The Kyoto Distillery draws from Western and Eastern traditions to create a unique and distinctive gin, made entirely in Japan
“Konwa is a word we use a lot,” says Marcin Miller, founding partner of The Kyoto Distillery. “It means ‘creating harmony through blending’.”
Marcin and his co-founder David Croll launched their company in 2016, building the very first distillery in Japan dedicated to producing top-quality gin. “We love Japanese food and spirits, and we saw the dynamic rise of gin appreciation around the world,” says Marcin. “David and I thought it interesting that no one had put those things together. We hoped to distil the flavours of Japan – and specifically Kyoto – into a gin.”
Their signature spirit, Ki No Bi – which translates as “beauty of the seasons” – was the first Japanese craft gin on the market. Today, among its gold awards and prestigious accolades, The Kyoto Distillery was named International Gin Producer of the Year 2018 at the International Wine and Spirit Competition (IWSC) and Craft Producer of the Year 2019 at the Icons of Gin awards.
“We’ve created an East meets West identity,” Marcin explains. The Japanese market accounts for roughly 50 per cent of sales, with The Kyoto Distillery gins also available in the UK, the US, Europe, Asia and Australia. Ki No Bi blends 11 botanicals, balancing authentic Japanese ingredients that are local to the Kyoto region with two key international ingredients – juniper and orris root.
Each of the Japanese ingredients has its own story. “The importance of rice in Japan cannot be overstated,” says Marcin, “which is why we use a rice-based spirit. We also go to Fushimi every week to draw pure, clean spring water from an 80-metre well.”
The citrus notes, meanwhile, come from the Japanese yuzu, which is grown in Ayabe, just west of Kyoto. The farm is owned and run by the 94-year-old Mrs Tanaka. The shun – which is the peak season – is just a few weeks long, running from early November to the mid-December. “I know from painful experience, accompanying Mrs Tanaka to pick yuzu, that there are big thorns on the branches,” says Marcin. “You have to be careful.”
The gins also use the finest-quality Gyokuro green tea, with the Ki No Tea gin in particular delivering its intense aroma. “We work with Horii Shichimeien, who’s been blending and growing in the Uji area of Kyoto since 1879,” says Marcin. “He grows the tea under nets, which encourages umami flavours and a bright, floral aroma. You can taste it in the gin, it’s delightful.”
Ginger is one of the most volatile of The Kyoto Distillery’s flavour notes. “When ginger is stored in a cold, dark pace, the flavour levels off without losing the essence or quality,” says Marcin. “So our ginger supplier and his grandfather dug a cave in their garden, and we now have – I’m quite sure – the only cave-matured ginger of any gin.”
The Kyoto Distillery’s unique selling point is its blend of western and eastern sources. “Gin is a British-Dutch invention,” says Marcin. “We embrace that and blend it with some of the amazing traditions and flavours of Japan.” Bringing ancient traditions together to create new and exciting flavours, stories of collaboration are at the heart of The Kyoto Distillery – and the konwa is perhaps best expressed by the melting pot of people working harmoniously together for the brand. “When I see our young Welsh distiller working alongside our 72-year-old legend of Japanese distilling, it sums up everything we wanted to achieve,” Marcin says. “It’s phenomenal.”