Chances are, you’ve heard of the homegrown whiskey brand Timah that found itself embroiled in controversy two years ago.
But do you know the company behind it?
Incorporated in 1982, Winepak Corporation is a well-established liquor brand owner based here in Malaysia.
Beyond being an online liquor store and the producer of Timah, it provides manufacturing services like producing and bottling alcohol and liquors for international brands. It also offers private-label manufacturing services to local and international markets.
Among the brands that this distillery has worked with, some more notable ones include Johnnie Walker Scotch Whisky, Kahlua Liqueur, and Westminster Dry Gin.
But all these global brands aside, what we personally found more interesting were its inhouse brands. And no, Timah isn’t Winepak’s only brand.
Before we get into that, here’s the tale behind the 41-year-old business.
The man behind the business
Winepak Corporation was founded by Yeo Eng Chiang, who is also the chairman of the Malaysian Bottling Association.
Yeo’s journey in the world of commerce began back in the 1960s when he worked as a wholesaler dealing with international brands.
Hailing from Shantou, China, he arrived in Malaysia and was immediately involved in the alcohol and groceries (mini supermarket) industry, which was a common line of work for Teochew people in those days.
He witnessed the rise of the Malaysian nightclub scene in the 1980s, which gave him the opportunity to become one of the two major suppliers for these outlets.
From there, his focus shifted towards alcohol, evolving from retail to wholesale and eventually manufacturing.
In the 1990s, he furthered his venture by becoming a distributor for international brands, showcasing his extensive market experience.
Sharing this story was the current CEO of Winepak Corporations, Gilbert Yeo, who has continued the legacy and further grown the company into what it is today.
All that glitters is… vodka?
As mentioned, Timah Whiskey aside, Winepak actually has another inhouse brand by the name of VISS.
Founded in 2016 by Gilbert himself, VISS is a vodka-based liqueur that is perhaps best recognised by its swirling glittery visuals.
“Our inspiration of a glitter-infused drink sprang from the Western world but we’ve embarked on a mission to infuse it with our beloved Malaysia,” Gilbert shared with Vulcan Post.
According to the team, VISS is Malaysia’s first glitter liqueur, but they believe what truly sets VISS apart is not just its glittery allure but the flavours offered.
As of now, VISS has launched nine flavours, priced at RM148 each:
Blush Blossom (cherry blossoms)Ballet Blue (blueberries)Forest Berries (wild berries)Lime Sorbet (lemon and lime)Mojito (lime and mint)Mango Tango (mango)Pretty Peach (peach)Claret (pomegranate)Yellow Passion (passionfruit)
“Given Malaysia’s deep-rooted love for food, our journey commenced with extensive R&D, exploring a tantalising array of fruits, each with its own distinct colours,” Gilbert said about how the flavours are concocted.
Other than the nine flavours VISS has already put out, there are 50 new flavours that the team are actively researching and developing.
On top of that, Winepak also pays attention to the quality of the vodka-based liqueur. He shared that the key point of such drinks is their smoothness and purity, which is why VISS’ vodka goes through multiple distillations as well as activated carbon filtration.
Another selling point of VISS that Gilbert pointed out was the liqueurs’ versatility, something they educate customers on through recipes on its website.
In terms of product availability, VISS is available on Winepak’s official website as well as its sole distributor, Thai Seng Liquor Sdn Bhd.
Lessons from Timah
Late 2021, it felt like everywhere you went, someone would be talking about Timah.
If you don’t remember what happened, the summary is that some groups in Malaysia, including the Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS), had protested against the use of the name Timah when it launched, because they believed it to be referencing the name of Prophet Muhammad’s daughter, Fatimah.
The issue was later resolved when it was clarified that Timah’s name comes from the Malay word for tin, and that the imagery on the packaging was of Captain Speedy, a British explorer said to have introduced whiskey culture in Malaya.
While this incident was a difficult moment for Winepak, it also left the team with many valuable lessons.
“One of the primary takeaways has been the importance of effectively handling unexpected incidents as it significantly impacts the brand’s reputation and customer trust,” Gilbert said. “Another crucial lesson learnt is the importance of standing firm for the brand and its mission.”
“We at Winepak recognise the value of maintaining brand integrity and staying true to its core values, even in the face of adversity. By doing so, the company can continue to build and reinforce a positive brand image that resonates with its target audience, ultimately benefitting brands like VISS and others in our portfolio.”
That said, the fact is that Islam is the state religion of Malaysia, and alcohol is prohibited by the religion. With that in mind, it seems that the local alcohol industry is one that may be more limited compared to in other countries, particularly when it comes to manufacturing alcohol.
So, why has Winepak decided to continue down the path as a manufacturer, rather than pursue something easier, such as just facilitating the sale of alcohol?
“While pursuing an easier path might seem tempting, it wouldn’t align with Winepak’s commitment to continuous growth and global recognition,” Gilbert said.
“Our aim is not only to thrive in Malaysia but also to establish our home country as a prominent global location for alcohol distillation. Our determination to achieve this goal remains unwavering.”
In high spirits about the future
Believing that is there is great growth potential in the international market, global expansion is one of VISS’ main focuses.
“We firmly believe that Malaysia’s heritage and offerings rival that of any Western nation,” Gilbert said. “We want the world to look beyond the West and embrace the East as a beacon of fresh cultural experiences and flavours.”
That said, there are many challenges that comes with creating any innovative product, including spirits. For VISS, Gilbert pointed out that one challenge is ensuring that the glittering powder is an FDA-approved additive and educating consumers on its safety.
“In contrast to other Asian countries like Japan and Taiwan whereby they are already renowned for their alcohol traditions, our vision for VISS is to shine a spotlight on Malaysia’s untapped potential and offerings.”
VISS’ mission of global expansion is one that it has already embarked on. Its products are now present overseas, particularly in countries like Taiwan, where Gilbert said VISS has gained popularity and a wider distribution network.
“We are dedicated to establishing the recognition of Malaysia’s first glitter liqueur on a global scale,” the CEO shared his ambitions. “Our aim is to introduce the world to the unique experience of VISS and we’re committed to making this vision a reality.”
Featured Image Credit: Timah / VISS