After two years of trial and error, the makers of Chalong Bay have just released their first gin onto the market, and they’re hoping it helps further raise the banner for Thai spirits.
Phuket-made Saneha, a word that roughly translates to “passion,” draws on Thailand’s abundance in more ways than one.
The gin itself features all local ingredients, including seven botanicals that, apart from juniper, are Thai through and through: juniper, coriander, cloves, ginger flower, pineapple, sugarcane, and makwaen (prickly ash). The seductive, perfume-like packaging, meanwhile, features a Phuket hornbill amid splashes of jungle green, silver, and copper. 
Beyond the obvious passion for craft, which manifests in other ways in the gin-making process, the Saneha name also reflects the unabashed love for Thai ingredients of the five co-founders: Marrine Lucchini, Thibault Spithakis, Chinavich Ratanachinakorn, Daojai Tanommuang, and Pongchalerm Chalermsaphayakorn.
“Thai ingredients are like treasures,” says Lucchini. “They are so special.”
Unlike many other gins made from grain- or molasses-based spirits, Saneha boasts a base spirit made from fermented sugarcane juice. That gives the gin a round, smooth quality: a lot of warmth from the botanicals, but a subtle sweetness and fuller mouthfeel from the sugarcane base.
It also makes Saneha remarkably versatile—good in a G&T, a cocktail involving multiple ingredients, or even neat.
“We tasted a lot of variations—hundreds of them [until we got it just right],” says Lucchini.  
Image: Bittersweet Symphony, a Negroni-like cocktail recipe available on the Saneha website
Beyond the palate-numbing journey that demanded so much R&D, the process also involved significantly longer production times, as well as extra legwork to source ingredients from farmers who adhere to Spithakis and Lucchini’s sustainability-driven ethos.
“We source organic sugarcane from local farmers—the same we work with for our rum,” she says. “We were able to keep them hired all this year [despite the pandemic], which was really important to us.”
Lucchini adds that Saneha pays its partner farmers upfront. Most companies, she says, pay a deposit upfront and the rest after harvest, an arrangement that incentivizes pesticide use and burning to maximize profits.
“We pay more for this, but there’s no burning, and [the sugarcane] is hand-cut,” she says.
Since they couldn’t find an organic pineapple supplier, Spithakis and Lucchini set up their own farm to grow it according to their principles.
All told, it has taken over two years to turn the first gin prototype into a finished product. Even now, the process remains time-consuming. Lucchini says it takes 12 months to produce their sugarcane-based spirit from start to finish, owing to their hands-on process and meticulous distillation, whereas a molasses-based spirit can be produced in less than a month.
None of this is surprising, considering the steady, pain-staking development of Chalong Bay over the past decade.
Spithakis, Lucchini, and their three other business partners transformed a small lot in quiet Chalong into a lush escape surrounded by towering sugarcane stalks. In the process, they turned their once modest distillery into a destination for Phuket residents and drinks-focused travelers.
Recently, they unveiled a new restaurant, fittingly named Suay x Chalong Bay Restaurant and Cocktail Bar, in partnership with chef Tammasak “Noi” Chootong of Suay, one of Phuket’s top restaurants.
More to the point, they have scaled up operations with two sizable French alembic stills they use to make their rum and gin—one of a few nods to their French heritage, along with the Art Deco touches on the Saneha packing.
For the time being, Saneha is producing 10,000 bottles per year, but Lucchini says there are plans to expand production. The ultimate goal, she notes, is to put Thai gin on the map beyond the country’s borders.
“We’ve worked hard to help change the mindset of ‘if it’s made in Thailand, it’s low-quality,’” she says.

Want to get your hands on a bottle? In Bangkok, visit Vivin or Gulp, where it retails for B1,190. On the Saneha website, you can find cocktail recipes to try at home.
If you want to try it in a cocktail first, you can visit nearly a dozen bars in Bangkok to see what all the fuss is about: Philtration, Stella, Bamboo Bar, Buddha & Pals, Jam Jam, Paradise Lost, Flat Marble, Bar Naam at The Commons (Thonglor), Hide Park, Quaint, and Hemingway’s.