THE EDGE SINGAPORE - It would seem that good ideas always begin with a drink, or two, or more. For example, Aaron Sorkin was knocking it back while he wrote the screenplay for A Few Good Men on cocktail napkins at a bar. Creator of the Harry Potter series JK Rowling made up the game of Quidditch while having drinks at a pub.
In a similar manner, Gain Brands International (GBI) was conceived five years ago when CEO Marianna Fossick and co-founder Michelle Fisher were having a chat over drinks. GBI represents global brands with a focus on premium beverages from small artisanal distilleries, all handcrafted using unique processes founded on principles of sustainability.
Today GBI’s footprints extend to the UK, Indonesia and Malaysia which also serves as the international gateway to Southeast Asia. By her own admission, Fossick tells Options at her tastefully decorated home off Stevens Road that GBI is a small team with people from diverse backgrounds that bring their strengths and expertise to the table.
Fossick recalls how Fisher’s husband, Chris Millar, who is the culinary director of 1-Group, introduced his wife to her back in 2015. “I told Michelle that I was going to Korea for a trade show and asked her to join me as I thought we could check out some interesting trends and products and then see whether there’s any business opportunity.”
In short, it was a fantastic trip that the two ladies enjoyed although Fisher admits it was exhausting. From that trip alone, the two women were able to evaluate the gap in functional beverages within Singapore. With that, they secured HwaYo, a premium shochu brand from Korea for distribution in Singapore. Shochu is an alcoholic drink that is usually distilled from rice, barley, sweet potatoes or buckwheat.
That was only the beginning. In the five years past, brand representation as well as shareholders kept pouring in and so a team was formed. Fossick says, “Within weeks of returning from Korea, we incorporated GBI and started to form a team and rope in my ex-employees, husband-and-wife team Steve and Brenda Mckenzie who are based in Edinburgh.”
The Mckenzies assisted with the sourcing and landed representation of NB Gin from Scotland. This is one of GBI’s biggest coups because this gin was featured at the Queen’s 90th birthday in April and at Prince Harry’s wedding to Meghan Markle back in 2018.
The gin journey and beyond
At present, GBI’s portfolio features a premium range of artisanal gins from around the world that are standouts in the global beverage industry and faces rising demand from Singapore’s mixologists, and dining and entertainment establishments. However, the gins are distilled in small batches by producers, who have perfected a traditional method, infusing with only the finest botanicals and purest water.
Hence, GBI felt it was time to create their very own proprietary brand SoulSister Spirits Gin — Singapore Edition that was launched only last month. It was always the dream of Fossick and Fisher to develop their own Singapore gin.
Fossick says, “Now that GBI has grown into a dynamic team of entrepreneurial ladies, the time is right for the debut of SoulSister Spirits Gin — Singapore Edition, which is created with a feminine touch and inspired by the spices and botanicals in multicultural Singapore. Much like GBI.”
Distilled in Singapore, the London Dry Gin with a Southeast Asian twist had to meet the strict requirements in the use of regional spices that are prevalent in local cuisines. Together with local distiller Simon Zhao, the development of SoulSister Spirits Gin — Singapore Edition brings to fruition the founders’ passion to develop an intrinsic product.
While that is all well and good, what makes this gin so special? “It is inspired and created by a group of ladies who have drank a lot of gin,” quips Fossick. She adds that GBI also has plenty of feedback from consumers, not just from people within the trade. “We understand — or at least we think we know — what kind of palette profile consumers — or at least a specific group of people — like,” says Fossick.
The gin is complex in nature and surprisingly smooth in character. Crispy notes of lemongrass, citrus and kaffir lime greet you on the nose. On the palate, one can taste slightly spicy floral notes of galangal that lend depth and roundness. The finish is elegant with a beautiful hint of tamarind and cinnamon.
The best way to drink it is to take a little whiff of it as you open the bottle to make mental notes of the flavours. Then taste it neat and try to identify as many of the flavours as you can. Finally, add some ice and a splash of Double Dutch Skinny Tonic which is also one of GBI’s products.
SoulSister Spirits Gin — Singapore Edition retails for $69. As part of GBI’s core values and ethos, for a limited period, 10% of sales from SoulSister Spirits Gin — Singapore Edition hampers will be donated to local charity Daughters Of Tomorrow, which aims to support more than 25,000 women from low-income families in Singapore who are struggling to find and sustain a living.
There was never a doubt that GBI always had a game plan in mind. However, the Covid-19 pandemic have put a dampener on a lot of their plans moving forward but these two spunky women still decided to go ahead and launch the gin.
Fisher says that the project was launched despite the pandemic because they wanted a proprietary brand. Fossick agrees that the project had been in the pipeline for about seven months and it was about time they launched it.
Of course, they had their doubts as Fossick admits to questions that plagued her. She asked herself: Is this the right time to do it? Or should we defer it? “But you know what? I said just do it. We can’t wait. We cannot wait for things to happen to us so we got to make it happen,” she says.
Fisher concurs, “We decided to go ahead and so far, we’ve got fantastic reviews from the media. It was a leap of faith that paid off through the building of relationships formed over the last five years.”
The ladies say the challenge now is to work with their partners in the trade industry. By valuing key clients and working well with them, they managed to win over latest partner Atlas, a grand lobby and bar located in Parkview Square.
As with fashion, some spirits seem to start brightly only to lose its lustre quickly. From numerous reports, rum seems to be flavour of the month. Is gin still the darling or has it been taken over by rum? Fossick answers, “Gin is still our darling. But we had recently acquired four brands of rum and listed 1731 Fine and Rare rums along with Navy Island Rum in Lotte who’s the new operator in Changi Airport.”
Fossick believes that gin still has some way to go while rum is at its infancy. She notes that there has been a growth spurt of interest in the craft rum space as it is still relatively new. She says consumers are keen to learn about palate appreciation and GBI’s portfolio of rums from Botran and Kingsyaad are considered craft entry-level, meaning that they are not too complex and easier on the palate.
Ready to drink
The Covid-19 pandemic also forced GBI to rethink the way they do business and to come up with creative ideas on how consumers can still enjoy their cocktail when all bars are closed or have restricted operating hours and the number of patrons allowed.
Enter L.A.B, the ready-to-drink cocktail pouch that comes in flavours such as Lychee Martini, Lemongrass Cooler and Passion Teani. Buy a pouch, pop it into the freezer and you will never run out of cocktails. Options tried the Lychee Martini and to make it special, throw in some frozen lychees and you have yourself a perfect sunset drink.
These home-delivered treats were created by GBI’s Laura Barker who came to Singapore to begin work as a mixologist in Spago at Marina Bay Sands. When the work ended, she met up with Fossick and said she was interested in starting her very own proprietary cocktails.
Fossick explains, “I met her last year and I tasted her cocktails and I was wowed by it. She agreed to come on board GBI to develop the RTD (ready to drink) sector which we identified as an opportunity since last year. She joined us only in January this year and then, of course, the pandemic happened and the trade side of business was affected too because she also helps Michelle with the marketing and sales of all our other portfolio of liquids.”
As Barker is very much known in the bartending industry and her “cocktails are beautiful”, Fossick decided to assume L.A.B under the GBI umbrella. In return, Barker became an equity partner in the company and Fossick reckons that the RTD business will play a bigger and better role in the future. Fossick says it is unfortunate that RTD offerings in the past have always been about cheap grog that leaves one with a very bad hangover. With L.A.B, she hopes the bad reputation will change. In the meantime, Singaporeans get to enjoy Barker’s specially-concocted cocktails.
The real soul sisters
The CEO and co-founder of GBI, one a Singaporean and the other an Australian, come from very different backgrounds. Fisher was never in the F&B industry; in fact, she was a nurse back in Sydney and later Darwin where she lived.
The only time Fisher came close to the F&B industry was when she met and married chef Millar in Singapore, the place she has made her home since her divorce. Fisher says, “It was a great learning curve for me but in the end, this is an immense opportunity [for me] to learn something new in an industry that I’ve never been in before. With Marianna’s entrepreneurial background and actually working with Chris a little bit here, I learned so much from them.”
From the get go, Fisher was very comfortable with Fossick. She says, “I wanted to go into business with someone I can trust. Plus, we share the same core values and ethos. Our friendship just blossomed and grew.”
As for Fossick, hers has been quite an intrepid journey as her first foray into F&B began by owning the very first yakitori restaurant in Edinburgh, Scotland. Later, at a chicken rice restaurant in Japan, she even had to “grill satay at the back of the restaurant over a charcoal stove” while at the same time “doing catering for the Singapore embassy”, she recalls.
That was not all Fossick did. She became a food distributor and food consultant. She also worked in non-food industries such as a forex commodity broker, dabbled in gaming, worked in advertising and promotions for luxury brands and even founded an internet start-up … the list just goes on. “And in between, I have had five children,” she jokes. Fossick is married to Christopher Fossick who is the CEO of JLL Southeast Asia.
Now with Singapore Gin launched, the two women are hatching future plans. One of them is to start a small distillery in Bali and turn it to an attraction much like Margaret River in Western Australia and Napa Valley in California, USA. Without giving away too much, they said that a location has been found and it is just a matter of time depending on when border restrictions are lifted. Fossick’s says, “We want visitors to come in and choose a botanical, distil your own gin or vodka, put your own label or name on the bottle and bring it home. We wanted it to be an all-encompassing experience for the visitors who come to our distillery.”
Other plans that have been put on hold by Covid-19 include a trip to Sri Lanka and Bhutan for the ladies where they plan to source for botanicals to create gin. But whatever they do next, one thing we know for sure is that these plans will definitely be discussed and planned over their go-to drink, gin and tonic, no less.