Benizakura Distillery – Hokkaido Gin & George Orwell

The city of Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaido, known throughout the world for its skiing culture, Sapporo beer, and the amazing Sapporo Snow Festival, which attracts millions of tourists each year. The city is also the fifth largest in Japan in terms of population.

Looking at Japanese food, Hokkaido can’t be beaten. The cold sea surrounding the island delivers some of the freshest, tastiest seafood in Japan. Hokkaido’s dairy products are known across the country for their high quality and flavour. In fact, the island is responsible for 50% of Japan’s dairy production.

Whisky lovers are also familiar with the area. The historical Yoichi distillery stands tall against the cold winters, as it was meant to. After all, the father of Japanese whisky, Masataka Taketsuru built the distillery there because the island enjoyed a climate similar to Scotland. In 2016, the Akkeshi distillery became the second whisky maker on the island and is focused on creating balanced peated Japanese whiskies. Although the liquid is still young, it shows great promise.

Now, the island has entered the exciting industry of artisanal Japanese gin with the Benizakura distillery. The beginning of Hokkaido gin.

Photo: Benizakura Distillery

Benizakura Distillery

Benizakura opened its doors on April 26th, 2018 and is Hokkaido’s very first artisanal gin maker. The distillery is owned by Hokkaido Liberty Whisky, and is named after the Benizakura Park, one of the oldest, traditional Japanese gardens in Sapporo. It was established in 1889.

The company’s CEO, Hidekuni Hayashi, speaks on the distillery’s exciting first release, the 9148 Gin, which launched on April 28th.

Aside from staples like juniper, clove, lemon peel, and cinnamon, the botanical list features several ingredients from Hokkaido, including dried shiitake mushrooms, Hidaka kelp, and dried radish strips.  

George Orwell’s 1984

The name of the gin is extremely interesting. It’s a switching of numbers, based on George Orwell’s novel, “1984”, with the 19 becoming 91 and the 84 becoming 48.

The iconic passage in the novel, which describes foul tasting, medicine-like gin in a controlled society, is what has brought Benizakura to switch the numbers around. This artisanal gin promotes freedom in every way, opposite to Orwell’s novel and opposite to the bad gin featured within.

As a small batch distiller, each expression will be numbered and changes in flavours are expected from batch to batch. Hayashi mentions that while they are focusing on gin at the moment, whisky production is expected to start next year, so Hokkaido will soon be seeing yet another whisky-maker enter the scene.

Sadly, the 9148 release is only sold at the distillery up in Hokkaido, but domestic distribution is expected to start soon. Keep an eye on our blog for news from this exciting new distillery and its entrance into the booming Japanese gin industry. 

Photo: Benizakura Distillery