HomeCocktail Japanese distillers use local botanicals to produce some of the world's most exciting gins

Japanese distillers use local botanicals to produce some of the world's most exciting gins

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In October 2016, the Japanese Kyoto Distillery inaugurated the country's first high-end national gin, the KI NO BI. Now, just over two years later, more than 30 distilleries produce gins.

In 2018, Japanese gin exports increased by 600%. The Pacific nation shipped 1.4 million liters in the 12-month period, up from 231,000 in 2017.

To put these figures into perspective, Japanese shochu exports reached 2.2. million liters in 2018. Beefeater alone sells more than 25 million liters a year. It is clear that the category is still emerging, but the Japanese gin offers something to be amazed for lovers of spirits.

The ancestry of Japanese gin has a lot to do with a powerful predecessor, Japanese whiskey.

In 1916, a Japanese pioneer named Masataka Taketsuru went to Scotland to immerse himself in the whiskey trade. After traineeships in three distilleries, Taketsuru returned to Japan in 1923 and began working as master distiller for Suntory. In 1936, he founded his own brand, Nikka, which later became part of the Asahi Beverage group.

Seventy years later, Nikka and Suntory continue to lead the whiskey industry in Japan. In 2001, Whiskey Magazine ranked Nikka's Yoichi 10-year-old as "Best of the Best," while in 2015, Suntory's Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 was named the World's Best Whiskey by "The Whiskey Bible". Jim Murray. The spirit is so popular made, there have been well-documented shortages – because whiskey requires long periods of aging, distillers can not replenish their supplies overnight.

Meanwhile, gin, a spirit whose production time can be measured in weeks rather than in decades, offers distillers a much needed source of revenue. And unlike aging whiskey, the risk of catastrophic damage from natural disasters is also much lower.

"The success of Japanese whiskey over the last 15 to 20 years has certainly opened the eyes of foreign consumers (on the palate) to the quality and uniqueness of Japanese spirits," writes VinePair, partner founder of Kyoto Distillery. an email. "When we launched KI NO BI abroad, we were pushing against an open door."

Whiskey brought British-born Croll and his partner Marcin Miller to Japan, and both have been exporting the spirit together for over a decade. However, when they founded the Kyoto Distillery in 2015, they did it in order to open the country's first dedicated gin distillery.

"There is no great history of artisanal gin production in Japan and we like to open new chapters," Miller said at the time.

When Kyoto released the KI NO BI in 2016, it was the first gin in the country to use Japanese ingredients, with yellow yuzu, bamboo, gyokuro tea, ginger and wood chips. hinoki included in the botanical invoice of gin. The distillation method of KI NO BI also included innovative techniques. Her plants are separated into six different groups, distilled separately, then mixed to create the finished product.

Shortly after the release of KI NO BI, the country's heavy whiskey distilleries took part in the action. In June 2017, Nikka presented Nikka Coffey gin in Japan. She started exporting to Western markets later that year.

Nikka gin takes its name from the traditional "Coffey" stills used in its production. (The brand imported two Coffey Scottish stills in the 1960s.) The botanical blend includes citrus fruits such as yuzu, kabosu, amanatsu and shequasar, as well as peppercorns, juniper, peppers, gingerbread and more. angelica, coriander and more.

Suntory, which acquired the bespoke British gin distillery Sipsmith in 2016, introduced its own Japanese gin in 2017. Named Roku, which means six in Japanese, the name refers to the six different plants added during the distillation (sakura blossom, sakura leaf, yuzu peel, sencha tea, gyokuro tea and sansho pepper), and is also the inspiration for the hexagonal bottle of gin.

Roku is currently available in 15 countries, including Japan, China, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, several markets of the world. 39, Southeast Asia and, in October 2018, in the United States. at 47 percent ABV, although the exported version is slightly down to 43 percent.

The small-scale Kyoto distillery wants the domestic market to be a significant part of its sales. "We're not just trying to export something labeled" Made in Japan, "says Croll, but Nikka focuses on exports. Naoki Tomoyoshi, Nikka's international development representative for international business development, told VinePair that "its target markets were mainly overseas markets." Not surprisingly, the United Kingdom – the world's largest exporter of gin – has seen its gin exports to the United States increase by 553% over the last decade.

Curiously, not all Japanese gins are native to Japan. William Lowe founded the Cambridge Distillery in Cambridge, England, as a gin-making business, offering custom gins to custom palates. When high-end Japanese restaurants asked him to produce a "Japanese" gin, Lowe began investigating Japanese plants.

After a year of experimentation, he chose a combination that now seems very familiar. Yuzu, sesame, shiso leaf and sansho pepper provided the perfect profiles that he was looking for. The gin was so good that he decided to market it. In 2015, more than a year before the launch of the first bottle in Kyoto, Distillery's Japanese gin received the double gold medal at the China Wine and Spirits Awards.

"I am absolutely convinced that it is not a coincidence that the plants I have identified are now the mainstay of all these emerging Japanese gins," Lowe said. He compares this to the theory of chaos and the butterfly effect. "It's a nice thing for me to think that the decisions we made here in Cambridge then influenced a whole category on the other side of the planet," he says.

Whether or not Lowe's team created the category on its own is a matter of personal interpretation, but Japanese gins are now thriving on their home market.

In November 2018, Gin-Posium Japan, a seminar and tasting organized by the Japan Gin Association, returned to Tokyo for its second appearance. Earlier in the year, more than 3,000 gin enthusiasts attended the inaugural edition of GINfest Tokyo, which featured a hundred different bottlenecks (international and national).

Tokyo is becoming an international destination for gin alcohol consumption. In the Shibuya district, Good Meals Shop pours more than 350 gins, including 20 Japanese. Jinbocho Works Cocktail (located in Jinbocho) is directed by Eiji Miyazawa, a prominent figure in the city's cocktail scene. The bar pours more than 160 artisanal gins, including 25 domestic ones.

Fortunately, you do not have to go to Japan to taste some of its best gins. Thanks to specialized online retailers, such as Dekantã, drinkers from around the world can enjoy the pleasures of the emerging category. Here are some of our favorites.

Six Japanese gins to try

Suntory Roku Gin

Delicate and yuzu before, with hints of cherry blossom. Avoid invasive invigorating water and instead mix a refreshing Martini using five parts of gin per vermouth. Average price: $ 30.

Nikka Coffey Gin

This gin smells like zest of yuzu and fresh lemon, and a taste of cloved shishito pepper with a generous rock salt seasoning. Give a delicious G & T. Average price: $ 50.

The Kyoto Distillery KI NO BI

The yuzu in the botanical bill delivers a refreshing citrus explosion, perfectly balanced by a hint of sansho nugget pepper. A well-designed gin with a clean and pure flavor. Average price: $ 67.

Japanese craft gin from Kozue

Kozue is inspired by the notes of green and earthy pine needles. Marries wonderfully with homemade tonic water. Average price: $ 80.

Masahiro Okinawa Gin

Masahiro, the first gin made on the tropical island of Okinawa, produces splinters of tropical fruits and hibiscus flowers, held up by slightly bitter green notes. Average price: $ 75.

Japanese Gin from the Cambridge Distillery

Aromatic and spicy, with a refreshing note of citrus fruit, it is sipping a gin with a martini. Decorate with a range of green apples distiller at the head, William Lowe. Average price: $ 70.

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