Julia Momosé Recommends 5 Japanese Gins To Try - Imbibe Magazine Subscribe + Save

Julia Momosé Recommends 5 Japanese Gins To Try

At her Chicago cocktail bar Kumiko, Julia Momosé explores and experiments with a wide range of Japanese ingredients and spirits. Her upcoming book, The Way of the Cocktail (co-authored by Imbibe digital editor Emma Janzen; out October 2021, Clarkson Potter), dives deep into the country’s cocktail culture, with a section devoted to the Japanese approach to gin. “I was struck by how brilliantly Japanese gin producers are melding local citrus and botanicals into gins that are distinctively Japanese,” says Momosé. She notes that while gin distillation isn’t new to Japan by any means, with whisky houses Nikka and Suntory both making gin for years, it was the opening of The Kyoto Distillery in 2014 that “lit the spark that set off a wave of craft gins throughout Japan,” she says. “Not all are available outside of Japan yet, but here are five standouts that offer a taste of the ever-evolving Japanese spirits landscape.”

The Kyoto Distillery Ki No Bi Kyoto Dry Gin “The Kyoto Distillery set the example for Japanese gins,” says Momosé. “It took them two years from their founding in 2014 to their first release of the Ki No Bi Kyoto Dry Gin in 2016.” The distillery considered every element, from the rice distillate base to the water sourced from Fushimi (and prized by historic sake makers). “Ki No Bi is made with 11 botanicals broken into six categories: base (juniper, orris root, and hinoki), citrus (lemon and yuzu), herbal (sanshō and kinomé), tea (gyokuro), spice (ginger), and fruity and floral (red shiso and bamboo leaf).” Momosé recommends exploring the distillery’s other expressions as well, like the Old Tom–inspired Ki No Tou with black sugar from Okinawa, and Ki No Tea with gyokuro and tencha. $75.96, astorwines.com

Nikka Coffey Gin Tapping their considerable experience blending whisky, Nikka takes a similar approach to their Coffey Gin, released in 2017. “The base is not simply neutral grain. It is considered portions of malt and corn distillates, with three separate macerations into the corn distillate, finished with precise blending with the malt distillate for texture,” says Momosé. In addition to classic gin botanicals like juniper, coriander, and angelica, Nikka also incorporates a maceration of apple (in homage to the company’s start as the Great Japanese Juice Company) and four types of Japanese citrus, and another maceration specifically for sanshō pepper. “Nikka Coffey Gin is robust and bold, pungent and sassy, savory and bright,” says Momosé. “I adore this gin in a classic Gimlet.” $46.99, totalwine.com

Suntory Roku Gin Roku means six in Japanese, and Roku Gin from Suntory, released in 2017, highlights six Japanese botanicals. Emphasizing locally harvested sakura blossoms, sakura leaves, yuzu zest, sencha, gyokuro, and sanshō pepper, the gin includes eight other traditional botanicals like juniper, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, bitter orange, and lemon peel. “I enjoy the way cinnamon and cardamom ping off of the baking spice notes of the sakura leaf, and the way the yuzu and sanshō brighten and expand upon the classic bitter orange and lemon components,” says Momosé, who crafts a Sakura Collins using Roku Gin mixed with an infused sakura vermouth and sakura saline. $27.99, totalwine.com

Komasa Gin Sakurajima Komikan “Komasa Jyōzō is a shōchū producer in Kagoshima, founded in 1883 by Komasa Ichisuke. Their specialty is sweet potato shōchū and an aged rice shōchū,” says Momosé. The company began making whisky at their Kanosuke Distillery in 2017, and obtained the license for their Hioki Distillery in 2018. “Their first release is Komasa Gin Sakurajima Komikan, which starts with their rice shōchū as a base. Juniper berries and coriander offer earthy and warming spice—a solid backdrop for the bright and sweet komikan [mandarins],” says Momosé. “They only use a few ingredients to flavor the gin, which is why I like it so much. When working with such a specific variety of citrus, it’s important to allow it to shine.” $199.99, dekanta.com

Kyoya Yuzugin “Immediately after the pour, I could sense that this gin was something special—a gin to set Japanese gins in a realm all their own,” Momosé says. The maker, Kyoya Shuzō, is a historic shōchū producer, renowned for their sweet potato shōchū. “They use a blend of two of their popular brands as the base for Yuzugin, and undergo single distillations of each of the nine botanicals: juniper berries, clove, coriander, yuzu, sanshō, local Miyazaki citruses hebess and hyuganatsu, cucumber, and ginger,” says Momosé. “After careful blending, the result is supple, earthy, redolent, and mouth-wateringly delicious.” $68, blackwellswines.com

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