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A drink with… Kazuyuki Torii, Roku Gin

The master distiller of Roku talks about the challenges of global appeal, balancing flavours and creating a unique Japanese product.

Kazuyuki Torii, master distiller at Roku Gin
Kazuyuki Torii, master distiller at Roku Gin

How did you come to work in the spirits industry?
When I was at university, I studied food science and food engineering, and within that I was particularly interested in brewing and distillation. So I’ve been working in the field for a long me now, 30 years, and I’ve developed many spirits, liqueurs and so on.

What do you enjoy most about your role at Suntory?
I feel really happy when something that I’ve devoted myself to creating spreads widely and people all around the world are happy to enjoy what I’ve created; that makes me feel really rewarded for the work that I’ve put into it.

What aspect of your role have you found challenging?
Up until now I’ve primarily been developing products for the Japanese market, but when Suntory and Beam merged to become Beam Suntory I had to think on a more global scale and realised that tastes are different. Understanding that difference in taste was quite a challenge.

How did you overcome that?

There are two things that I kept in mind. One was to have people from outside of Japan taste the product and be able to taste something of Japan within it. But also to have Japanese bartenders feel that it’s not gone too far away from the mould of Japanese gin; so to balance the two of those was an enjoyable challenge.

How would you describe Roku Gin?

Roku Gin
Roku Gin

There are six Japanese botanicals in the gin – sakura flower, sakura leaf, yuzu peel, sencha tea, gyokuro tea and sansho pepper – and that’s one of the main characteristics. The bottle itself is hexagonal, with a botanical on each facet.

Did you have a characteristic in mind when you were creating Roku?
It would be easy to say that I wanted to create a yuzu-­flavoured gin or a sakura­-flavoured gin, but that’s not really the Japanese way. In Japan, people prefer to achieve a more delicate balance, so that was one challenge that I had to face: not having one of the flavours dominating over the others. At the same time the image I had in mind was to have the four seasons incorporated within it.

Are there any recommended serves for Roku?

We recommended a gin and tonic with Japanese botanicals added in. Also, it’s not that common in the UK, but in Japan it’s quite common to dilute spirits with hot water – it’s certainly worth a try, particularly on cold days.

How do you see the Japanese gin category developing?
There is a lot of freedom with gin because of the different botanicals that are incorporated within it. They can be used in many different ways, and they might develop in different ways in different countries. If the Japanese gin category achieves a degree of recognition in that way, that would be very nice.

Are there plans to launch any line extensions for Roku?
We are looking into it. But we don’t have any plans at present.

What are you working on at the moment?
Up until now, our focus has been more domestic, but since we joined with Beam, we have a more global outlook, and so what I am working on is how we can develop products that will be liked around the world, which are still typically Japanese but have global appeal.

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