Gin is not an alcoholic beverage that one normally associates with Japan, but we think that after the drinking public tastes some of the gins being produced here that will change.
Gin was thought to be the creation of Dr. Franciscus Sylvius, a.k.a., Franz de le Boe. This Dutch physician was, so the story goes, searching for a medicine that would bring forth micturition. …Wait a minute. Hold on here. We’re waxing way too medical now. We meant to write “make you piss.” Yes, that’s right, not “get you pissed.” However, that theory has apparently been shot down, as is evidenced by this decidedly unambiguous Wikipedia entry on “Gin”: “The physician Franciscus Sylvius has been falsely credited with the invention of gin in the mid-17th century.” Humph, well, take that, you impostor! Twelve lashes with an angelica root for you.
We should state immediately that Suntory’s gin is British-style, as opposed to Dutch, gin. On the palate the drinker is exposed to a bouquet of flavors, arising from the wide array of flavorings placed therein. Some of these, like juniper and angelica root, are to be expected; others are a complete surprise; e.g., green tea-based liquor. Aside from the ingredients already mentioned, there are yuzu (citron) and ginger elements in the green-tea-based liquor, bitter orange peel, coriander, lemon peel, cardamom, and cinnamon. The abv is 40%. Unlike Roku, the premium or craft gin that Suntory placed on the market several years ago, this is a mass-produced beverage meant to be drunk with sparkling water at Japanese-style pubs, or izakaya. Compared with other gins, it is supposed to have mass appeal, go well with kara-age, Japanese-fried chicken, and even replace beer and the ubiquitous bar beverages of chu-hai and sours. Tall order!
We tasted this twice: first by itself and then several weeks later juxtaposed with Ki No Bi Kyoto Dry Gin, an artisanal work infused with the terroir of Japan’s ancient capital and environs, as it contains, according to the company’s website, “yellow yuzu from the north of Kyoto Prefecture, hinoki wood chips (Japanese cypress), bamboo, gyokuro tea from the Uji region and green sansho (Japanese peppercorns) berries.” If that is not enough terroir for you, consider that this is a rice-based gin whose water is sourced from Fushimi. It communicates Kyoto, Kyoto, Kyoto. It has an abv of 45.7%.
The nose of the two gins is surprisingly similar: the top note in each is Japanese yuzu. However, the similarity ends there. On the palate, Sui comes across as being overly sweet. When mixed with tonic water, it is almost undrinkable. Perhaps that’s okay, as Suntory is promoting Sui as a gin to be mixed with sparkling water. However, when mixed with sparkling water, it tastes a little anemic. Nevertheless, perhaps it can replace chu-hai and sours that one finds at cheap izakaya. Ki No Bi, on the other hand, had clear sansho notes, both on the nose and on the palate. This is not something that one would expect from a gin, but it is indeed a pleasant characteristic. Unlike Sui, Ki No Bi is quite versatile. It can be enjoyed straight, on the rocks or with some tonic. Perhaps with a little fine-tuning, we will see a better offering from Suntory that goes well with Japanese izakaya food.
Afterthought: One of us felt that the pleasant aspects of Sui were better exhibited when drunk straight.
Recommendation level (out of five stars):
Suntory’s Sui : ⭐️
Kyoto Distillery’s Ki No Bi: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
We have written a book. For more information on Japanese beverages, please check it out. You can get it at fine offline and online booksellers in Japan, including Amazon.
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