Local flavours drive innovation in Japan's gin market

Japanese distillers tap into local botanicals to offer a distinctly Japanese gin offering

 

While Japan has long had its own production of local spirits, such as shochu, as well as a highly successful whisky industry, a growing number of producers have recently begun to produce white spirits, gin in particular.

New local gin offerings come from both established drinks companies as well as new craft distilleries. Like other gin producers around the world, many Japanese distillers are making use of local botanicals to create distinctly Japanese spirits that are having success both locally and abroad. IWSR data shows that consumption of local gin in Japan will continue to grow over the next 5 years.

In 2016, the first Japanese gins to tap into local ingredients, such as gyokuru tea, yuzu and bamboo, started to enter the market, including product launches from brands such as The Kyoto Distillery. Since then, the country’s major players in whisky, such as Suntory and Nikka, followed suit with their own gin releases, also featuring botanicals such as kabosu, yuzu, shikuwasa, sakura flower, and sansho pepper.

Since these launches from The Kyoto Distillery, Suntory and Nikka, the craft gin category in Japan has been growing, with a number of new entrants and a thriving market both domestically and abroad. Suntory has since expanded its gin offering as well, with a new product launched in March 2020. Many existing distillers of Japanese spirits, shochu in particular, have also turned their hands to gin production in the past few years.

In addition to the botanical mix, one of the most distinctive aspects of Japan’s craft gin scene is the use of local ingredients in the base spirit. Innovation in the base spirit is especially driven by producers of traditional Japanese spirits such as shochu. Examples include Kyoya distillery’s choice of a sweet potato shochu base for its Yuzu Gin, as well as Kanosuke, which uses shochu to produce its gins.

In some cases, brands are tapping into hyperlocal flavour trends, drawing not only on distinctly Japanese ingredients, but botanicals local to their distilleries too. Ki No Bi’s yellow yuzu, for example, comes from the north of the Kyoto Prefecture. In the case of 9148 Gin from Benizakura Distillery, botanicals from the distillery’s local area of Hokkaido include kombu and shiitake mushrooms.

This new wave of Japanese spirits is not limited to gin: some producers are exploring the potential of vodka, unaged rum, and even new-make spirit.

 

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