Photos courtesy of Two Moons Distillery
We recently visited micro-gin distillery Two Moons in Chai Wan and met founders Ivan Chang and Dimple Yuen. We have come away with a bit of a crush on their copper still Luna.
What did we learn?
- It’s really, really hard to get a distilling licence in Hong Kong. It’s a long, frustrating, expensive road, with no road map. It took Two Moons over two years for their licence to be approved.
- Spirits over 30% ABV are taxed at 100%, and the requirements are strict. If you need to toss a batch, it still gets taxed, and unannounced check-ups from the authorities are common. In contrast, beer and wine have been untaxed since 2008.
- You are not allowed to distil at home (or anywhere in Hong Kong) without a licence.
- Two Moons Signature Dry Gin is really delicious served neat, without tonic. Crazy, right?
- To make gin, you take very strong, pure, neutral alcohol, add botanicals and distil it. The base alcohol is not usually made by the craft gin distiller. Two Moons starts with a sugar-cane base distilled in the Netherlands.
- Luna is the most stunning and personable piece of equipment you are ever likely to encounter.
- Luna is thirsty though, and she needs 1,000L of cool water to bring the temperature of a batch down after distilling. Dimple and Ivan rigged up a recycling system to reuse the water each time, which is left to cool naturally between batches. They also compost their botanicals after use.
Upon entering the Two Moons distillery in Chai Wan, Luna takes command of your attention. Behind a full-height wall of glass, we think of Hannibal Lecter – aloof, all-knowing and captive. Only company employees are allowed inside her glass cage, part of the tough distilling licence requirements here in Hong Kong. There is a camera trained on her, connected to 24-hour CCTV, watching every interaction in order to ensure the inputs match the outputs.
Luna is stunning. She was custom-designed and hand-hammered by MÜLLER Post Stills, a family-owned company in Germany. Her design favours “aromatic” distillates. There is a special aromatics basket for ingredients that should be added at the end of the distillation process. Two Moons fills it with fresh lemon peel and rose petals for their Signature Dry Gin.
Another unusual design element is the large spherical helmet that sits atop the main pot, and this copper moon is what Luna is named after. This sphere tremendously increases the internal surface area, allowing the vapours to get more contact with the copper and removing the maximum amount of undesirables, resulting in a cleaner gin.
There is a parrot on the Two Moons label for a reason. At the end of the distillation process, gin leaves the final condensing column of Luna and goes into what is called a “distiller’s parrot”, where readings can easily be taken in real time as it passes through. The design of the Two Moons bottle pays tribute to this, with a parrot made partially of copper.
There are an awful lot of technicalities to distilling that we did not know about, but the process is more automated than brewing beer. Luna separates the really good bits from the not so good bits to produce the first “sipping gin” we’ve ever tried. Two Moons Signature Dry Gin is made for drinking without mixers – clean-sipping, with layers of flavour.
The botanicals in the Signature Dry Gin
We are now going to list out all the botanicals in the award-winning Two Moons Signature Dry Gin. No secrets. But wait – isn’t this proprietary? Couldn’t someone steal this recipe?
“Yes,” Dimple tells us. “Absolutely. It’s up to the distillery whether they share their recipe or not. We want to be completely transparent and share the flavours so you might enjoy them as we do.”
So here we go on the botanical journey…
Aromatics hit you first – pink peppercorns, rose petals, fresh lemon peel and dried tangerine peel
For a nutty, sweet flavour on the tip of the tongue – expensive Madagascan ground vanilla pods and tonka beans add depth and complexity, and apricot kernels are ever so slightly marzipan in flavour. These nuts add oil (yay!) and an increased mouthfeel, especially for the sipping experience.
Secondary flavours and a back-of-the-tongue spice kick – Italian juniper berries, coriander seeds and green cardamom. These are very traditional and typical London dry gin botanicals.
An aftertaste from roots – orris root (the root of the iris flower) is supposed to help to combine flavours for their longevity, and liquorice root cools you, according to traditional Chinese medicine practices, with a hint of sweetness.
The new calamansi gin
Two Moons has recently released their new calamansi gin, inspired by a visit to a soup noodle shop in Yau Ma Tei that serves Sarawak-style laksa with calamansi. Soon after, Dimple and Ivan discovered that Hong Kong grows its own variety of calamansi.
This calamani gin is clean and citrusy fresh for enjoying with your favourite tonic. Whilst it is made by Luna in the same process, the only botanicals used are coniferous evergreen spruce and juniper berries alongside the calamansi. The result is fresh and citrusy without the complex levels of flavour – perfect for mixing.
Keep an eye out for both styles of Two Moons gin around Hong Kong!
A Second Draft x Two Moons gin weekend
If you like gin and you plan ahead, put this in the calendar. From 22–24 July, pop into Second Draft in Tai Hang for a gin-themed weekend, with a special list of cocktails using both types of gin and a boilermaker (beer cocktail) on offer too. Dimple and Ivan will be there on the 24th.
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