PHOTOGRAPHY BY PIPPA DRUMMOND
The Japanese aren’t timid when it comes to the spirit world. When wine importer Shinjiro Torii wanted to create a Japanese whiskey 100 years ago, he simply hired a distiller with experience in Scotland and built a facility in a prefecture famed for its water. Within a few decades, his company, Suntory, was producing some of the planet’s most sought-after whiskeys.
This past fall, the company, now Beam Suntory, made another spirited leap, into the world of gin and vodka. The new gin, Roku (Japanese for “six”), pairs eight botanicals traditionally used in gin with six others that were selected for their Japanese terroir. Smell it and you’ll get cherry blossoms, then cherry leaves. The flavor is a delicate balance of prickly yuzu, warm sencha and gyokuro tea, and crisp sansho pepper. Put simply, it’s Japan in a bottle (an appropriately hexagonal one). The vodka, meanwhile, is called Haku, or “white,” as the spirit is made from 100 percent Japanese white rice. The packaging accentuates the theme with a label made from pure white traditional washi paper.
This is the magic of Japanese craftsmanship—attention to detail so extreme it can suggest tradition where none exists. Kazuyuki Torii (a relative of Shinjiro’s), the master distiller for Haku and Roku, believes this is part of his new gin’s appeal. “Global appreciation for Japanese culture and craftsmanship is on the rise,” he says. “We’ve seen this in the continued increase in demand for our Japanese whiskey portfolio, and we are also seeing a broader appetite for other well-crafted premium Japanese products.”
Suntory isn’t the only distillery that’s gone clear. Nikka now offers both Coffey Vodka and Coffey Gin, the latter featuring four kinds of Japanese citrus (yuzu, kabosu, amanatsu, and shequasar). The Kyoto Distillery is producing Ki No Bi gin, flavored with yuzu, bamboo, and hinoki woodchips, and the Hiroshima-based Sakurao distillery makes a gin that contains, among other things, oyster shells and wasabi. All except the Sakurao gin are available in the U.S. Kanpai!
A BOTANICAL BAR CRAWL THROUGH JAPAN
Good Meals Shop, Tokyo
At this sunny Shibuya bar, the house cocktail features Kyoya Distiller & Brewer’s Yuzu Gin, made with a sweet potato shochu base.
PR Bar, Tokyo
Order the tropical Masahiro Okinawa gin, made with guava leaves, Balinese long peppers, bitter melon, roselle, and shequasar citrus.
Gin Bar C&D, Kyoto
Cocktails rotate seasonally at this tiny bar on atmospheric Pontocho Alley.
Cocktail Works Jinbocho, Tokyo
The menu’s 25 Japanese gins (out of about 160 total) are an elegant base for drinks like the Matcha Chai Latte, served hot or cold.
Terrarium-inspired experimental cocktails come packed with flowers, leaves, mushrooms, and even edible insects.