The increase in the popularity of gin in recent times has given rise to a new craft gin industry. Countries in the west boast a huge range of gin brands, with more coming on the market all the time. And now, this gin-drinking trend has reached Japan with entrepreneurs and established drink companies creating their own craft gins to satisfy the growing demand.
For a spirit to be considered a gin, it must contain juniper berries. These have to be imported to Japan. But, once that base has been established, distillers are free to use their own imagination. That way, they can create a craft gin that is unique to their brand or region.
Many of the craft gin makers in Japan have a background in shōchū, whisky or the soy sauce business. Now, they create high-quality gin using ingredients and botanicals native to their particular regions in Japan. As of June, there are 20 distilleries currently in operation, with the most prominent ones in western Japan.
Kyoto Distillery led the charge in the craft gin market in Japan. The company was founded by David Croll with head distiller, Alex Davies, who both come from Britain. They produce three types of gin – Ki No Bi and Ki No Tea, which use tencha and gyokuro teas, and Ki No Sei, which has a higher alcohol content.
The distillery sources its ingredients and botanicals locally from farms in the Kyoto area. As a result, they produce a more delicate-flavored gin which is best served over ice or with a drop of water.
They create high-quality gin using ingredients and botanicals native to their particular regions in Japan
Big drinks companies getting in on the gin game
Suntory and Nikka, big conglomerates that produce drinks, have brought out their own craft gins.
Suntory released Osaka-made Roku in July 2017. Roku means six in Japanese and refers to the six ingredients or botanicals from Japan that are used to make it. They include Japanese pepper, yuzu citrus, green tea, cherry blossoms and cherry leaves.
Nikka’s Coffey Gin, which is made in Sendai, is the most complex of the Japanese gins. It uses eleven botanicals, which include yuzu, sansho pepper, kabosu (a type of citrus), amanatsu (sweet variety of pomelo citrus) and shequasar (a popular tangerine in Okinawa).
Craft gin tourism
Then there is Kozue Gin, which is produced by Nakano BC Co. Ltd. Nakano started out in the soy sauce industry during the 1930s before extending into the drinks industry. Kozue Gin uses a Wakayama botanical product called koyamaki (Japanese pine umbrella) which gives it a unique scent.
The company headquarters is located in a tranquil Japanese garden which people can visit and try out their drinks. Aa a result, Nakano BC has become a popular destination for gourmet travellers to Japan who can tour the garden and the sake, umeshu and gin distilleries. The company reported up to 40,000 visitors a year.
As the gin trend continues, could we see Japanese gin taking the place of sake or whisky as the tourists’ ‘must-try’ drink in Japan?