Two of the newest Japanese craft gins to hit the scene are 9148 from Sapporo's Benizakura Distilley, and Hinata from Kyoya Distillery in Miyazaki Prefecture. Tonight we're drinking both!
Benizakura Distillery 9148 Recipe 0101 Review
Full disclosure, both of the gins I'm drinking tonight I've actually had before. You may remember GINfest Tokyo happened a couple weeks ago -- both of these were available there. So a real review should be my tasting notes from the event... had I taken any, and not lost them in my stupor.
Getting back to the point, Hokkaido Liberty Whisky opened the doors to the Benizakura Distillery in downtown Sapporo earlier this year. Given the company name it's probably safe to assume they will eventually make whisky, and indeed their distiller's license allows it. But for the time being they've released a few craft gins. Here we have the first mainstream release, which goes by the name Recipe 0101. As of this writing there's also the distillery-only initial batch called Recipe 0100. And since July there is a Recipe 0396 released, which features cherry blossom as a botanical.
Released may not be the right word. Being a craft distillery, their production capacity is quite low (Recipe 0396 is only 500 bottles this year). It's also limited geographically -- you can't even buy 9148 outside of the city of Sapporo at the moment. I'm not aware of any plans to change that, but surely they'd like to get more bottles in the hands of the right bartenders in Tokyo. That limited capacity perhaps helps explain the higher price point. And so do the rarer botanicals like kombu, radish, and even shiitake.
Nose: A whole lot of lemon peel, juniper, and just a smidgen of black pepper. It's a London Dry Gin in spirit.
Palate: We initially get a bit of cinnamon but that's quickly followed by cardamom and juniper. Off the end there's plenty of lemon to be found as well.
Finish: That juniper lingers quite nicely, and things slowly end with black peppery
Price paid: Around 6000 yen before shipping
The bottle design may call vodka to mind, but that's obviously not what's going on with 9148. Instead we have a very solid, traditional juniper-heavy dry gin.
Kyoya Distillery Hinata Review
We had Yuzugin at last year's Gin-Posium Japan 2017, and now Kyoya Distillery is back with a new release called Hinata. Compared to 9148, it's a far more floral gin with plenty of earthy things going on, so let's head on in.
Nose: Cardamom, cedar, and plenty of ginger. Does this even need tonic?
Palate: That cardamom jumps right out but we also get some citrus as well, yet it keeps going piney and grassy. It doesn't have much heat at all, and remains soft on the tongue.
Finish: A hint of cinnamon slowly turns into a minty licorice. When can I have another?
Price paid: 300 yen for the sampler bottle.
For those that like more flavorful gins without a nose full of juniper, give Hinata a try. Save your bottle of tonic for something else though, this one does fine on its own.
Whiskey Richard is the founder of nomunication.jp, and has been saying he has lived in Japan for ten years for the past four years. He enjoys drinking basically anything except straight-up Campari.