About the Distillery
Kinobi’s distillery is located in the old capital of Kyoto – a fact they pride themselves on. The name itself roughly translates to “the beauty of the seasons”, a testament to the botanicals harvested for use in its distillation.
The Navy Strength “Sei” in itself roughly translates to “vigour, spirit or energy”. Whilst they have only been in operation since 2016, they are already a huge contender in the local craft gin market and have a big brand image (probably second only to Suntory’s Roku Gin).
However, unlike Suntory who produce anything from whisky and beer to shochu and umeshu, and the many other new distilleries which have sprung up from old shochu/ sake makers, Kinobi’s “The Kyoto Distillery” is Japan’s first distillery dedicated to the production of gin and nothing else.
As mentioned earlier (see Part 1 of the review here-Editor) Kinobi puts pride in announcing that this is a “Kyoto Gin”, emphasising their use of local Kyoto gyokuro green tea and yuzu as botanicals and making use of famously purified water from the Fushimi district of Kyoto.
To date their product portfolio is as follows:
- Ki no bi Kyoto Dry Gin – the original product, 45% ABV. This was reviewed in Part 1
- Ki no Tea – a limited edition Gyokuro and Tencha tea flavoured dry gin, 45% ABV
- Ki no bi ‘Sei’ Navy Strength Gin – a limited edition gin, 54.% ABV. This is the main subject of this article, and
- Sen no Suzu – a slightly more upper market dry gin 47% ABV.
Without further ado let’s get into the main point of the article and talk about our gin at hand!
- Kinobi Sei uses the exact same botanicals as the original Kyoto Dry Gin, however these are blended at a higher percentage to allow each botanical to really come through. 11 botanicals are used in its distillation, the breakdown of which as follows: green tea leaves (gyokuro), yuzu, sansho pepper, hinoki cypress, ginger, bamboo leaves, red perilla, lemon peel, juniper berries, orris, pepper tree buds
- Similar to the Kyoto Dry, yuzu and juniper notes are overwhelmingly present in the nose. Slight spicy notes from the sansho and ginger are present, but relatively low key.
- As with most Navy Strength gins, this packed a punch neat. Very juniper forward and citrus heavy as I like. As I did not drink side by side with the Kyoto Dry it is difficult to say for sure, but I didn’t feel a huge difference in the flavour profile when had neat.
- The biggest difference was the burn as it passed down the throat and into the stomach. Not at all unpleasant but coming in expecting a more defined difference between the two I admit I was just a little disappointed – 3.5 /5 stars.
Gin & Tonic
- I found myself liking this gin most in the humble G&T. I paired it with some premium tonic water and a huge grapefruit peel which really helped to bring the citrus flavours to shine.
- Very crisp and refreshing, but with a lot more body and definition than with the original. As with the original, juniper, yuzu and lemon made their presence known immediately, whilst the Hinoki woodiness and sansho spice came following in that order.
- A great gin and tonic for summer, super fresh and invigorating, whilst also having overall good performance thanks to the higher alcohol percentage – 4 / 5 stars
- As the preamble for this Martini rating I should first say that the day I chose to rate this gin was an absolutely killer of a summer day here in Japan, with around 80% humidity and temperatures reaching around 32℃ (anyone who has experienced Japanese summer can tell you it’s like sitting in a sauna).
- I knew it was going to be hard to keep a martini cold and that the flavour profile was probably going to change within a few minutes so I didn’t have much time to savour this one. As this is a Navy Strength I decided to mix at a slightly softer ratio than usual, approximately 4:1 gin to vermouth. I used Lillet Blanc (an aromatised French white wine based aperitif with added quinine) and some orange bitters, garnishing the whole thing with another grapefruit peel.
- While I lamented that the Kyoto Dry didn’t pack enough punch, maybe an accurate description of the Navy Strength was that it packed a little too much punch. The citrus and juniper flavours really came through but sadly most of the other botanicals were lost on me in this martini. Maybe it was my choice of vermouth, but I just couldn’t enjoy this martini for what it was: 3/5 stars.
The Take Home
I didn’t have an opportunity to talk about the bottle until now, so I’ll digress briefly to give my impression. Unlike the original, Kinobi Sei is bottled in a black matte bottle that whilst looking impressive on a liqueur shelf, very quickly gets covered in scratches and dust and is a nightmare for taking photos.
Overall impression of the bottle, not so good. The gin itself whilst being an impressive representation of the Japanese palate was a little too similar to the original Kyoto Dry in many ways (mind you, maybe this was the Kyoto Distilleries aim!) and depending on the cocktail packed a punch in a good way (G&T) or in not such a good way (Martini).
At a price tag of around ￥6000 (approximately AUD$75) I must admit I expected a little bit more, but maybe I set my expectations a little too high!
Overall 3.5/ 5 stars.
- Official Website: kyotodistillery.jp/products/kinobi/ (Japanese)
- Kinobi Official Instagram: @thekyotodistillery
- Head Distiller Alex Davies Instagram: @thegingerdistiller
- ABV: 45%
- Botanicals: Juniper, Gyokuro green tea, Yuzu, Ginger, Red Perilla (shiso), Bamboo Grass, Sansho pepper, Hinoki cypress, Orris, Lemon, Pepper tree buds
- In case you missed it, here is Part 1 of the review of Kinobi.
Disclaimer: this review is an unbiased and unsolicited review of a sample from the writer’s personal collection. All opinions expressed regarding the product are my own.
About our Guest Contributor
Simon Darveniza from Shepparton, Victoria, has worked in the hospitality industry for a combined total of 7 years; working as anything from a waiter, to a kitchen hand; from a craft beer specialist, to a cocktail menu consultant. His hospitality journey has seen him travel around the hospitality industry of Melbourne to Taipei to Japan, where he has settled for the last two years.
Whilst working as a network engineer during the day, Simon currently co-runs a small rum bar in Kawasaki city (just outside of metropolitan Tokyo) by the name of “Carib”, primarily serving rum, beer and handmade beef jerky, as well as holding gin take over events every Saturday night.
He enjoys exploring new gins, rums and craft beers, as well as settling down in cosy cafes and reading classical literature (the former and the latter generally not in succession!).
His articles will mainly be focused around gin and the bar industry in Japan/Asia.