Well, Father Christmas didn’t disappoint me on the gin stakes. The first bottle I unwrapped was a rather splendid affair, a rather squat, hexagonal shaped bottle, whose label, printed on Japanese washi paper, told me that it was Roku Gin.
Marketing is everything, at least when it comes to gin in order to get an edge in the crowded market spawned by the ginaissance. Roku is Japanese for six and the spirit uses six botanicals which are representative of the Land of the Rising Sun. But the name is a tad misleading as there are another eight botanicals which go into the mix. Perhaps it should be called Ju Yon, not as catchy perhaps, but more representative of what is actually in the drink.
The label has an elegant and distinctive design featuring the number six in Kanji script. The hexagon bottle is rather sensual to the touch, it oozes elegance and class, and each facet of the bottle features one of the traditional Japanese botanicals.
What might be described as the rhythm section of the gin is made up of eight botanicals which this writer, at least, is delighted to find in the mix – the old favourites, juniper, coriander seed, angelica root and seed, cardamom, cinnamon, bitter orange and lemon peel. The base spirit is neutral grain-based, rather than anything fancy like sake.
And now to the Japanese botanicals.
I suppose most occidentals’ stereotypical view of Japan is a land of cherry blossom and this gin does nothing to recalibrate conceptions. Roku takes the flower and the leaf of the Sakura, that beautiful and rather delicate ornamental cherry which are a delight to even Western gardens. They bloom in late winter and early spring and represent renewal, rebirth, the start of another cycle of life.
Another traditional image of Japan is a land of elaborate tea ceremonies and two forms of green tea are added to the hooch. We have sencha which means new tea and, as its name suggests, is the first crop of the year and considered to be the most tasty. It is supposed to have health-giving properties. We will see. The other variant of green tea in the mix is gyokuro which appears later in the year and is grown under shade rather than the full sun.
The next flavour of the Orient added to the mix is Sansho pepper. They consist of little green, unripened pods from the Japanese prickly ash and have a citrus taste with a bit of a fierce peppery kick. To complete the sextet we have yuzu peel form, unsurprisingly, a fruit called yuzu which is a cross between a grapefruit and a mandarin. The peel is used particularly in miso soup.
So, what is it like?
The scewcap top releases an exotic aroma infused with cherry and green tea. To the taste the spirit is rich and oily, it louched when I added tonic, with the traditional gin notes soon giving way, briefly, to the cherry blossom, before the tea with its tannic overtones takes over. It becomes quite bitter and peppery with hints of citrus in the aftertaste.
At 43% ABV, the Roku for the Japanese domestic market weighs in at 47%, it struck me as an elegant, well-balanced and interesting gin, one to savour and a welcome addition to my groaning gin shelf. Suntory, who launched the gin internationally in 2017, have come up with a winner here.