We love a left-of-field gin distilling partner at Flavourly. The resurgent popular London-born spirit enjoys nothing more than being paired with all kinds of tropical fruits, peppercorns and various mixers, but we still get excited when something new comes to the table. By adding intense flavours during the distilling process, gin manufacturers can create something satisfying, innovative and truly unique.
This versatility in manufacturing means that if your gin idea’s done right, you could have something really special on your hands. Especially if it’s done with sansho berries. Wait, what the hell are sansho berries?
Kokoro Gin are London-based, Japanese-inspired craft gin innovators. Inspired by wild Japanese forests and their wilder Japanese fruits, Kokoro combine traditional London Gin distilling with the tastes of the peppery sweet sansho berry from Japan. The berry is unique in that its flavours already marry so well with traditional gin accompaniments, but the strong distinctive overtones bring something completely new to the mixing table. It all began with a family reunion 30 years in the making.
“Kokoro combine traditional London Gin distilling with the tastes of the peppery sweet sansho berry from Japan”
“I went to Japan to meet up with my uncle for the first time in 30 years. He’s been there since the mid-80s – now he’s a Japanese citizen. He’s got an interesting backstory”, explains James Nicol, Kokoro co-founder. “We spent some time in Tokyo and then went to the 20/30 hectares of government owned land he helps to manage and bring back to its natural state. It was here I first tasted those peppery, zesty little berries, and the first thing I thought was, these would go really well with gin!”
Add in the fact that James’ Uncle fixed him a traditional Japanese white spirit with the berries and he was sold. Upon returning home James arranged for his uncle to send some berries over that were picked from the end of the season and the rest is Anglo-Japanese history.
For the next year or so, James and businesspartner-come-brother-in-law Barry set about trying to fix a formula for making delicious tasting gin and setting up a sustainable craft gin business. They had flirted with the idea of moving into “something different”, as James so unexaggeratedly puts it, from their financial services and advertising backgrounds, and with everything seemingly coming together in Japan, it was a sign that Kokoro gin had to happen.
They knew it was about quality from the off, and after realising dried berries just wouldn’t do the trick, they employed local people to pick the berries each season. This is a labour intensive job that is done through traditional routes to protect the lands, but refining the process and focusing on the standard first allowed everything else to fall into place naturally. Only a year after the original concept, they had the berries in their hands and were on their way to gin in their bellies.
“They knew it was about quality from the off, and after realising dried berries just wouldn’t do the trick, they employed local people to pick the berries each season”
“It was then about refining the recipe in earnest. Another year of getting that right, doing all the paperwork, and almost two years later we were ready to launch,” explains James. “We wanted to make gin, we didn’t want to make flavoured gin. Everything that’s in it, has to be in it for a reason, and that includes the sansho berry. We wanted to recreate the flavour of the sansho berry, the feeling of eating it in the forest, in the bottle”
This project which started as a labour of love between friends, evolved quickly even six months after launch. They have a distributor in the UK, and were approached by distributors in the Far-East, resulting in a launch in Singapore at the end of March. This project just seems to keep growing legs, and you can’t help but support and admire the work being done by Kokoro and their likeable founder James. There’s real passion here, and it’s all about the gin.
“We needed it to be London Dry Gin, we wanted to go back to the traditional routes of making. This process means that you need to have a real deep understanding of all the flavours as there’s no blending later in production, you need to know what they all bring to the table.”
That process of stripping things back and understanding the reason why each part or process is there is something that you feel in both the drink and the brand. Indeed, this methodical, careful and traditional approach is a very Japanese one.
The Japanese feel runs right through Kokoro, from the style of the bottle to the calligraphy on the front. Even the name, Kokoro, translated from Japanese literally means ‘heart’, but not the literal heart. It’s the soul, the passion, the respect. It’s the dedication to quality and class. It’s James and Barry’s dedication to providing a product people love and that makes them an honest living. It’s in the sansho berries from the heart of the forest. It’s in the fine blends that make up the spirit. It’s in Kokoro gin.
Originally published in Issue 2 of our Flavourly magazine. Written by Cameron Wills.