Staying with the Japan-centric theme, today we’ll be talking about two Japanese Gins. That’s right: Japanese gin. No whisky today.
It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed my second-favorite spirit, so a quick refresher course is in order.
Gin, noun. A liquor based on a neutral spirit that derives its predominant flavor from juniper berries.
Modern Gins all have roots in the older Dutch liquor, “Jenever.” All “Dry” Gins are noted as such due to their departure from the sweetness of Jenever and Holland Gins in general. Modern sweet Gins are to be found in the form of “Old Tom” Gin; a demi sec style. Most of today’s Dry Gins are based on the London Dry style. Note: London Dry Gins are, for the most part, not crafted in London. Again, “London Dry” denotes the style of gin, not its origin point.
Now that we’re all caught up: Japanese Gin!
The two we’re talking about today are not easily found outside the Land of the Rising Sun. So, I apologize in advance for getting your taste-buds amp’d up for something that is likely not available in your area.
Gin is a relatively simple spirit to craft and a lot less time-consuming than whisk[e]y. So it was only natural that Japan should start crafting it. The real question here is:
Have the Japanese applied the same attention to detail and mastery of flavors that they showcase in Whisky, in Gin?
Let’s find out!
Roku Gin – “Japanese Craft Gin” from the Suntory House
Nose: cherries, cherry blossom, juniper, grapefruit, green tea
Taste: cherries, grapefruit, dry tea, roasted pepper, juniper
Finish: long, warm, and complex
Gins can be hard to peg as they all tend to display the same flavor notes, just in different layers and complexities. Roku Gin, however, is clearly Japanese.
Suntory Time, is good.
Roku Gin proudly announces its Japanese heritage with predominant cherry and green tea notes. Yes, it’s a Gin, so juniper and citrus are present, but Roku’s “6 unique Japanese botanicals” clearly take center stage.
For my signature “Let’s Not Mince Words™” statement, I’ll go with:
Roku Gin is a masterful creation, with fruit, floral, and spice notes that all pay homage to its home country.
Now that I’ve already clued you in, let’s talk scent. Cherry blossoms, yuzu peel (my nose picked it up as grapefruit), and green tea (from Sencha and Gyokuro) are easily picked up on the scent. Classic angelica and juniper are there too, but they take a back seat.
The taste showcases those same scent notes, but adds in the Sancho pepper that Roku advertises on its label. A second sip really punches up the citrus with lemon and orange added into the mix. The finish here carries pepper and spice notes all way down the throat for a flavorful, slow, mellow burn. It’s quite nice.
It’s difficult for me not to get all poetic about this stuff. It’s lovely, smooth, and makes for a fantastic way to reminisce about a trip to Japan, or to make one wish they could go right now.
I’d say that making a Martini or a Gibson with Roku Gin would be a waste of its complexity, but thinking about it makes my mouth water. Also think of Roku when thinking about making a Sling, a Bramble, a G & T, a French 75, and or course: The Last Word. I mean, what’s springtime in a glass without cherry blossoms?
While I found this bottle during a trip to Japan, you can find it on the Internet for around $35 U.S. Yes, pricier than Tanqueray 10, but oh so much nicer!
Final Rating: 95 out of 100
Ki No Bi – “Kyoto Dry Gin” from the Kyoto Distillery
Proof: 91 (and change)
Nose: pine, lemon, juniper, grapefruit, green tea
Taste: lemon, grapefruit, pine, juniper
Finish: warm and complex
Have you ever smelled Japanese Cyprus, aka Hinoki? Because once you have, you’ve smelled Ki No Bi Kyoto Dry Gin. I know, I’ve just leapt into the scent on this Gin, but I had to because for me, it smells like a Japanese Temple on a dewy spring morning.
Honestly, I was expecting a carbon copy of or Roku here. It shares the same yuzu (cousin of grapefruit), sansho (pepper), gyokuru (green tea), juniper, and lemon as Roku, but Ki No Bi has thoroughly surprised me by adding Hinoki to their botanicals. Yes, there’s also ginger and orris root, but that only serves to make it that much more akin to Roku. Yet, we’re dealing with a completely different Gin here.
Into ye olde “Let’s Not Mince Words™” statement:
Ki No Bi Gin showcases what artisanal craftsmen can coax out of a spirit when focus and dedication are masterfully applied.
Since I immediately leapt into the scent of this lovely Gin, let’s talk taste. Ki No Bi exhibits wild citrus upfront on the palette. Yuzu and lemon are strong front-runners here. That lovely piney-juniper-ginger thing then takes over. The finish is medium length and warm, with the pepper notes trailing.
My only knock here that everything is over a tad too soon. Flavors wane quickly and the finish… I just wish it was longer.
With the higher alcohol content, the upfront burn is more prevalent, but that’s not a negative when thinking of the cocktails you could make… The Bee’s Knees, Gimlet, Tom Collins, and the Vesper would all be elevated by using Ki No Bi.
The price on this guy, if you can find it on the Internet, will likely be around $55. A tad hefty for a Gin.
Still, I’m a fan.
Final Rating: 93 out of 100
And there you have it! Two Japanese Gins that would make lovely additions to any Gin Fan’s collection!