Few outside of Japan know that Beam Suntory makes gin. Unlike the beverage group’s Yamazaki whiskies, the colourless spirit has largely remained a domestic product for Japanese consumers.
Beam Suntory isn’t new to the gin game—the spirits team have been making gin since 1936, and in 1981, launched the Dry Gin Professional, their first premium gin product. Roku Gin, released in Singapore last month, is the company’s latest premium gin, but unlike its predecessors, it finds a straight path to overseas markets just a mere two months after its domestic launch. “Roku Gin is the result of two years of conceptualisation,” says Kazuyuki Torii, Beam Suntory’s deputy senior specialist, who joined the company in 1980. “We also gathered feedback from bartenders and other industry people from not only Japan, but also the UK and Spain when developing the product.”
Roku Gin’s six Japanese botanicals—sakura flower, sakura leaf, yuzu peel, sencha tea, gyokuro tea and sansho pepper—inspired the gin’s name (‘roku’ means ‘six’ in Japanese), and also complement the tipple’s eight traditional botanicals of juniper berry, coriander seeds, angelica root, angelica seeds, cardamom, cinnamon, orange peel and lemon peel. None of the six Japanese botanicals were processed or turned into powder: The harvested sakura and gyokuro tea leaves, for example, remain intact when they are steeped before distillation. This encourages a better extraction of their aromas.
Getting a harmonious, balanced blend out of the 14 botanicals was no walk in the park. To guide their blending process, Torii and his team divided the botanicals into three flavour categories of Floral, Herbal and Citrus, pairing the profiles of the Japanese ingredients with their traditional counterparts. For example, in the Floral department, the sakura flower, with its delicate sweetness and perfume, complemented the coriander’s fresh aromas. “We went through a lot of [similar ingredients] for each botanical before picking the final one,” reveals Torii. “For citrus fruits, we looked at ingredients like kabosu, sudachi, and Setouchi lemon before settling on yuzu. We found that yuzu has gentle flavours—unlike, say, lemon, which may be too sharp and zesty for some people—and that worked well in our blend.”
Drunk neat, Roku Gin is easy on the palate, offering a perfumed aroma, a silky texture and clean, citrusy notes. But Torii recommends serving it as a gin and tonic as a refreshing aperitif. If you’d like to pair it with Japanese bites, Torii advises that you swap the tonic for soda as “the tonic can be too sweet for food pairing”. He recommends pairing the Roku gin and soda with sushi.
This was first published in Wine & Dine’s Jan/Feb 2018 issue – Embracing Clean and Green, ‘Spotlight’