Wondering what to serve during your next cocktail party? Amaze your party guests with a sophisticated bottle of gin from Japan! Japanese gin is intricately flavored due to the use of local botanical ingredients. However, it's still easy to drink, which appeals to liquor aficionados and casual drinkers alike. Enjoy it with a splash of soda to taste each ingredient, or use it in a Japanese-themed cocktail.
Japanese gin only started entering the market in 2016, making it difficult to find information about the options available. We've scoured the Internet and put together a list of Japanese gin that deserves a space in your liquor cabinet. One of our favorites is the Ki No Bi Kyoto Dry Gin from Kyoto Distillery due to its clean citrus-forward flavor. Keep reading to see the rest of our recommended Japanese gins, and check out the buying guide reviewed by a Japanese alcohol blogger to learn how to choose one that's perfect for your taste buds!
There are many types of Japanese gin with different flavor profiles. We recommend paying attention to the botanicals, location, and how you plan to serve it.
Citrus-forward gins are often made with yuzu, kabosu, mandarin oranges, or other local fruits. Spicier gins incorporate sansho peppers, ginger, wasabi, and leaves from other spice plants. Earthier flavors include kelp, pine, teas, and mushrooms. Finally, floral flavors include cherry blossoms, hibiscus, or other seasonal and regional flowers. All of these unique flavors help to create gins with a Japanese twist.
Because these ingredients can't be found in Western gins, gin enthusiasts can rediscover this spirit through Japanese varieties. Plus, most Japanese ingredients are relatively subtle, meaning beginners can enjoy them too.
Local food and drink are a huge part of Japanese history and culture, so it's no surprise to see this extended to Japanese gin. For example, the country's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries notes over 100 varieties of satsuma mandarin in its registry. And that's just one species of citrus! With so many different varieties of herbs, vegetables, and fruit, the possibilities for Japanese gin makers are virtually limitless.
Location is an important factor in gin production. Japanese gin producers make sure their gin is distinctively Japanese in ingredients, style, and quality.
Japanese craft gin emerged into the scene around 2016. Within just a few years, the craft gin scene in Japan has boomed. Currently, there are about 31 distilleries producing gin in Japan compared to about 1410 sake breweries and 273 shochu distilleries.
There are also several Western gins inspired by Japan that attempt to create an all-encompassing Japanese aroma. However, these often lack the nuance and regional focus that true Japanese gin craftsmen emphasize in their products.
Even in Japan, some distilleries are jumping on the bandwagon by adding juniper berries to redistilled shochu. This method doesn't capture the craftsmanship of Japanese artisanal gin makers. To find an authentic craft gin made in Japan, check the manufacturing location and list of botanicals.
While gins in, for example, the UK begin with neutral grain spirits, some Japanese gins begin with non-neutral spirits such as potato shochu. This means such gins won't be categorized as "London Dry," but don't let that prevent you from giving them a try. A non-neutral base can help highlight certain notes in the botanicals that the distiller has selected, yielding truly unique Japanese gins.
Some also add finishing touches to their blends by incorporating a splash of their own sake or local water. This technique means that the gin makers are adjusting the flavor of their gin until the very end, ensuring a focused product.
For example, gin producers from tropical Okinawa utilize goya (bitter melon) and guava native to the island. In seaside Hiroshima, gin producers crush up local oyster shells to impart a salinity into their gin. In Kyoto, the distilleries have better access to high-grade teas produced in the region.
Seeking out these unique regional ingredients is a great way to experience new, unprecedented flavors in gin, especially if you have an adventurous palate.
Because most Japanese craft gin producers remain very small, they often source ingredients by tapping personal relationships with local farmers. Shipping certain kinds of produce and other botanicals overseas is sometimes difficult due to expense, logistics, or freshness, but some makers have managed to capture the essence of certain botanicals thanks to gin. It's now possible to go on a botanical tour of Japan just with a flight of Japanese gins!
Japan has four seasons and varied climates across the country, allowing for a range of unique products. Some ingredients can only grow in certain seasons, like yuzu or Hiroshima sweet oranges. Gin producers often wait for the perfect timing to harvest ripe ingredients for the best flavor.
Some distilleries batch-release gin to match the seasons and focus on certain ingredients. For example, a spring release made from sakura petals picked from the distillery grounds. Due to the small-batch nature of budding Japanese craft gin distilleries, experimentation is common.
Though gin and tonic may be a traditional summer drink, Japanese cuisine emphasizes seasonality, so a Japanese gin that matches the season can be great year-round for pairing. Spring brings fresh cherry blossoms and sansho pepper. For summer, try a gin with cooling mint, cucumber, shiso, or plum. Hearty mushroom and pumpkin can be great in autumn. Then, warm up your winter with seasonal citrus, like mandarin and yuzu.
In general, a gin with fewer botanicals is best for mixed drinks. Use a simple citrus-forward gin for cocktails where there is less room to “hide” the flavor of the gin, like a martini or gin and tonic.
A floral gin is a good match for sweeter drinks like a Tom Collins or gimlet. Funkier gins with bitter notes can elevate intricately-flavored cocktails like a negroni.
You can also bring out certain flavors in cocktails by matching the botanicals. For example, find a gin made from yuzu and tea if you plan to make a matcha yuzu gin fizz.
Here are our choices for the 10 best Japanese gins available online! We chose these gins based on factors listed in our buying guide and online reviews.
*Please note that these products were chosen after extensive research by mybest writers. The choices are not necessarily affiliated with or recommended by Whiskey Richard.
The Kyoto Distillery
The Kyoto Distillery
Ki No Bi Kyoto Dry Gin
Ki No Tea Kyoto Dry Gin
Roku Japanese Craft Gin
Nikka Coffey Gin
Sakurao Limited Gin
Okinawa Japanese Craft Gin
Japanese Craft Gin
Sakurajima Komikan Gin
Yuzu Japanese Gin
Best Balanced Gin With Clean Lemon Notes
Best for the Green Tea Aroma
Best Gin for Beginners
Best Gin for a Deep, Complex Flavor
Best Unusual Gin With Notes of Oysters and Wasabi
Best Herbaceous Gin Using Tropical Ingredients
Best Gin for a Fresh, Earthy Flavor
Best Gin With Fruity Fragrances
Best Gin for Summery Cocktails
Best Rare Gin With Umami Notes
|Botanicals||Juniper, orris, hinoki, yuzu, lemon, tea, ginger, red shiso, bamboo leaves, sansho pepper, sansho leaves||Juniper, orris, hinoki, yuzu, lemon, green tea (gyokuro, tencha)||Juniper, yuzu peel, sakura flower, sakura leaf, sencha tea, gyokuro tea and sansho pepper||Juniper, amanatsu, angelica, apple, coriander, hirami lemon, Japanese pepper, kabosu, lemon, orange, yuzu||Japanese juniper, cherry blossom, spicebush, pepper leaf, oyster, wasabi, perilla, citruses||Juniper, bitter melon, guava leaves, roselle, shekwasa, long pepper||Juniper, mandarin peel, lemon peel, sansho pepper, umbrella pine||Juniper, Sakurajima small mandarins, coriander, others||Juniper, yuzu, Japanese pepper, ginger, cucumber, hebess citrus, hyuganatsu citrus, coriander seed, cloves.||Juniper, dried shiitake mushrooms, hidaka kelp, dried daikon strips, yuzu, cherry blossom, apples, matcha tea, and more|
|Distillate||Rice||Rice||Wheat||Barley, corn||Clear tasting base spirit||Awamori (Okinawa rice spirit)||Unknown||Shochu||Shochu (sweet potato, sugar cane)||-|
|Suggested way of drinking||Gin and tonic||Green tea martini, on the rocks||Gin and tonic, neat with ginger slices||Neat, negroni||On the rocks, neat||Neat or splash of soda||Gin and tonic, Greyhound, salty dog||Splash of soda with citrus slice or sugary citrus cocktail (gin sour, Tom Collins, etc)||Gin & tonic or other yuzu cocktails (matcha yuzu gin fizz, etc)||On the rocks|
|Botanicals||Juniper, orris, hinoki, yuzu, lemon, tea, ginger, red shiso, bamboo leaves, sansho pepper, sansho leaves|
|Suggested way of drinking||Gin and tonic|
|Botanicals||Juniper, orris, hinoki, yuzu, lemon, green tea (gyokuro, tencha)|
|Suggested way of drinking||Green tea martini, on the rocks|
|Botanicals||Juniper, yuzu peel, sakura flower, sakura leaf, sencha tea, gyokuro tea and sansho pepper|
|Suggested way of drinking||Gin and tonic, neat with ginger slices|
|Botanicals||Juniper, amanatsu, angelica, apple, coriander, hirami lemon, Japanese pepper, kabosu, lemon, orange, yuzu|
|Suggested way of drinking||Neat, negroni|
|Botanicals||Japanese juniper, cherry blossom, spicebush, pepper leaf, oyster, wasabi, perilla, citruses|
|Distillate||Clear tasting base spirit|
|Suggested way of drinking||On the rocks, neat|
|Botanicals||Juniper, bitter melon, guava leaves, roselle, shekwasa, long pepper|
|Distillate||Awamori (Okinawa rice spirit)|
|Suggested way of drinking||Neat or splash of soda|
|Botanicals||Juniper, mandarin peel, lemon peel, sansho pepper, umbrella pine|
|Suggested way of drinking||Gin and tonic, Greyhound, salty dog|
|Botanicals||Juniper, Sakurajima small mandarins, coriander, others|
|Suggested way of drinking||Splash of soda with citrus slice or sugary citrus cocktail (gin sour, Tom Collins, etc)|
|Botanicals||Juniper, yuzu, Japanese pepper, ginger, cucumber, hebess citrus, hyuganatsu citrus, coriander seed, cloves.|
|Distillate||Shochu (sweet potato, sugar cane)|
|Suggested way of drinking||Gin & tonic or other yuzu cocktails (matcha yuzu gin fizz, etc)|
|Botanicals||Juniper, dried shiitake mushrooms, hidaka kelp, dried daikon strips, yuzu, cherry blossom, apples, matcha tea, and more|
|Suggested way of drinking||On the rocks|
In addition to reviewing and commenting on our buying guide, Whiskey Richard also took the time to answer a commonly asked question about Japanese gin.
"Many Japanese gins are more citrus than juniper-forward, so they tend to work better with soda than tonic," Whiskey Richard explains. "I recommend first trying the gin straight, then adding a few drops of water to see how the flavor profile changes. Also experiment with tonic and soda to see what works best for you.
For cocktails, first try simply using Japanese gin in place of a traditional London Dry to see how it impacts flavor. This will help give you a better idea of how it will work for new drinks that bring out the best in each gin's botanicals."
Though gin is the newest addition to the Japanese alcohol scene, other classics are sure to impress as well. Here are some other Japanese alcohols to consider adding to your liquor cabinet!
This expert reviewed the contents of the buying guide for accuracy and provided factual corrections when necessary, as well as extra tips and advice. They did not participate in the product selection process, nor are they affiliated with any of our choices unless explicitly stated so.
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