The Kyoto Distillery
The story of the Kyoto Distillery, Japan’s first artisan gin distillery founded in 2015 by Japanese whisky exporters Marcin Miller and David Croll, begins in 1985 when David visited Japan for the first time while working for a Japanese bank. He fell in love with the beautiful and historic city of Kyoto and, after relocating to Japan a few years later, began importing single malt whisky. In 2006, David and whisky publicist Marcin formed the Number One Drinks Company and began exporting Japanese whiskies from the Karuizawa, Hanyu and Chichibu distilleries across the world to an eager audience of enthusiasts.
In 2014, Marcin and David decided to create an artisan gin, inspired by the craft gin movement in the UK and United Status with an authentic Japanese heritage. Kyoto, with its spectacular temples and rich tradition of craft from kimono-weaving to woodblock printing, was the ideal site for their distillery. They converted an old warehouse close to Fushimi in Southern Kyoto, famous in Japan for its sake brewing, and the Kyoto Distillery was born, thought to be the first licensed distillery ever built in Kyoto.
With the ambition to create an extraordinary but distinctly Japanese artisan gin, Marcin and David assembled an experienced distillery team lead by head distiller Alex Davies and distiller Yoichi Motoki. Sussex born Alex learned his craft creating gins at the Chase and Cotswolds distilleries and Yoichi has worked with spirits for over 20 years including at Scotland’s Arran whisky distillery and as a bartender in Tokyo’s famous Ginza district. Renowned Japanese spirits authority Masami Onishi joined as a technical adviser, providing expert guidance and mentorship to the team.
They commissioned two custom copper pot stills from German still manufacturer Christian Carl – a 450 litre still with a swan neck and side mounted botanical basket and a smaller 140 litre still with an integrated botanical basket. These two stills enables Alex and the team to adapt the distillation approach for different botanicals, allowing the different flavours to express themselves individually. The local water in the Fushimi area is famed for its softness and purity and so is a key part of the distillation process.
The recipe for their first gin, named Ki No Bi which means the beauty of the seasons in Japanese, took many months of patient research and experimentation to perfect. Departing from most gins, which begin with a neutral grain spirit, the team selected a spirit distilled from rice. After a blind tasting against wheat, corn and barley distillates, the rice spirit was unanimously considered to be smoother and creamier with a delicate sweetness. From 40 possible botanicals, a final recipe of 11 was selected, consisting of juniper, orris, ginger, bamboo leaves, red perilla, lemon and yuzu peel, sansho pepper, kinome leaves, Gyokuro green tea and Hinoki wood.
In keeping with its heritage, Ki No Bi Kyoto Dry Gin is distilled with a selection of Japanese botanicals, sourced from in and around Kyoto. Organic yuzu fruit is hand picked from a farm in north-western Kyoto, which gives the gin notes of orange blossom and sweet lemon. The fine Gyokuro green tea, grown under shaded black nets, is blended in the Uji region of Kyoto and adds floral grassy flavours to the spirit with hints of lightly roasted biscuit. Sansho pepper brings aromatic lemongrass and pepper spice notes and wood chipping from Japanese Hinoki trees add a fragrance of lemon spice and resinous pine and cypress.
The botanicals are separated into six different categories, each with a different flavour profile. The botanicals in each category are then distilled separately and each distillate is blended to enable Alex to ensure the perfect balance of flavours. After distillation, the spirit is married with the previous batch in order to ensure consistency of flavour and balance from batch to batch. Ki No Bi Kyoto Dry Gin is bottled at 45.7% in a specially designed beautiful glass bottle created by an Osaka family-run glass company founded in 1906.
Ki No Bi Kyoto Dry Gin is a fitting tribute to the extraordinary city of Kyoto and its rich history of craftsmanship. An exciting new milestone in the history of craft gin!