SPIRITED PURSUIT

JAMIE KOH

FOUNDER

BRASS LION PTE LTD

(Pulsar Category Winner 2019)

“Stop going for the easy buck and start producing something with your life. Create something of value instead of living off buying and selling of others”

As Singapore’s first standalone micro- distillery, Brass Lion is breaking new grounds in the local and regional F&B scene. Home to the Singapore Dry Gin, the distillery took six years from its initial conception to the time its copper still flowed for the first time.

Brass Lion Distillery is the brainchild of Jamie Koh, who first thought of setting it up in 2012 when she realised there wasn’t a craft spirit that Singapore could call its own. With already two F&B establishments to her name — Chupitos Shot Bar and The Beast are both popular local diners — Jamie embarked on a journey that would take her six years to complete, one that saw her tour and apprentice at numerous distilleries around the world.

Since its opening in 2018, Brass Lion has garnered acclaim for its craft spirits made from natural ingredients grown in its own herb garden or sourced from local traditional Chinese apothecaries and wet markets. But Jamie, who turns 34, is not resting on her laurels. Expansion is in the pipeline, with the goal of taking her spirits to the corners of the earth.

Why did you choose to enter this industry?

I was working in the US in consulting and was unfulfilled in my corporate job. I wanted an avenue to make a difference, and to create something that I could call my own. In 2009, I decided to take the plunge to pursue my passion in food and drinks, and moved back to Singapore to do so. I knew that I could liven up the industry because all the concepts that I wanted to create would be completely new to Singapore’s F&B landscape. At that same time, there was a competition that had just launched in Clarke Quay called the Ultimate Startup Space, where the best concept would win a space rent-free for 6 months and $20,000 seed money. One of the concepts I was considering was a shooters bar, which I knew would be perfect for the space. Chupitos was eventually crowned as the winner and that set me on my path as a serial entrepreneur. Subsequently, I opened The Beast, a restaurant focusing on Southern American comfort food and bourbons, which was inspired by my time spent attending university in Atlanta, Georgia. I had always felt that it was a pity that Singapore did not have local spirits to call its own, and in 2012, I enrolled myself in distilling school in Washington State. Over the next couple of years, I fully immersed myself in mastering the art and science of distillation, with the aim of starting a distillery in Singapore, highlighting botanicals native to this region of the world. Last year, Brass Lion Distillery opened its doors to the public, and also launched its flagship product, the Brass Lion Singapore Dry Gin.

Being the first of its kind in Singapore, Brass Lion Distillery is unique in many ways. Tell us more about that.

It’s the first standalone micro-distillery in Singapore. The reason it took so long to start was because there weren’t any local distilleries previously; we had breweries but not distilleries, and what we wanted to create was the whole experience. We wanted an experiential space, not just a manufacturing facility. We had to work closely with the government to get this concept pushed through.  Our space is a working distillery on the first floor, with a herb garden at the back. Upstairs, we have a workshop space and a tasting room where we serve cocktails and small bites. We conduct distillery tours, gin masterclasses and even a workshop where participants get to make their own gin.

We create small-batch spirits featuring botanicals from this region of the world. We have our flagship Singapore Dry gin, which is a truly tropical gin, perfect for our climate. There is also the Butterfly Pea gin which changes colour once citrus is added and we are launching the Pahit Pink gin, featuring our very own Singaporean bitters.

What is/are your key driving force(s) in becoming an entrepreneur?

I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur, I’ve always wanted to start my own business. I want to bring ideas to life. I worked in the corporate world before coming out to start my own businesses and I knew the corporate lifestyle wasn’t for me. I get a sense of satisfaction in bringing my ideas to fruition.

What motivates you?

We want to be known as the group that has innovative concepts and bring new items to the market. Right now we want to build Brass Lion and spread it globally, we are ramping up production, and eventually we want to build a strong brand presence throughout the rest of the world.

What were/are your biggest hurdles? How did/do you overcome them?

It is extremely challenging to find experienced and committed staff in the restaurant and bar industry in Singapore. With the tightening of labour laws on foreign employees, businesses have to rely heavily on the local workforce. The experienced managers I hired in the beginning were used to the traditional way of running F&B establishments and could not understand my concepts and how I wanted to disrupt the industry. Younger staff who were more receptive to new ideas usually do not view this industry as one in which they could build a career on. By ensuring a good culture and putting a career progression plan in place, I was able to build a young and enthusiastic team. I have always valued one’s attitude over work experience, and spent a significant amount of time on training and building up a strong core team. With Brass Lion Distillery , nothing like this had ever been done before in Singapore. 

I knew that I had to master the art and science of distilling before I would be able to open the distillery. I had to write to distillers all over the world, convincing them to take me on as an unpaid intern, in order for me to gain the necessary know-how. Less than 1% of the distillers responded, and when they did, it was to turn me down. Eventually, through personal contacts, I managed to secure internships with various distilleries in the US and Europe, allowing me to gain much needed experience. It was also extremely challenging getting the relevant licenses to open Brass Lion Distillery , because there was no precedent and the various government agencies were not familiar with the concept. We had to work very closely with them over the course of 2.5 years in order to receive the necessary approvals.

For us now, we’re trying to build the Brass Lion brand from scratch, so the question is how to get the word out and convince Singaporeans that they should go local, support local, and convince global markets to take our brand. It’s easier to stand out in Singapore because it is a small market, but overseas, it’s a question of how we hold our ground in the competitive global marketplace.

Outside of work, how do you spend your free time?

I enjoy checking out new restaurants and bars. It’s a job hazard but fortunately I enjoy it as well!

What in your opinion is the most critical success ingredient in building a sustainable enterprise?

Adaptability.You need to have a firm pulse on what is happening in the industry and be quick to adapt and react to market conditions. We are also building up a strong core team to ensure that we have experienced personnel to handle future opportunities and challenges.

Join us to empower women and share your success stories.
Call for nomination for 2020 edition opens October 2019.

AWARD JUDGE

BG (NS) Chan Wing Kai

Director

Seed Global Investment

BG (NS) Chan Wing Kai spent 29 years in the Singapore Armed Forces as a military officer. He rose up to the Army’s top leadership and held numerous key appointments.

The years in the Armed Forces provided him a strong foundation in leadership, human capital management, operational planning, training development and critical diplomatic skills.

He retired from active military service in 2016 and is currently a Director with SEED Global Investment, a real estate investment firm. He oversees the company’s portfolio and business development in the US and UK. He holds a MSc in Applied Finance from the Singapore Management University, and is no stranger to corporate finance, portfolio management, equities, bonds and derivatives.

AWARD JUDGE

TIN PEI LING

Member of Parliament
CEO

Business China

Ms Tin Pei Ling is the Chief Executive Officer of Business China, a non-profit organisation that harnesses the support of the public sector & private enterprises to strengthen the ties between Singapore and China. Prior to joining Business China, Pei Ling was the Group Director of Corporate Strategy for Jing King Group.

Pei Ling is an elected Member of Parliament in Singapore since 2011 and currently serves on the Public Accounts Committee. She also serves on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Communications & Information (from 2018, Dy Chairperson) and Health (2011 – present) and previously for Law/Home Affairs (2011-2015) and Social & Family Development (2015 – 2018, Dy Chairperson).

AWARD JUDGE

RYAN CHIOH

Managing Director

Faseastflora.com

Mr Ryan Chioh joined FEF.com in 1998 as Executive Director of Far East Flora Holdings Pte Ltd.

Always a firm advocator for technology, Ryan identified the direction for e-commerce development and saw a business opportunity to offer FEF.com’s extensive range of flowers and gifts online in 2001. Ryan blended his IT savviness and prudent business sense to steer the company’s website to become the leading portal for flowers and gifts. Ryan also brought the company to another level by spearheading the development of a CRM and ERP business solution, integrating the front-end and back-end operations so that there would be easier identification of customer base.

AWARD JUDGE

NEO SING HWEE

Head, Operations System & Control

MAPLETREE INVESTMENTS

Sing Hwee is the Head, Operations System & Control of Mapletree Investments Pte Ltd. He is responsible for the business processes and control functions, information systems and technology as well as Internal Audit and Risk Management.  He also takes ownership of the Group’s Delegation of Authority and Procurement Policy. 

Sing Hwee has more than 20 years of experience in providing risk management, performance improvement, internal controls and business advisory services to clients in various industries, including the real estate sector.  Being a thought leader and a recognised expert in this field, he used to sit in the Ernst & Young (EY) ASEAN Partner Governance Council and led the Advisory (Risk) Internal Audit Practice in Asia Pacific, ASEAN and Singapore covering 17 countries, 30 partners and 700 professionals.  Before joining EY, he had spent many years in risk consulting with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and Andersen.

AWARD JUDGE

DR LIM WEE KIAK, PBM

Member of Parliament
CEO

Eagle Eye Centre

Dr Lim Wee Kiak, is an elected Member of Parliament for Sembawang GRC since 2015 and serves as chairman of Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Ministry of Community, Culture and Youth. An Ophthalmologist, Dr Lim is currently the Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of Eagle Eye Centre.

Dr Lim joined the Singapore Armed Forces as a medical officer in 1994 and completed subspecialty training in Ophthalmology in 1998, with a Master’s degree in Medicine and two post-graduate specialist qualifications in Ophthalmology. During his service in SAF, he led numerous humanitarian missions to neighbouring countries. He joined Singapore National Eye Centre and was awarded the MOH HMDP fellowship in 2003, doing one year of clinical and research Fellowship at the National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health.

Dr Lim had been an active grassroots leader since 1998 before joining politics in 2006. For his active community involvement, he was awarded the Young Executive of the Year in 2000 and Public Service Medal (PBM) in 2003.

AWARD JUDGE

Chew Mok Lee

Assistant Chief Executive
ICM & Digitalisation
Enterprise Services & New Industries

Enterprise Singapore

Ms Chew Mok Lee is the Assistant Chief Executive in charge of ICM & Digitalisation, Enterprise Services & New Industries in Enterprise Singapore, a government agency spearheading enterprise and industry development, reporting to the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Singapore. Enterprise Singapore is also the national Standards body in Singapore.

Prior to Enterprise Singapore, Mok Lee was with National Productivity Board (NPB), PSB and SPRING Singapore. She graduated from National University of Singapore, majoring in Economics and Statistics. She has a double Masters and is well versed in the area of enterprise promotion, industry development and partnership building, having been involved in various aspects of capability development, support for local enterprises, enabling a viable enterprise eco-system and entrepreneurship for 29 years. She also served as Secretariat to the Action Community for Entrepreneurship and was responsible for working with the Minister in Charge of Entrepreneurship and private sector members to foster entrepreneurship and support start-ups in Singapore.

AWARD JUDGE

CHIA KIM HUAT

Regional Head
Corporate and Transactional Practice

Rajah & Tann Singapore

Mr Chia Kim Huat has extensive experience in capital market, public and private mergers and acquisitions, cross-border joint ventures and private equity investments, both in Singapore and the region. He travels regularly in the Asia-Pacific region advising clients on a wide range of matters, including direct investments and infrastructure projects in China, major acquisitions in Korea, joint ventures in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan and cross-border mergers and acquisitions transactions. Kim Huat also advises foreign investors on their investments in Singapore, including listings on the Singapore Exchange, privatisations, secondary and dual listings.

He has been recognised as a leading lawyer in his field by International Financial Law Review 1000, Chambers Global “Leaders in their Field”, Asia Pacific Legal 500, “Eminent Practitioner” in Chambers Asia Pacific, Who’s Who Legal: Corporate – Merger & Acquisition/Capital Markets – Debt and Equity and Merger & Acquisition, ‘Leading Lawyer’ in Asialaw Profiles and Best Lawyers, 2017 Edition.

AWARD JUDGE

TAN WEE BENG

Deputy Chief Executive (Operations)
SkillsFuture Singapore

Wee Beng is the Deputy Chief Executive (Operations) of SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG). He leads the Business Technology Group (Operations Planning Division, Capability Development Division, Operations & Support Division, Security & Infrastructure Division), the Training, Manpower & Infrastructure Group (Manpower & Infrastructure Planning Division, Office of Lifelong Learning, and Institute of Adult Learning which comprises Learning and Professional Development Division, Research and Innovation Division, Learning Services and Support Division ) as well as the Business Services Group (Shared Services Management, Integrated Business Services Division &, Corporate Services Division).

Prior to joining SSG, Wee Beng was an officer with the Singapore Armed Forces, leading both large and small teams. His last appointment was Chief-of-Staff, Republic of Singapore Navy, overseeing a range of staff departments and ground commands. Other key appointments held were Head Naval Operations, Commander of Maritime Security Task Force and Commander, Naval Diving Unit. Wee Beng holds a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts in Physics from Oxford University, UK, and a Master of Science in Management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA.