The Minty’s Spirits Week: Japanese Gin
For today’s Spirits Week post, I’m swinging around to Japanese gin. It’s been interesting watching Japanese gin gain popularity the last year and half here in the US. Japanese gin makers hope there’ll be a demand like Japanese whisky for their engaging spirit.
I recently attended a launch for Roku gin from Suntory. I had a chance to taste two of the three distillates that make up the gin. Roku features six Japanese botanicals in addition to juniper and the other seven traditional gin botanicals. So really, there are 14 botanicals in total. Roku means six in Japanese. And the hexagon shaped bottle is another nod to the 6 important botanicals.
Each distillate has a pair of the Japanese botanicals. The six are sakura (both leaf and flower), sencha tea, gyokuro tea, sansho pepper and yuzo peel. After tasting the sakura one I wished it could be marketed on its own!
But the sum is greater than its parts and Roku is definitely great.
I later tried it in a white grapefruit drink and it’s fantastic.
I covered Nikka Coffey Gin earlier this year. However, I’ll get more into the eleven botanical used in the gin. I’ve noticed a common theme of using Japanese botanicals particularly yuzu and sansho pepper,
For Nikka, in addition to yuzu, they use three other Japanese citrus including kabosu, amanatsu and shequasar.
If you like Nikka coffey grain whisky, give their gin (and vodka) a try. I actually prefer the vodka a bit more, using it like a white whiskey in cocktails.
Earlier this year I tried Ki No Bi dry gin from Kyoto Distillery. I had it in a punch at Masters of Taste from the team behind Sunset & Vinyl back in May and have now seen it around LA.
It’s generally accepted this was the first Japanese craft gin though I feel Suntory would dispute this as they say they were inspired by their own archives when creating Roku. Suntory made gin all the way back in the 1930s.
In any case, Ki No Bi features 11 botanicals including Japanese cypress (hinoki), bamboo, gyukoru tea and green sansho. I particularly like the ginger in this gin leading me to think of gin and ginger beer as the perfect highball.
While I was in Hong Kong, I went to Bar De Luxe, a Japanese whisky bar from the same folks as Ginza’s Bar High Five. Yes, that Bar High Five. I had a chat with head bartender Yuriko Nagunuma about the rise of Japanese gin. She had a few on display on the bar but she said they had a few more.
The two I noticed right away were Sakurao gins from Hiroshima. The gin has 9 botanicals. It’s from the same brand behind Togouchi Japanese whisky*. Sakurao is not currently available in the US but since we do have Togouchi, I can safely assume they’ve at least thought about export here.
Then the Limited gin has 17 botanicals including wasabi, oyster shells, hinoki (Japanese cypress). The pale pink color makes me think sakura is one of them though more likely it’s from something else.
In the meantime, if you really want to try them, you can order it from this site.
* Togouchi is controversial as some people do not think of them as Japanese whisky since they buy sourced whisky from Scotland and age it in Japan — is it really Japanese whisky then? However, since they built their distillery and made the gin. They eventually hope to release their own whisky. This story sounds quite familiar if you follow American craft distilleries releasing sourced whiskey they’ve blended and/or aged as they make and sell vodka and gin.
I tried Kozue gin from Fujishiro Distillery (owned by shochu, umeshu and soy sauce maker Nakano Biochemical Creations) in the Wakayama prefecture. Unlike other Japanese gins I’ve tried, the juniper is quite pronounced. Other botanicals include sansho pepper, Japanese umbrella pine, orange, lemon and mandarin.
It’ll be interesting if this gin makes it to export here to the US.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I count at least 10 more Japanese gins that are available in Japan and could be potentially exported here to the States. Until then, count on seeing Nikka, Roku and Ki No Bi on drinks lists.
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