My first Oriental inspired gin I tried was Ophir, I bought myself a bottle from a supermarket as I was currently reading ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ by Arthur Golden, and I like to pair my gins to my books.
I’ve since realised that Ophir Gin isn’t really a Japanese gin, its distilled in London and is in fact a London Dry Gin, so what makes it ‘oriental’? It’s infused with Indonesian Cubeb Berries, Indian Black Pepper and Moroccan Coriander. It’s a savoury gin that really did pair well with Memoirs of a Geisha even if it doesn’t have anything to do with Japan.
I’ve now tried ‘true’ Japanese gin, and below I have noted down the most popular brands that are on the market.
So why are Japanese gins coming onto the market and making a such a storm?
When Japanese Whisky first arrived on UK shelves a few eyebrows were raised, but Japanese whiskies are now winning awards and happily sit along Scottish brands on the shelves of UK supermarkets.
Now Gin seems to be following in the same footsteps, and I can see why, the attention to detail crafted into the botanical balance of the gins on show, scream of a nation that take their gin seriously. Clean, crisp, savoury and with added spice they make a very drinkable gin that goes well with tonic but can stand out on its own neat with ice.
Here are two gins from Japanese distilleries:
Suntory Roku Gin is probably the most well-known brand of Japanese Gin’s on the market, and there is a reason behind that, it’s a beautiful gin.
Roku meaning ‘six’ in Japanese, to reflect the 6 Japanese botanicals infused in Roku Gin.
The first two botanicals infused is cherry blossoms (Sakura flower) and the cherry blossom tree leaves (Sakura leaf), which are cleverly embossed on the clear glass bottle.
Sencha green tea leaf and Gyokuno tea leaves add a savoury note to this clean flavoured gin.
Citrus Yazu or Junos peel, which is a sour Japanese citrus similar in size to a tangerine, yellow in colour and tastes like a grapefruit and tart lime hybrid.
Sansho pepper which is a type of Sichuan pepper adds an undertone of spice.
These are added on top of eight traditional botanicals, providing a complex yet traditional gin which is easy to drink.
Serve with a simple tonic, loads of ice and thin slices of ginger to garnish.
Ki No Bi Gin from Kyoto distillery, Japan’s first distillery dedicated to gin. It’s pronounced like Obiwan Kenobi from Star Wars. Meaning ‘The Beauty of the Seasons’ their botanicals are picked throughout the ye
ar from each season.
This rice-based gin incorporates yuzu, juniper berries, sansho pepper, bamboo and ginger root, becoming a warming dry gin with citrus and woody after notes.
It’s an expensive treat, but worth it. To get the most of the unique botanicals serve straight over ice, watch out though, its 45.7% ABV so it packs quite the punch.
The black bottle design is a unique change from the classic clear glass bottles gin usually comes in and it comes in a black box which makes it perfect for a birthday gift for the gin lover in your life.
I wish I had come across this while reading Memoirs of a Geisha as I believe it would have been the perfect occupant.
Etsu is Japanese for ‘Joy and Pleasure’ and this gin certainly lives up to the name.
This floral yet bitter Japanese gin comes all the way from Hokkaido Island of the coast of Japan.
Made from a complex secret family recipe, Yuzo is the main taste that comes through, due to this, it is recommended to garnish it with a sprig of mint to balance out the tartness of the Yuzo.
43% ABV and including what seems to be becoming Japans classic gin botanicals: Yuzo, Green Tea Leaves, Cherry Blossoms and Sancho Pepper. However, Etsu gin allows the Yuzo to dominate.
Quite expensive, so maybe wait and try this at one of the many gin specialist bars that are everywhere lately.
Now this may seem strange, but I am obsessed with Wasabi, and I’m hoping that a Japanese Distillery makes a gin that blends wasabi into their gin. It could taste horrible, but I think I will like it.
And now the Japanese inspired gins are below, these might be easier on the purse strings:
This Gin was designed by Scottish bartender Dee Davies, and she went on to win Diageo’s Show Your Spirit 2013. After travelling Japan, Dee Davies created this gin and named it after the Japanese river that flows through Toyama which she fell in love with.
With the delicate flavour of yuzu citrus fruit, cherry blossoms and finished with smooth Japanese sake.
Dee Davies suggests garnishing is with green apple, or to use this in a French 75 cocktail.
The bottle design is simple, yet elegant and beautiful.
Even though this is crafted in Scotland, this feels like the most authentic Japanese gin out there and certainly stands out.
Try it, as you will see why it is an award winner.
Opihr, pronounced ‘O-Peer’ is named after the legendary region famed for its riches during the reign of King Solomon.
This gin has absolutely nothing to do with Japan (sorry) but it is Asian inspired and truly incorporates the taste of Japan. As I said above, I honestly thought it was a Japanese gin when I first tried it. Maybe the bottle design beguiled me, maybe it was the heavy coriander use with the slightly spiced afterburn. Maybe it was the fact I was reading Memoirs of a Geisha the first time I drank it. But for me it will always be a gin that has a Japanese influence.
It’s infused with Indonesian Cubeb Berries, Indian Black Pepper and Moroccan Coriander.
This is one of my favourite gins, also it was crafted in my home town of Warrington and distilled in London.
And I’m not the only one who loves this gin, it’s won 7 international awards since hitting the shelves in 2013.
Best served with thinly sliced ginger and a simple tonic.
If you live close to a lidl, their awarding winning Hortus Gin range, do an Oriental Spiced version, it isn’t available currently through summer, but I suspect it will be hitting the shelves again once the cold weather returns.
Normally I am one of those people who can pick out certain brands through taste alone, someone nips to the bar for me and I ask for a Bombay Sapphire gin & tonic, and get me a gordons and tonic, and I will know.
But this Lidl gin is so similar to Opihr that I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.
Usually coming in at just £11 for 70ml! it’s quite the saving, and even though it’s a quite simple design, it still looks good on gin shelves.
So, that’s my round up of Japanese Gins, what about what you can read while sipping away at the splendid gins above.
As I mentioned earlier, Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden is the perfect book to get into and be taken away to Japan. To truly immerse yourself, consider getting this on audible, having Chiyo Sakamoto’s story read to you is the perfect way to read/listen to this historic novel, here is the link to it on audible.co.uk
I also would have to recommend Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore for a surreal bewildering novel that is hard to put down. But, if you’ve never read a Murakami novel before, it might be better to pick up Norwegian Wood as it’s a good book to first introduce you to Murakami’s style of writing and magical surrealism.
Don’t fancy reading/listening to books, give Death Note a try, not the Netflix film that panned this year, the anime tv show, which is also on Netflix UK. Based on an amazing Japanese manga series it comes highly recommended and is only 2 seasons long.
So, what are you waiting for? I’ve given you a fine list of gins and tv & books to provide you with the perfect night in that will get you on a holiday site and booking a trip to Japan in no time!
Oh right, you want to try out a Japanese Gin Cocktail
Japanese Gin Martini or a ‘Umetini’
A simple yet powerful martini
2oz Umeshu (a Japanese Plum Sake)
1oz Japanese Gin
Add the gin and umeshu into a cocktail shaker with a lashing of ice, shake well and pour out into two martini glasses (excluding the ice), garnish with a lemon twist.
Sayonara, genki de!