Patricia Noonan checks out Nikka Coffey Gin from Japan, and interviews Naoki Tomoyoshi…

The Nikka Coffey Gin ($68.65 | LCBO# $68.65) from Japan is the latest in the ever expanding world of gin with a botanical element very specific to the country. The dominant botanical, juniper, is a must and what is important is that the other botanicals enhance the spirit. It’s all in the details… so along with the typical botanicals, such as lemon-pepper coriander and earthy angelica root, Nikka has sourced four types of citrus to bring an elemental zest of aromatics and flavour to the smoothness of the Coffey distilled spirit. As well, there is an indigenous pepper, to add some zing. Like the Nikka Coffey Vodka, the water is sourced from  the Nikkawa River which is the mother water for the Miyagikyo Distillery where this gin is made. As I interviewed Naoki Tomoyoshi, the Nikka Whisky International Business Development Representative ( Asahi Breweries, Ltd.Japan.) for my previous article on the Nikka Coffey Vodka, I’m going with a ‘part two’ as we quite enjoyed the process of sharing the information. Here goes…

Good Food Revolution: How does gin compare to all other spirit consumption in Japan?

Noaki Tomoyoshi: Gin has always been a popular category and widely consumed at bars and restaurants, generally in a long drink such as a Gin & Tonic. Following the recent craft gin boom, we see more and more premium brands in the market, and more artisanal cocktails are created behind the bars. Consumers in Japan have a wider choice of gin, more than ever. Nikka Coffey Gin is one of the leading brands driving creation in the bar scene.

GFR: The legal requirements for gin production must include juniper as the dominant botanical. Where are you sourcing yours? Is there an indigenous juniper in Japan

NT: We source our juniper from overseas, from various sources that we do not disclose. Also, all the other traditional gin ingredients (angelica, coriander seed, lemon peel and orange peel) are imported from trusted high-quality sources. I have heard there are some wild juniper trees in Japan, however I do not know whether they are any different, or if it is suitable for gin production.

GFR: You’re using various citrus specific to Japan in this production. How would you describe the way they affect the balance of flavours? I’m only familiar with Yuzu, not the Kabosu, Amanatsu and Shequasar.

NT: Let me split this question into two parts, to focus on explaining what kind of “balance of flavours” we tried to achieve.

There are various ways you can create balance, and I believe most gin products in the market are designed to achieve balance between the various botanicals.

Our goal for Nikka Coffey Gin, or actually the concept of developing this product, was to create balance with the flavors and textures of the Coffey Still distilled spirits. In other words, the Coffey distilled spirit is the hero and the botanicals are the surrounding/supporting elements. 

As you are very familiar with our Coffey Vodka (I really enjoyed reading your article and recommend everyone to read that piece before this one), our Coffey Spirits on its own has extremely pleasant aroma, flavor and mouthfeel. Therefore, the question was “what is the perfect mix of botanicals to compliment the spirit itself?”. We experimented with many different citruses and these were the ones we found working perfectly together. 

Here are some quick notes on the flavors of the citruses:

  • Kabosu – green and sharp with some spicy notes, sweet and sour on the palate.
  • Amanatsu – orangey sweetness, juicy nectar, mild on the nose.
  • Shequasar – exotic on the nose and palate, more sour than sweet.

In addition, the green Sansho pepper (which is actually a small citrus) gives a tingling effect on the palate along with a bright aroma on the nose. Sansho pepper is the same plant as Sichuan pepper. The difference with this green Sansho pepper is that it is dried quickly after harvest, which prevents the berry from turning brown. This also helps retain the berry’s bright zesty notes.

GFR: Are you drying the peels to concentrate the essential oils before?

NT: The lemon and orange zests are dried, and the zests from yuzu, kabosu, amanatsu and shequasar are frozen.

GFR: Is Nikka doing a traditional infusion for the botanicals? There several ways to attain flavour consistency in gin…

NT: Great question; the answer is we infuse the botanicals in three different ways, in order to create precise balance and secure consistency. Having five components (the three different botanical spirits plus the corn-based Coffey spirit and malt-based Coffey spirit) allows us to blend just like we do with whisky. This is the approach we take to design a precise flavor profile and produce it consistently.

Here is how we conduct the botanical infusion and distillation. We split the botanicals into three groups to extract the ideal flavors.

First, we have what we call the juniper spirits. We steep all the traditional gin botanicals into the Coffey distilled spirit, in the pot, and let it extract for roughly half a day before distillation.

Second, we have what we call the citrus spirits. The four Japanese citrus zests and apple juice are added to the Coffey distilled spirit and infused for roughly two days. The botanicals are squeezed to extract all the juice, then distilled in a vacuum still.

Third, we have the Sansho spirit. The Sansho is added to the Coffey distilled spirits for roughly 1 day, then distilled in a vacuum still.

The vacuum still allows it to distill at a low temperature, which prevents from creating cooked, bitter, brownish flavors. Instead, it allows to extract the fresh and bright flavors and aroma, just like the image of the colors you find on the label.

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While I waited for this very detailed information, I had this gin to taste and play around with for cocktails. I am a fan of the modern classic gin based cocktail, London Calling, found in Difford’s Guide to Cocktails. Here’s my spin made with Nikka Coffey Gin and sake replacing the dry fino sherry!

Tokyo Calling

1.5 oz Nikka Coffey Gin
.5 oz of Sake
2 oz organic lemonade
2 dashes of orange bitters
Lemon twist

Shake liquid ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker until chilled and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon twist.