In the 16th episode of the Japan Distilled podcast, your hosts Christopher Pellegrini and Stephen Lyman take a closer look at Japanese gin. While gin was first made in Japan over 200 years ago, it has really only taken root in the past few years.
Mixing and Editing: Rich Pav (https://www.uncannyjapan.com/)
CHRISTOPHER PELLEGRINI Vermont born and bred, long-time Tokyo resident and author of The Shochu Handbook, Christopher learned about delicious fermentations as a beer brewer at Otter Creek (Middlebury, VT). He now spends most of his waking hours convincing strangers that shochu and awamori are unlike anything they’ve ever tried before.
STEPHEN LYMAN discovered Japan’s indigenous spirits at an izakaya in New York City. He was so enthralled that he now lives in Japan and works in a tiny craft shochu distillery every autumn. His first book, The Complete Guide to Japanese Drinks, was nominated for a 2020 James Beard Award.
Stephen and Christopher both prefer their martinis up and very dry.
If you have any comments or questions about this episode of Japan Distilled, please reach out to Stephen or Christopher via Twitter. We would love to hear from you.
The earliest known use of juniper in distilled alcohols was from Italian monks who steeped juniper berries in wine before distillation for a tincture. The Dutch were the first to make a juniper spirit with genever, which was a malted grain spirit infused with juniper berries and other botanicals. Genever was first enjoyed by the English in the Thirty Years War and a few decades later England began making their own genever, which was quickly anglicized to gin.
The introduction of the Coffey Still in 1830 quickly gave rise to London Dry Gin, which is the predominant style even to this day.
The Dutch were importing genever to Dejima Port in Nagasaki for their own enjoyment and in 1812 what is believed to be the first Japanese produced gin was made by a Japanese bureaucrat who was trying to keep the Dutch traders happy when a naval blockade prevented the delivery of their genever shipment.
However, the first dedicated gin distillery was not opened in Japan until 2015 when the Kyoto Distillery began operations. They released Kinobi Gin in 2016 and the Japanese gin wave began. By 2017 both Suntory and Nikka had released their own gins and today there are dozens of Japanese gins made throughout the country, but perhaps unsurprisingly, most often in Kyushu where over 300 shochu distilleries are located.
JAPANESE GINS MENTIONED ON THE EPISODE
Kinobi Kyoto Dry Gin is really the OG of Japanese gins. It’s extremely well made at the dedicated Kyoto Distillery.
NIKKA COFFEY GIN
Nikka’s coffey still made gin is quite well regarded, though in pretty minimalist packaging. In true Nikka fashion, the gin does the talking.
Suntory, as usual, goes with the flashy packaging packed with meaning. Roku means 6 in Japanese for the 6 botanicals (one of which is cherry blossoms in case the picture wasn’t obvious enough). The bottle also has 6 sides. Clever marketing from the world’s largest spirits maker.
Yuzugin from Kyoya Distillery in Miyazaki may have been the first gin made by a shochu maker, at least in recent memory. It did not take long for others to join the wave.
Komasa, one of Kagoshima’s largest shochu producers, and the maker of the newly released Kanosuke Malt Whisky, has now released 3 different gins. The original is made with local komikan citrus, the 2nd with green tea, and the 3rd with strawberries.
Wakashio Distillery in Kagoshima zigged when others zagged. Their 424 Gin is only made with juniper rather than the pervasive Japanese citrus approach.
The Shinozaki Distillery in Fukuoka used local lemongrass as the predominant botanical in Jin 40, their first experiment in the gin world. It will not be their last.
Sakurao has 2 different gin expressions. The pink “limited” bottle has oyster shells in the mashbill! Please see Whisky Richard’s review on Nomunication.jp for much more info.
DENNOSHIN 1812 EXTREME JUNIPER GIN
Dennoshin 1812 was the revival of a genever made in 1812 by a local government bureaucrat to amuse the Dutch stationed at Dejima in Nagasaki. They claim 3x the usual juniper quantity in the mash bill. It is made palatable with the addition of sugar after distillation as is sometimes done in genever or Old Tom Gin.
And last but not least, Stephen’s current favorite Japanese gin, Osuzu from Osuzuyama Distillery. Whisky Richard’s review is a must read on this original relase from this well regarded distillery.
If we missed anything, please let us know, but this should keep you busy for a while.