It’s rare that a product changes the way we think about a category of food or drink, but Japanese gin is doing just that. Gin lovers will find that the products arriving this year are not only exceptional in a way that places them so far ahead of the pack the other gins are playing a different game, but Yuzugin, Ki No Bi, and Ki No Tea will absolutely change the way we think about gin as a category. If you think you don’t like gin, you should seriously consider trying these.
Beginning with Yuzugin, the difference between Japanese and other gins is the selection and treatment of the botanicals. This one is citrus forward, but not in a way that it abandons the gin category. The botanicals include two very rare citrus fruits: hyuganatsu and hebess. They are only cultivated in Miyazaki Prefecture in summertime.
Corey Bauer of Thirst Wine Merchants, the company that represents these gins in Oklahoma, says of the two fruits, “These are rare even by their domestic standards. If you were to find them in Japan, they’d be incredibly expensive.”
The citrus components alone are enough to make Yuzugin unique, but the base is sweet potato shochu, a spirit that, done right, tends to be incredibly smooth and delicate. There are ways to enjoy this gin in a cocktail, but it’s best served neat.
From the Kyoto Distillery we have two new-to-Oklahoma gins, Ki No Bi and Ki No Tea. Bauer explains why the quality is so shockingly high as compared to other gins. “It starts with the treatment of the botanicals. They separate them into six different categories, and then distill and macerate them in those lots. Different ingredients macerate at different times and temperatures, so the grouping ensures they maximize the flavors and aromas from all the categories.”
The groupings are based on aromatic and flavor profiles: base, citrus, tea, herbal, floral and spice. The distillers then blend the six groups to form the finished product. As with Japanese whisky, the art is in the blending. “They really believe that’s the art and beauty of the craft,” Bauer said.
The result is Ki No Bi, a dry, complex gin that rewards slow sipping and concentration to sort through the layers of flavor. The Ki No Tea adds complexity by distilling the botanicals with premium teas like Tencha and Gyokuro from master tea grower and blender Hori-Shichimeien. Frankly, it’s the best gin I’ve ever tasted. I ordered a bottle immediately.