Joe Milner

Joe Milner

It’s a good time to be drinking (and selling) gin. After years of market domination by vodka and whisk(e)y, there’s been a surprising ginaissance in the UK and even our own part of the world. “I think gin has only really picked up [in Asia] in the last two or three years. Five years ago you would see three or four gins on the back bar, and now you would see up to 10 gins on the back bar,” says Joe Milner, Business Development Consultant at Quintessential Brands. “I think the gin craze, especially in Asia, will last for at least the next 10 years.”

And he’s not wrong: KL already has a couple of gin-centric bars (Pahit and MAZE) that have sprung up over the last year to ride this wave; Singapore’s famed Atlas Bar has a staggering collection of over 1000 bottles; and this year will mark the fifth annual edition of the Gin Jubilee festival celebrated across Asia. In fact in 2016, 56 gin brands were launched in the UK, rising to meet the demand of a thirsty market.

Enter Opihr Gin: a London Dry Gin distilled with Oriental spices (like cubeb berries from Indonesia, black pepper from India, and coriander from Morocco) found along the ancient Spice Route that stretched from Southern Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and ending up in London. Distributed by Quintessential Brands, Opihr has only been available in Asia for about a year, but has been in production for four years already – and over the last few months has made its way behind the stick in many KL bars.

Its spice-forward composition makes it unique among others in the market – Milner describes the nose like biryani, “like I’m walking into a Malaysian curry house” – and has already become a fast favourite among local bartenders and consumers. You’ve probably seen pictures on social media of a cocktail served in a takeaway container, that’s usually an Opihr G&T. “The whole concept about Opihr gin is that it sources its botanicals from Asia, in particular India and Indonesia. And the fact that it’s so spicy and so associated with South East Asian food and culture, I believe that Asia will be one of the biggest markets for Opihr…I think it will have a powerful emotional connection to Asian consumers and bartenders,” says Milner.

One thing he wants to strongly promote are food pairing dinners with the gin so customers can experience new dimensions in the spice notes (having worked in the wine business for four years, Milner’s had extensive experience in the conventional food and wine pairing scene). “I did two gin-paring dinners in Hong Kong [with Opihr] – one in a two-star Michelin restaurant, and one was pan-Indian (Sri Lankan-Indian-Nepalese food) – and both were just outstanding.” There is exciting potential for serving Opihr alongside Malaysian cuisine, which is an inspired change of pace from typical whisk(e)y, cognac, and wine pairing dinners.

Malaysia is set to make its mark with Opihr Gin as the Asian competitor being sent to the fourth edition of the Opihr Gin Global Finals in Marrakesh, Morocco. In the country and regional finals, Milner rightly predicted that it would be a race between Hong Kong and Malaysia, with our own Giri Pancha emerging victorious. Last year’s global winner was from Hong Kong, and with any luck Malaysia may well take home the trophy thanks to our inherent understanding of spices and aromatics. With gin now having its time in the sun, it’s probably safe to say Opihr is definitely in the right place at the right time.


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