The Rise Of Japanese Craft Gin

It was only a matter of time.

Japanese whisky exploded in popularity all around the world, with thirsty fans rushing to get their hands on the rarest and most limited bottlings. Smaller whisky distilleries, without the asset of age, are constantly experimenting, creating new flavours and methods to bring the most exciting and innovative drams to life.

With the increased recognition, rising popularity and consistent awards received for their wonderful whisky, it was only a matter of time before the great Japanese distillers realized that they are pretty talented at making alcohol, and started looking at different avenues in the spirits world.

While Japanese distillers and brewers have already started looking at wine, rum, and vodka production, the most recent and dynamic step Japanese distilling companies are taking is into the world of craft gin.

In the last few years, the “craft” gin movement has gained mainstream popularity, with small distilleries globally creating unique and exciting flavours using fresh botanicals. Just like whisky, gin has undergone a “face-lift” in recent years, going from a drink consumed by our grandparents to a sexy, low-calorie, classy drink, to be consumed in a cocktail or with high-quality tonic.

Proving that they’re always ahead of the curve, both Suntory and Asahi Breweries (Owners of Nikka) will be entering the Western market with some exciting new products, infused with Japanese botanicals.

Asahi, through Nikka, have expanded their fresh, ever-popular Nikka Coffey collection, and added gin and vodka to it. These two new products will be released in Europe and the US in September, some already competitive markets for gin and premium spirits. We expect the promotion and marketing of these products to be big and exciting.

“The demand for spirits is growing across the world, creating a new boom,” Taketoshi Kishimoto, the president of Nikka Whisky Distilling, said at a press conference last month.

Suntory has followed closely, and created a gin named ROKU, which is distilled using Japanese botanicals including yuzu citrus, cherry blossoms, and sansho Japanese pepper. Sold through the company’s Beam Suntory division, the new gin will be on Western shelves by the end of the year.

While for Nikka, this will be the first time selling gin abroad, Beam Suntory already owns some gin brands, most recently purchasing Sipsmith, a small yet hugely popular gin producer based in Chiswick, London. The company was bought for £50 million last December, showing Suntory’s intent to enter the Western gin market dynamically.

According to Suntory, the consumption of high-priced gins that cost $20 or more per bottle doubled over six years from 2010, on a global scale. This clearly shows that there is no better time to be entering the ever-growing “craft” spirits market.

Suntory and Nikka have been the main pioneers in Japanese spirits, stirring up immense excitement for Japanese whisky over the last decade or so. All eyes will now be on their entry into the global gin market, and expectations are high. “Kanpai” to the future of Japanese spirits!