Working with ingredients picked at precisely the right moment, Roku Gin celebrates Japan’s vivid seasonality
The idea of seasonality in what we eat has become popular in recent years, whether we’re thinking about the meals we prepare at home, or what we expect to see on menus when we dine out. But it is probably not something many of us consider too often when it comes to what we order at the bar. Yet more than a century ago in Japan, an innovative liquor importer dreamed of creating spirits that spoke to his country’s seasonal flavours.
Inspired by the western brands he was importing, Suntory founder Shinjiro Torii set about producing new drinks calibrated to suit Japanese tastes. He did this by selecting ingredients familiar to the domestic palate that he could use in his liquors, and by embracing the concept known in Japanese as shun: the tradition of enjoying every food in its proper season, and only when the ingredients are at the peak of their flavours.
In harmony with Japan’s seasons
From whisky and wine, Torii moved on to gin, producing his first one, Hermes, in 1936. All these years later, with the additional distillation expertise that nearly a century of dedication brings, his company, now known as the House of Suntory, stays true to his vision. “He designed spirits for the Japanese palate and philosophy of life,” says Raffaele Di Monaco, brand ambassador for the House of Suntory portfolio. “He was constantly seeking to work in harmony with nature.”
And that is why Roku Gin uses six unique Japanese botanicals – Roku means “six” – to create a perfect balance of flavours that represent the best of every season: those fleeting, delicious tastes and scents that are themselves the distillation of a swiftly passing moment. In doing so, the artisans at the House of Suntory have found a way to bottle the essence of shun.
“We harvest these botanicals from all over Japan,” says Di Monaco – but only at exactly the right time. The teas with their summer fragrances; sansho pepper, harvested in autumn; and the citrusy yuzu fruit that ripens in winter are all treated in the same way: distilled rapidly but separately, and then blended to ensure that every bottle of Roku is made with, and by, the seasons of Japan.
“We are very proud of our expertise in the art of blending,” says Di Monaco. “The team recreates nature’s harmony by harmonising the botanicals into one pure expression of the beauty and vivacity of the Japanese year.”
Roku is fragrant, complex and elegant, with a floral and sweet aroma, a touch of pleasantly numbing spice from the sansho pepper and an exciting citrus undercurrent, all combined in a clear liquid of exceptional silkiness. While it may take a year to make, it can be enjoyed at any time, a complete experience of Japanese shun.
Pairing notes
According to Di Monaco, the best way to drink Roku is with premium tonic, garnished with six matchsticks of fresh ginger – “in the same way you would garnish sushi or sashimi,” he says.
Ginger is an ideal partner for the zesty citrus of the yuzu, and the gin’s overall freshness and delicacy will work beautifully with similarly delicate dishes. “Roku and tonic is ideal with seaweed flavours or with grilled prawns, and it will also enhance white meat dishes such as Japanese-style chicken skewers.”
And naturally, it is a perfect companion to sushi and sashimi, as well as seasonal British dishes such as grilled asparagus and buttery scallops or shellfish. Allied to the pleasures on the palate is the visual appeal of that distinctive black and gold logo on washi paper. For the drinker, the authenticity of the cultural experience starts from a six-sided bottle, which is decorated with impressions of the six Japanese botanicals that give Roku its singular flavour.
“Hermes gin was aimed at the local market, but Torii’s dream was to create spirits that were quintessentially Japanese, yet can be recognised everywhere,” says Di Monaco. He would be proud of the dedication, expertise and the carefully selected ingredients that together make Suntory’s Roku Gin a celebration of the glories of nature and, as Di Monaco says, “Japan’s ambassador to the world”.
Roku is available to purchase from Sainsburys

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