It was thanks to my good friend Ramesh Natarajan that I discovered Japanese Gin. It was a bottle of Ki No Bi. I took one sip, and sequestered it in the farthest recesses of my Gin Bar, so that no one would see it and want a sip. It was that good. Then came Jinzu, with the quaint motif of a raven holding an umbrella. It was even better. Roku followed, and lived up to the reputation. Now there is Sakurao, distilled in Hiroshima, and Wa Bi from the Tsunaki Perfecture.
The Japanese, in my opinion, suddenly make the best gin in the world.
It is similar to the whole whisky story. Whisky was a Scottish preserve; the best ones came from there, by default. Whisky was not only a mere drink, but Scottish institution — the country gave its name to the best of them, Scotch. Folklores about the peat bogs, and the waters of specific streams around dreamy distilleries not only sold gallons of the ‘water of life’ , but also attracted millions of tourists, spending money as they quaffed their way around the country.
Until the Japanese came. Led by the two samurais, Suntory and Asahi, they started perfecting the Scottish brew. Now, they own some global brands like Jim Beam, Makers Mark, Knobs Creek and even single malts like Laphroaig and Bowmore. They are behind the storied Hakushu, Hibiki and Yamazaki. In 2013, they conquered Scotland when Jim Murray declared a Yamazaki blend to be the best in the world. And the Scots shrivelled up and died.
The Japanese are now doing to Gin, what they did to Whisky years back. Non co-incidentally, it is the Japanese whisky guys who have are leading the charge. Asahi and Suntory started creating great gins a couple of years back, and they were joined by Ki No Bi, a craft distillery from Kyoto. Not only they are making great gins, but in typical Japanese fashion, they are now perfecting them.
Nikka Coffey is by Asahi (I had this in Singapore very recently), and Roku (which means six in Japanese, after its six botanicals) is by Suntory. Ki No Bi creates its eponymous brand. My favourite, though, is still Jinzu, with its umbrella-holding raven, with a background of cherry blossoms. In an ironic twist of fate, it is a Scottish made gin, inspired by Japan!
I, for one, welcome this Japanese invasion, with open arms and a FeverTree tonic. Banzai!