usually use neutral grain spirits. Our goal is to be as sustainable as possible, it makes a lot of sense to distill it in a place where ingredients are readily available. By purchasing a great amount of rice, juniper berries and Sichuan pepper straight from local farmers, it is our chance to give back to the community as a company. We know every ingredient in our gin; no flavourings, no colouring, no preservatives and those are important keys to making our product.

PS: Paper Lantern is dedicated to showcasing Asian ingredients. Have you had trouble incorporating any botanicals in particular? 

S: Sourcing Juniper berries in Asia is a great challenge at the moment. Also, Sichuan pepper is a bit of a tricky spice to work with but we are determined to make Paper Lantern using 100% locally sourced ingredients.

My husband is well informed on the technical side of distilling, using rice as a base is unique but it was a nice R&D process for us to experiment with all these ingredients together. From going to the market, picking ingredients to try, interviewing bartenders, distilling them in small batches and to personally deliver products around Singapore.

Retailing at selected PS.Cafe outlets *see below

Retailing at selected PS.Cafe outlets

*see below

Handwritten batch numbers

Handwritten batch numbers

Chopsuey Cafe: Fire Rooster Cocktail

Chopsuey Cafe: Fire Rooster Cocktail

PS: What’s your favourite way to enjoy the Sichuan Pepper Gin?

S: Neat, definitely or mix with tonic/ginger beer or soda water + squeeze of lime + honey. 

We also like to collaborate with the local bartending community; one of the recent ones is a special cocktail for Chinese New Year in collaboration with Chopsuey Cafe: Fire Rooster Cocktail. 

PS: What’s the best part about working with your spouse? How long did it take to find your rhythm as a team?

S: We’ve been together since 2002 so we went through different stages in our lives. When we lived in Dubai he was a stay-home dad while I was working and now in Singapore, he’s the one working while I stay at home; so finding the rhythm to work together is no longer an issue that we have to deal with. We are open to different possibilities and have a different dynamic in the household.

We have complementary skill sets to begin with. My husband is a much better public speaker than I am; he has a writing, sales and business operations background, took distilling courses back in the US, which means he has a lot of technical knowledge in this. He views things from a strategist's angle, so I bounced a lot of ideas with him. Whilst I have a finance background and it comes handy for day to day operations.  

PS: Biggest challenge?

S: You end up discussing and talking about the business all the time - this could be good and bad when the lines are blurred between business and home. You’d have arguments like normal couples do, but you still have to put that aside at some point and talk business to make it work.

PS: Do you have any advice on going into the business with a loved one?

S: I think there’s power in numbers - having more key people in the team would make a lot of difference. Networking is important, by getting to know the community and industry, meeting people so that people get to know you too. There are so many brands out there, you have to make your own mark. We think personal touches makes a lot of difference in products nowadays; for us, handwriting batch numbers individually on each bottle is just one of our ways. It’s a very supportive and collaborative community, so it's crucial to be nice and humble too while at it. [laughs]




*Paper Lantern Gin is retailing at the following locations:  

PS.Cafe Paragon / PS.Cafe Martin / PS.Cafe Petit Tiong Bahru

#PSMeetTheTeam : Naz (Senior Service Supervisor)

Designation Senior Service Supervisor

Year in PS 5-6 years

Hometown Singapore

How did you find PS.Cafe?

I’ve worked in F&B since I was 14. From fast food joints, Japanese restaurants to many years working in bars - naturally, I grew to be familiar with drinks and cocktails, but I really wanted to venture into food. When I saw a Service opening at PS.Cafe - Ann Siang Hill in the papers, I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to learn and grow in this exciting industry, what more in an upscale cafe like PS. Working outside of my comfort zone has always been my preferred option!

And look at you now! Almost 6 years in and 7 months pregnant!

[laughs] I enjoy working here so much that even though I'm now 1.5 months away from delivery, I still want to work! But really, I think working helps, especially during pregnancy when your hormones are unstable and negative thoughts tend to creep in once in awhile [laughs]. It's nice to have happy colleagues and guests around to talk to! Also, I like to stay active as much as I can. 

What’s been the most challenging part of working whilst being pregnant—and what’s helped you overcome that?

For the past few years, I was happy doing service at the three storey Ann Siang Hill outlet. However, due to my pregnancy, I was transferred to Martin 38 to do cashiering which the management thought would be a more suitable pace for me. That is really thoughtful of them. I'm also thankful to have such nice colleagues and understanding Cafe Manager that have been very supportive for the past few months. They definitely make it such a pleasant working environment to be in...they are my pillar of strength!

How do you make time for your family given your work schedule?

Something that not a lot of people know is that it is very rare to have 5 days work week in the F&B industry, but PS offers that and have been especially flexible during my pregnancy months. For example, management would thoughtfully select my off days so that I have enough time to rest or work shifts that I could arrange around my doctor appointments. Having my in-laws in the same house helps too [laughs] Luckily my husband works in the same industry as well so we both have a mutual understanding on how the industry works eg. long hours of work, physically tiring, etc. So far so good!

Have you ever thought of giving up (working whilst being very pregnant), and why?

Of course - As much as I enjoy being busy, I can't deny that I often get tired and I often feel that I want to help my colleagues serving but I couldn't contribute much. Also, this baby girl gets hungry all the time! But I can't imagine myself doing anything else, really.

Interior of Ann Siang Hill Outlet

Interior of Ann Siang Hill Outlet

Al Fresco Dining Area at Martin

Al Fresco Dining Area at Martin

Ugly Fried Chicken

Ugly Fried Chicken

Speaking of which, what is your current food craving? 

Ugly Fried Chicken at Martin 38 outlet. That chipotle dip? Hands down.

What do you do for “me time”?

Since this is my first pregnancy, I'm obsessed with reading anything pregnancy or baby-related. From books to online articles, you name it. Other than that, house chores like cleaning and organising feel more enjoyable now. I do think it is important to have me-time though, especially if you work in F&B industry where you are constantly working with people. Having space and also a partner that appreciates alone time too really helps.

Has having children influenced your work at all? Has it made you more empathetic to customers, for example?

It has definitely become a conversation starter between me and our guests. I often get friendly remarks and questions about my pregnancy, suggestions on places to get baby-related stuff or doctors to see and I even had customers share their experience on giving birth as well. I also became more patient working with customers with children because very soon, that'd be me! [laughs] I used to get a bit awkward working around children but ever since I got pregnant, it has become my way of building a relationship with our guests on a more personal level, which I think is the best way to connect.

Who's your role model?

My aunt has always been the woman that I aspire to become. Ever since she adopted my sister when she was young, she moved to Australia without a husband or a job. Working full time as a single parent in a foreign country just so that my sister would get the best education she could get is definitely an inspiration. To me, being a good parent is about being selfless, straightforward, loving and supportive, like my aunt.

Do you have any advice for women who are thinking of having children and who want to continue building their careers?

Find a job that you love that offers work-life balance. In today's age, it is great to see mums that still work during their pregnancy or having a family - it shows how strong you are. Just know how much you can contribute. Doesn't matter if it is 4 or 8 hours, but make sure to deliver your best within the time frame that you can. It will be difficult, finding the time to make sure everything goes as planned, but it's part of the process. I think the most important thing is to strike a balance. Once you do, you'll be fine. I mean, if others can do it, why can't you? Why can't I?

#PSMeetTheTeam : Dilun (Service Crew)

Designation Service Crew

Year in PS 1 year full time, 5-6 months part time

Hometown Singapore

How did you start working at Chopsuey Dempsey?

I was working in an animal welfare organization at the time when my soccer buddy, Simon (Café Manager) told me about an available part-time position at Chopsuey Dempsey. I went ahead and applied for the position thinking that it would be an interesting experience to work in a completely different industry. I had no experience in F&B as I have always been active in non-profit organizations previously. Being a part timer has allowed me to get a taste of what it is like being in this line – Few months in and I realised that I thoroughly enjoyed it, so I left my non-profit career to be part of the full time service crew.

Tell us more about your non-profit organizations' background!

Prior to working in non-profit organizations, I was actually doing sales and events related jobs. I hit that point in life where I wanted to give back to the society. Being in non-profit organizations allowed me to do just that – for example; my previous job in an animal welfare organization was definitely fulfilling. I mean, how could anyone say no to taking care of animals on a daily basis? [laughs] I have a miniature schnauzer with my girlfriend that I really care about as well. It ticked a lot of boxes in what I wanted in a job.

Trixie (5 years old, miniature schnauzer) with another litter of 5 kittens that Dilun and his girlfriend was fostering a few weeks ago. 

Trixie (5 years old, miniature schnauzer) with another litter of 5 kittens that Dilun and his girlfriend was fostering a few weeks ago. 


Was it difficult to adjust from a non-profit environment to F&B?

I would say actually both works quite similarly, whereby you would improve the lives of others. Take an example of working with pets in an animal welfare – when I was helping and taking care of my customers’ pets, I created some sort of special bond with them. Same goes to working in food and beverage industry, I have a chance to create a special relationship with guests through good service and good food on a daily basis. It is practically the most satisfying part of the job.

What’s your most memorable experience in Chopsuey Dempsey so far?

Recently we had new guests from London, UK, which first knew about Chopsuey Dempsey through their daughter’s wonderful dining experience. They came all the way in between their 6-hour flyover in Singapore from their travel back to London because their daughter can’t rave enough about it. How cool is that? Building a good relationship with people just like that through service and food.

Favorite spot at Chopsuey Dempsey?

Definitely the covered veranda – it is cozy, not too stuffy even in our weather yet still facing the greeneries! 

What are the perks of working in CS?

It’s inevitable that I start to pay more attention to my meal, ambiance, and service experience whenever I dine out. Recently I was promoted to join Wine Guru – it’s a wine appreciation program created by PS.Cafe for their service crew to understand wine and its food pairings as well as technical knowledge on each grape and varietal. During the last exercise, we tasted wine with different mixers like vodka to enhance their complexity. I’m glad for this sort of exercise at work because it trained me to not solely serve food, but more proactive and appreciate everything else that comes with it. 

How do you spend your off days? 

I am trying to practice work-life balance, so I’ve been taking a break every 3 months to go on vacation. My next destination will be Krabi, Thailand. Other than that, I would scuba dive or play soccer with Simon! [laughs] 

Any advice you would give to people just starting out their career in the service industry?

I personally think there aren't many ‘how to’s’ in this line because Service is different; you learn on the job. Which means you have to be open-minded and have a positive learning attitude throughout the whole journey. Ideally you should enjoy dealing with people too because communicating with customers would create a more personal experience and lasting impression. It is not just about taking in orders and clearing tables - know that the learning curve is steep. Coming from someone like me with no experience, really, there are only two options here: either you runaway from the overwhelming experience or learn your way through the opportunities given. Luckily the latter happened to be the one I took – so here I am 1.5 years later and still enjoying every bit of it.

Sunday Wine Down

Aah Spain.... Tempranillos with the bold power of a matador or the elegance of a flamenco dancer. Youthful, flirty perfumed white wines and Cava that captures Barcelona nightlife. Blushing Rosado that mirrors the sunset to oaky Grenache with a whiff of leather from Sitges. There'll be something for everyone at our latest installment of Sunday Wine Down.

Sunday Wine Down is our end-of-the-month friendly walkabout wine tasting with fantastic discounts on purchases of six or twelve bottles. Share in our passion for fine wine.

Event page here!