The Sipsmith Blog

Around the World in Eighty Gins: Exploring Japanese Gin

in Articles April 15, 2013
Japanese gin

Continuing on our journey around the world in eighty gins, we come to Japan, which, for all its love of sake and beer, is actually number twelve on the list of great gin drinkers of the world.

We’re betting it’s got something to do with the delectable Japanese gin on offer…

History: The Cocktail Revolution

There’s no doubt that Tokyo has gone through something of a cocktail revolution in recent years. In truth, ever since the Ginza bar scene emerged, the city has enjoyed a reputation as one of the top cocktail capitals of the world. Needless to say, this did great things for the popularity of our favourite tipple.

Precision, refinement and care for the customer come together in the Japanese drinking scene, where creating a cocktail is likened to the revered traditional tea ceremonies. The art of the cocktail is taken seriously, and you only have to look at some of the iconic Japanese gin creations to see the benefits of such dedication.

The Pure Love, made with gin, crème de framboise, lime juice and ginger ale, created by master bartender (and creator of the “hard shake” technique) Kazuo Uyeda, has won awards. At Ishinohana bar in Shibuya, even a simple G&T is injected with a refreshing burst of kumquat.

What do they drink?

Japan’s best-loved local spirits brand, Suntory, is one of the country’s oldest and was in fact founded back in 1899. Responding to the nation’s growing thirst for gin, Suntory has launched a line of its own Japanese gin and now ranks third in the country — after Beefeater and Gilbeys. There are two different labels to choose from: Finsbury Platinum and Gin Mare, which is known for its distinctive blend of botanicals, inculding Arbequina olive, thyme, basil and rosemary.

It might seem surprising in the midst of this revival that tonic, the ‘T’ of the G and Ts we know and love, is actually heavily regulated in Japan on account of the amount of quinine it contains. Technically speaking, you can’t actually buy tonic water that tastes, well, like tonic water, in Japan – it’s all much sweeter without the quinine. Saying that, on the garnish front, it’s generally recognised that Japan has some of the most flavoursome limes around, so we can easily forgive.


One of the Japanese cocktails that we love is the Tokyo Ice Tea (a Japanese cousin of the Long Island version) which is made with gin, vodka, rum, citrus juice, tequila and Midori – which gives it a great light green colour.

Kumquat Saketini Cocktail © Ishinohana

Header image © Barbara Neveu, 2013. Used under license from

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