Release | Yuki Konishi
Craft gin with the aroma of seasons in the north - “9148” series by “Benizakura Distillery”
Craft gin is getting noticed worldwide recently.
Japanese craft gins are getting noticed as well and Hokkaido craft gin “9148” series which express different seasons of Hokkaido came out.
I visited Hokkaido Liberty Whiskey Inc. “Benizakura Distillery”, Hokkaido’s first craft gin producer and got a chance to interview the president Hidekuni Hayashi and the manager of distillation Akiyuki Koshikawa.
Table of Contents- What is “craft gin”? The keyword is “Botanical”
- Let’s visit “Benizakura Distillery” surrounded by lots of trees
- Horseradish, kelp, and lavender? What are the attractions of “9148” series?
- What other “9148” are planned to produce?
What is “craft gin”? The keyword is “Botanical”Craft beers have become a standard drink in Japanese culture.
Craft gins, as well as craft beer, means premium gins which adds unique ingredients to express uniqueness and produced in a small batch.
“There is no distinct definition of gins, actually. It’s the name of spirits that are flavored with natural plant materials, sometimes called ‘botanical’.” Mr. Koshikawa told me.
The recipes of gins, the content of botanicals and how much each botanical are mixed, are up to distillers except juniper berries which are essential to gins. There are no standards of ingredients of base spirits.
In other words, the biggest attraction of craft gins is its high flexibility.
“There are plenty of botanicals in Hokkaido. I would like to express Hokkaido in craft gin and want to show the world what’s great about Hokkaido.” Mr. Hayashi, the president of the company, told.
Let’s visit “Benizakura Distillery” surrounded by lots of treesBenizakura Distillery is located in “Benizakura Park” in Minami-ku, which is approximately 30 mins drive from central Sapporo.
Benizakura Park is approximately 82,644 square meters big!
The park is known as one of the most beautiful cherry blossoms, and autumn leaves sights in Sapporo.
▲The trees welcome us at the entrance and feel very nice!
▲The closest station is Metro Jieitai-Mae Station. It’s about 20 mins walk from the station.
This is the Benizakura Distillery which held the opening ceremony on April 26, 2018.
The distillery is open for visitors every day. Mr. Koshikawa hosts the guided tour every Sunday. (reservation required)
Also, Mr. Koshikawa opens a bar to enjoy craft gin-based cocktails irregularly.
▲There is no charge to see the distillery. However, you need to pay for the entrance fee 300 yen to enter Benizakura Park.
The Italian distiller comes right into our eyes when we enter the distillery.
They use the underground water in the park and produce around 550 bottles per batch.
▲The base spirits are 95.5% purity material alcohol made by Sapporo Shusei. “The flavor of their spirits is very clear, so flavors of botanicals stand out.” Mr. Koshikawa said.
Then, how is Hokkaido’s first craft gin “9148” like?
Horseradish, kelp, and lavender? What are the attractions of “9148” series?The name 9148 is a homage of the novel “1984” by George Orwell.
Gins with medicine smells are depicted as an icon of a controlled society in the novel.
“The world with freedom, free ideation, and freedom of values. I wanted to put these messages to our gin.” The president Hayashi told.
Yes, the attraction of craft gins is its flexibility.
As the name suggests, 9148’s botanicals include Hidaka kelp, shiitake mushrooms, dried radish, horseradish, etc.
Don’t you think it’s too creative?
“We have products with 5 different recipes and use approximately 15 to 20 botanicals in each recipe to flavor the spirits.
Putting kelps in craft gins are not unusual in the world. Also, roots of plants are essential elements in gins, so some recipes add Hokkaido’s specialty such as horseradish and dried radish.” Mr. Koshikawa said.
▲He went into the world of alcohol as he liked Western alcohols. He graduated from a bartenders school in London, and studies about whiskeys by visiting different distilleries as he worked in a hotel in Islay Island in Scotland. He decided to move to Sapporo when he saw the white snowy town.
Their first recipe #0100 has sold out, and they are not planning to reproduce in the near future. The currently available recipes are #0101, #0102 (limitedly sold at Benizakura Park), #0396, #1922 (limitedly sold in Sapporo and around).
▲Ingredients differ by the recipes, but many Hokkaido produced ingredients are used such as soba, black locust, hardy kiwi, mint, cassis, and red shiso.
For example, #0396 uses sakura petals of Benizakura Park as one of the botanicals.
“The recipe mixes the lower amount of juniper berries than usual to produce the sweet flavor of cherry blossoms.”
And they put some sakura petals in the bottle! How beautiful is this!
▲Sakura petal falls slowly in the bottle of gin.
#1922 has been just launched on August 1, 2018, and the concept is Sapporo!
August 1, 1922, was the day when Sapporo officially became a city.
They did not put Hidaka kelp to #01922. Instead, they added lavender from Horomi Pass in Chuo-ku, Sapporo.
It had light flavor and aroma which felt perfect for summer.
And Mr. Koshikawa told me to see the date on the label.
Please look closely at the label in this picture.
There are two groups of four numbers on the right and left. The right “1922” is the name of the product, and “0801” on the left is the day they bottled the gin.
“Even though we use the same recipe, the flavor changes depending on the characteristics of each botanical, and temperature or humidity of the season. There is natural uniqueness depending on the bottles. Therefore, we put the date so that customers can enjoy the differences.”
And what makes us happy is that they offer free tasting of 9148 at “Benizakura Honkan” across the distillery.
▲You can enjoy Genghis Khan at Benizakura Honkan, too! “Adding a little bit of 9148 to the Genghis Khan sauce is another interesting way to taste our gin.”
Well, another characteristic of 9148 series which uses kelp and shiitake mushrooms must be its umami flavor in the refreshing flavor.
What other “9148” are planned to produce?Benizakura Distillery is planning to produce craft gin using colored leaves in autumn and something using winter icons to express Hokkaido winter.
“Scotland is my second hometown, and Hokkaido is the third. I want to show what’s great about Hokkaido through 9148. I would like to try making gins with only Hokkaido produced botanicals.” Mr. Koshikawa said.
▲They planted juniper berries in the park to achieve creating craft gin made with 100% Hokkaido botanicals.
Craft gin “9148” has a strong story about environment and seasons of Sapporo and Hokkaido.
Let’s check out their new recipes and whiskeys which are planned in a few years later.
Related Links- Benizakura Distillery
Hokkaido Likers writer Yuki Konishi
Photo / Hokkaido Likers photo writer Minako Takada