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Creative approach helps Singapore’s gin bars to ride Covid-19 storm

When you have successfully created and launched the world’s most ambitious gin bar, stocked with 1,380 different gins, in a gin-loving city at the heart of the global tourist industry, then the arrival of Covid-19 was bound to hit hard.

But Jason Williams, award-winning Creative Director of Asia Pacific’s leading independent spirits company, Proof & Company, remains positive. While recognising that the on-trade continues to face significant challenges, he is eager to return to the ingredients that make a gin bar stand out.

“A significantly-sized gin collection is obviously important, but the key ingredient is the human and hospitality element – a passionate, knowledgeable and engaged team who love to work with and talk about gin.

“They must have a commitment to helping guests engage with the selection, including through events and membership-based activities, introducing them to different gins, cocktails and special serves. They must provide a really special experience to each guest, whether they are drinking gin or not.”

Jason Williams from Atlas Bar Singapore

Jason should know, having worked his way up from junior bartender in Australia to Bar Manager and Group Beverage Director. In 2015, he relocated to Singapore to join Proof & Company, a brands, bars and spirits distribution agency.

The opulent Art Deco-style ATLAS Bar, where Jason is Master of Gin, opened in 2017 with a collection of 1,000 gins in its gilded 15m-tall Gin Tower. Despite creating strict guidelines surrounding the gins which could be included – all distilled and meeting the legal minimum ABV requirement – the collection grew quickly by inviting gin brands from around the world to donate bottles.

Jason, who was installed as a Gin Guild member in 2018, said: “We were honoured by the response from so many brands, many of them Gin Guild members. We have now reached about 1,350 brands.”

Jason’s love affair with gin began as a junior bartender, discovering it was his favourite spirit to work with in cocktails because of its range of natural botanicals.

“Gin is the quintessential cocktail spirit and obviously shines in cocktails – so a gin bar needs to showcase the spirit in cracking drinks,” he explained.

His goal in curating the gins for a great gin bar has been to cover all styles and regions as well as some of the innovative micro-categories and place-specific gins, while avoiding anything too gimmicky. “It doesn’t have to be hundreds of bottles, though,” he laughed.

Jason Williams from Atlas Bar Singapore

Jason is particularly excited by the more ‘exotic’ native Asian gins, such as Song Cai from the jungles of Vietnam or Seeker from Phnom Penh. He enthuses about the way they are using ethno-botanicals that have deep meaning to their communities, backed by high production values and anchored by good European juniper. He is full of praise for the Indian craft gin movement which is now producing international-calibre brands, led by recently launched Terai India Dry Gin.

Jason has also launched his own London Dry Gin, Widges Gin, describing its flavour profile as “forest floor, sweet pine and citrusy goodness.” While he loves some of the recent, innovative brands, such as the Japanese KI NO BI Edition G, he also favours classics such as Tanqueray 47% and Tanqueray No. TEN.

Fortunately, as Covid-19 continues to have a major impact in Singapore, Proof & Company’s integrated model means they are well-positioned to innovate. The company launched a new ecoSPIRITS system just before the pandemic hit, a closed loop spirits distribution system in which their brands and some others’ liquid flows through.

It cuts down the waste and carbon generated by traditional spirits bottle distribution, while also cutting costs to bar, restaurant and hotel customers by up to 30%. It proved to be a great initiative to take to customers during tough times.

Before the pandemic struck, Singapore had the third most bars represented in the World’s 50 best bars. Eight of Proof & Company’s consultancy clients featured in the list of Asia’s 50 Best Bars and, recently, four in the 2020 edition of World’s 50 Best Bars.

The Proof Creative team’s high-profile clients have also included the revitalised Raffles Hotel, home of the world-famous Singapore Sling, as well as dozens of live projects across Asia Pacific.

With such a strong cocktail bar scene, serving an adventurous clientele in a city with an international workforce, Singapore is still reeling from on-trade restrictions, travel bans and quarantine restrictions.

For Proof & Company and its Proof Creative team, this has meant significant changes to how they operate their own premises and the way they work with consulting clients, and they continue to adapt their business model.

However, for all the bars they work with and for the unforgettable ATLAS Bar, Jason says the secret to success as the on-trade again starts to re-open will be to focus once more on giving customers that uniquely-special experience.