Nothing tells the story of a place and its culture quite like a local spirit, which speaks volumes through the botanical character indigenous to location. Hong Kong lacked in this respect for a long time, so the founders of Perfume Trees Gin, Kit Cheung and Joseph Cheung (no relation), decided to create a spirit that told the compelling story of the Fragrant Harbour.
"Capturing the essence of Hong Kong has always been our dream," says Kit, a mixologist with more than 18 years of bar consulting and bartending experience both locally and in Europe, and who serves as the artistic driving force behind Perfume Trees. "Using the classical spirit of gin as a canvas, we have painted broad brushstrokes of traditional fragrances and aromas, transporting you on a gentle breeze to a portrait of our Hong Kong." Meanwhile, Joseph is a cardiac nurse practitioner and Master of Laws graduate, who joined one of Kit's cocktail classes before they started their gin-making journey together.
When they set out to make their gin, Kit and Joseph were on a mission to capture the fission and fusion of the city's colliding cultures. The pair worked closely with local farmers and suppliers to understand the unique terroir of Hong Kong.
It hasn't been the easiest story to tell. Ultimately, the duo landed on a business model where they select their botanicals locally, then send the ingredients to the Netherlands, where the spirit is distilled and bottled. By selecting aromatic, evocative botanicals, their lively libation captures the very heart and soul of Hong Kong, transporting the drinker to the city's colorful streets. Specifically, they have used white champaca flowers from the white champaca tree, nicknamed the "perfume tree", which was once ubiquitous in the city – a humble plant that supported the living of elderly women who sold it on street corners. According to Tibetan beliefs, the Buddhaof the next era will find enlightenment under the white flower canopy of the champaca tree.
The essential oil of champaca, a plant also sometimes referred to as white sandalwood or white jade, is also known as one of themost expensive in the world, and isoften used in premium perfumes. Tom Ford has a perfume called Champaca Absolute and Japaneseavant-garde fashion label Comme des Garçons produced Luxe Champaca, while Christian Dior's J'adore L'Or, Calvin Klein's Euphoria and Michael Kors' Gold Rose Edition all invoke champaca as a middle note.
Many gin brands use dry botanicals, but the two Cheungs specifically wanted the white champaca flower despite its very short shelf life; its flowers wilt in around six or seven hours at room temperature. Sourcing a steady supply of the flower in Hong Kong was difficult, so after a year of research, the pair opted for an organic flower farm in Taiwan.
The gin also uses sandalwood, paying homage to the city's long history as a port town and place of trade. The sandalwood hails from India and is a common sight (and scent) in Hong Kong's temples today. Perfume Trees sources the sandalwood from Wing Lee, a provider of incense sticks for more than a century in Hong Kong. There's also 15-year-aged tangerine peel. AChinese proverb says that aged tangerinepeel is worth its weight in gold and it's often used as an infusion in wine in China, but this is the first time it has been used to make a gin. The bitterness of the tangerine peel is softened by the lengthy ageing process, leaving a sweet citrusy flavour that has become a traditional seasoning with medicinal properties throughout Southern China.
Tea plays a part, too. The gin is infused with a premium blend of Longjing green tea from a traditional Hong Kong tea house, which lends a strong and flavourful foundation. And while many Western distillers already use angelica in gin, Perfume Trees uses Chinese angelica, with its distinctive warm, earthy and liquorice flavour profile.
Certainly, Perfume Trees has been gaining all the right accolades, too. It has picked up awards at a number of major global competitions, including the Best Contemporary Gin (Gold) at the World Gin Awards in 2019 and 2020, the Best in Class Gin (Platinum) at the 2019 SIP Awards in the US, and the Best Design Label at The World Gin Awards 2020.
Get ready to immerse yourself in the spirit of Hong Kong.