Could Japanese Gins be the next Japanese whiskey?
That’s the bet of a group of Japanese distilleries who are getting into the gin game. The Kyoto Distillery starts with a base of rice spirit, and then distills them in groups corresponding to their flavor profile. And those flavor profiles are nearly identical to the ones we classify each gin by when we review them.
Citrus includes Yuzu and Lemon.
The Base includes juniper, orris, and Hinoki, a kind of Japanese cypress tree whose wood is sweet and earthy.
Ginger is the spice ingredient.
Floral includes shiso and bamboo leaves.
Sansho pepper adds an herbal note, and a flavor similar to Sichuan peppercorns.
And then there’s the tea category. We don’t have that one, but other wise Ki No Bi Gin follows a fairly similar roadmap.
Each category of botanicals is distilled separately and the blended to make the final Ki No Bi Gin.
And by the way, the name Ki No Bi means The Beauty of the Seasons, and is designed with Harmony in mind.
The nose has a fair bit of citrus on it. Kumquat and Yuzu notes, with some supporting notes of green tea and pine-forward juniper. Clean and somewhat classic.
Lots of citrus at first taste. Yuzu and freshly expressed orange oil. Mid-palate is where Ki No Bi Gin veers in a direction that is new and exciting for gin. Juniper with a nice pine note segues into an earthy, herbal, camphoraceous impression that cools and radiates. It reminds me of the coolness that eucalyptus adds to Botanic Australis Gin.
Menthol ebbs while notes of ginger, peppercorn, wormwood, and bitter black tea coolly wane; Ki No Bi Gin has a fairly long and exceptionally dry finish.
The impression is a delicate interplay of yuzu and red shiso leaves, with juniper tying it altogether.
Ki No Bi Gin brings a bitter wormwood note that is not altogether different from the note that a Dry Vermouth brings to a Martini. It works exceptionally well in a very dry Martini. I recommend going light on the Dry Vermouth because of the bitterness. Too much vermouth makes it too bitter in my opinion. Go light if you must, but I think it’s a better gin to experiment with other Martini-like cocktails. Try The Alaska Cocktail; the sweeter yellow variation of Chartreuse adds sweet, herbal notes that I think better complement Ki No Bi.
Again, the peculiar bitterness I think clashes with the bitterness of quinine in a Gin and Tonic. If you really like bitter. Like drinking Amari on its own or a chowing down on a big pile of radicchio, this combination will appeal to you.
I suggest mixing with Ki No Bi Gin in sweeter cocktails and applications. It’s great in a Tom Collins and it adds a much needed contrast with the Rose’s Lime Juice to a Gimlet.
Bartenders may find it difficult to just sub this gin in for Plymouth Gin. Ki No Bi Gin demands a specific and dedicated purpose. It’s a better fit for cocktail programs with drinks designed for it than as a call gin on the shelf.
Kyoto Distillery’s debut gin is a distinctly Japanese take on gin. Though the accord is somewhat unusual among gins, Ki No Bi Gin has achieved their mission of harmony.
Though fans of both classic and contemporary gins will find Ki No Bi unusual, it’s worth a closer look if you’re willing to put in the effort.
I enjoyed this gin and look forward to more from Kyoto Distillery and Japan in the near future.