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.
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: