The Kyoto Distillery in pictures
Based in two small buildings in the suburbs of the historic city of Kyoto, The Kyoto Distillery is thought to be Japan’s first dedicated gin distillery. Also the first licensed distillery in Kyoto, it was founded by Number One Drinks Company Japan’s Marcin Miller and David Croll last year, with former Cotswolds and Chase distiller Alex Davies stepping into the role of head distiller. Highly respected former Suntory master distiller Masami Onishi also joined the company as a consultant.
Not only is The Kyoto Distillery unique in its provenance, it also boasts a creative production method to enhance the botanical flavour profiles of its inaugural product – Ki No Bi Kyoto Dry Gin. A rice base spirit, Ki No Bi showcases local Japanese botanicals such as yellow yuzu from the north of Kyoto Prefecture, hinoki wood chips (Japanese cypress), bamboo, gyokuro tea from the Uji region and green sanshō (Japanese peppercorn) berries.
Davies and assistant distiller Yoichi Motoki distill Ki No Bi in six different botanical categories: base, citrus, tea, herbal, spice and floral. These distillates are left in separate tanks to rest and then, with a focus on the art of blending, are married together with pure water taken from the well of a sake brewer in nearby Fushimi.
After a further period of resting, approximately half of the blended gin is then bottled, the remainder being held back to combine with the next blend in a solera-type process. Each bottling is around 2,000 litres in volume – enough to make just over 2,800 bottles. The whole process, from start to finish, takes around three weeks.
“New country, new distillery, new gin. It made total sense to rewrite the book and start from scratch,” Davies says of the unique production method. “When I first started, David and Marcin said they had an idea to blend gin, which I said was perfect because different ingredients need treating differently. By distilling separately instead of taking an average cut point, we can do it according to what the ingredients require.”
Fushimi water, always stored perfectly chilled, is used to reduce the gin to bottling strength.
The Kyoto Distillery features two bespoke “hybrid” copper stills made by German manufacturer Christian Carl: a 140-litre still with an integrated botanical basket in the helmet and a 450-litre still with a swan neck and side-mounted botanical basket.
This equipment gives Kyoto Distillery the “capacity and flexibility” to “treat each botanical and recipe individually”.
The majority of Ki No Bi’s botanicals are purchased as locally as possible. They are brought into the distillery fresh and stored in a small botanical freezer. Different botanicals will be used to created limited edition variations of Ki No Bi gin.
Assistant distiller Yoichi Motoki was formerly a bartender in Ginza, Tokyo and also worked at the Isle of Arran Scotch whisky distillery before moving to Japan-based spirits marketing firm Whisk-E.
“It’s hard to imagine how we could have made the production process more complicated, but we think the ends justify the means,” he says. “We have real control over the individual botanical categories and that in future will allow us to develop all sorts of spin-off products.”
A tiny room adjoining the distillery holds Ki No Bi’s bottling operations.
The Kyoto Distillery will always be dedicated to gin production and does not intend to move into brown spirits. “A lot of us here have our roots in whisky and we have brought some of that whisky thinking with us with the whole idea of single cask bottling,” says Croll. “But we never want to make a whisky, we want to make the best gin we can. We want to make the best possible craft gin we can and we go to silly extremes to do this.”
The Kyoto Distillery’s experimentation continues in Davies’s gin laboratory – one of his stipulations before taking on the job. Look out for more interesting concoctions in the future.