South-east Asian flavours are exceptional – that’s the message that Simon Zhao wants to bring to the world.
Zhao is the founder and master craftsman of Compendium Spirits. Sourcing mostly regional ingredients, the local distillery is focused on crafting alcohol with familiar tastes. As makers of the unique Rojak Gin and Chendol Gin, they are known for their experimental style.
Their new venture – Chartered by Compendium Spirits – is touted to be the world’s first bespoke barrel-ageing programme where clients age their own spirit from scratch. Existing barrel-ageing services typically involve clients choosing pre-filled casks from distilleries and producers, but Chartered provides an individually tailored service throughout the process.
Last December, Compendium launched Singapore’s first single-grain whiskey. Made from Thai Hom Mali rice, it is one of the bases offered by Chartered, and chosen for its fragrance. Perfecting the process of malting the rice was arduous and took approximately three years.
Four base spirits are available in the Chartered programme – an arrack made of gula melaka (palm sugar) sourced from Indonesia, rum made from Malaysian sugarcane molasses, the rice whiskey made from Thai jasmine rice and a Thai wild honey spirit.
Next, the size of the barrel is chosen. There are four sizes on hand – 4 litres, 8 litres, 16 litres and 32 litres – with ageing times of three, six, nine and and 12 months respectively. The barrels are handcrafted from high-quality virgin American oak, chosen specifically to bring out the spirits’ flavours.
The ageing periods seem formulaic, but are actually the result of Zhao’s experimentation over several years. The smaller barrels require a shorter ageing period given that a larger amount of liquid is in contact with the interior of the barrels. Aside from the surface-to-liquid ratios, Singapore’s tropical climate allows for shorter ageing processes.
Each barrel produced will have a distinct taste, due to the ingredients used. For example, with different bee pollination patterns across seasons, the honey spirit’s flavours will evolve.
If you aren’t a connoisseur, fear not – get input from the experts at Compendium themselves. Once the spirit has been aged, clients enjoy tasting sessions at the distillery and can adjust the ageing process based on individual tastes.
For casual drinkers, the arrack is a good starting point for a barrel-ageing project. Its intensely sweet fragrance belies its nuanced flavour.
On the other end, the whiskey is slightly reminiscent of shochu given the use of rice. Here, amylase is added to the rice grains prior to fermentation and distillation. It is bold and deep – perfect for more acquired tastes.
Zhao opened Singapore’s first meadery, Rachelle The Rabbit Meadery, in 2015. After moving from Tuas to Mandai Foodlink in 2018, the company was renamed Compendium Spirits. The humble distillery has fermentation and distillation equipment on one floor, and a small tasting room on the second.
Instead of using existing neutral grain spirits, Compendium ferments their own alcohol bases at their Mandai distillery – using premium natural ingredients. They say having control over the process of fermentation, distillation and ageing helps in maintaining the quality and consistency of the alcohol they produce.
Create customised names and labels for your spirits, with an option to repeat the project with a new batch of alcohol.