Kokoro, The Gin With a Japanese Heart
Kokoro is an exceptional British London Dry Gin with a Japanese heart, where the spirit of the forest lies. The ingredient that makes this gin recognisable and incredibly enjoyable comes all the way from the Afan woods in the land of rising sun! Its story is one of love and respect for something that we too often take for granted, the environment we live in and what it has to offer.
“In the land of the rising sun and the mindful reflection lies a forest of exceptional distinction and curiosity. It is here amongst the ‘sclusive sights and smells and sounds of significance that a man of infinite resource and sagacity – known most fondly as Uncle Nic – acquired a recurring taste for the Sansho berry.” – Kokoro Gin
It all started when C.W. Nicol, the co-founder’s Uncle Nic, first visited Japan in the 60s while involved in projects to protect the environment. He loved this country and its nature so much that, in the 80s, he bought a house in the mountains. Frustrated and disheartened by the state in which the surrounding forests were kept, he embarked on a mission to buy up and repair as much of the woodland as possible and donated it to the Afan Woodland Trust, which he established 2002 to ensure his work would continue long after he is gone.
But why are these forests so important in the making of Kokoro Gin? They are home to its signature ingredient, where Sansho Berries grow wild and become their most flavoursome.
It is when co-founder James Nicol came to visit his Uncle Nic that the idea originated. Nic took his nephew for a walk in the woods and got him to try the berries – startled by the intense electric flavour, James came back to the UK and set about creating a new gin with his brother-in-law Barry Darnell.
With no distilling experience, James got himself 20-litre stove top still and had fun experimenting ways to extract the complex flavour he’d tasted in the Japanese forest. After a few trials he realised that only the fresh berries retain that essential zing that make them special and got Uncle Nic with the help of a few locals to pick them from his forest and ship them over to the UK frozen!
The Distillation Process
James and Barry turned to Charles Maxwell, master distiller of Thames Distillers, to create the perfectly balanced blend of botanicals to complement the taste of the Sansho berry.
Kororo Gin is produced in John Dore designed stills of 500 litre total capacity. The botanicals, spirit and water are loaded into the still the evening before the distillation and left to macerate. There are no baskets in the still so no vapour distillation, neither do the stills have a Carter Head. The actual distillation takes about 5 hours, with the heads (first part of the batch) and tails (last part of the batch) being collected separately as the “gin feints”.
The ABV of the heart of the distillation is approx. 80% – it has a very concentrated flavour that is blended with a more neutral grain spirit before being reduced to bottling strength with de-ionised water.
Why we like it
We are intrigued by Kokoro gin for its hero ingredient but also the history and philosophy behind its production. The Sansho berry is used extensively in Japanese cuisine, it has earthy pepper flavour with a piney, citrus finish. The word Kokoro in the Japanese language, not only means heart but also mind, core and spirit – it perfectly describes the ethos with which the gin is made and it sets to transmit a state of mindfulness when enjoyed on the rocks or in a G&T.
The other botanicals used are juniper, coriander, angelica, sweet orange, almond, liquorice, savory and lemon peel. The brand describes the flavour as:
““Fortuitously pepperascial,” nibbled the words off his tongue. “With a uniquely citronious note.” And it was these insatiable desirabilities that Uncle Nic knew would give his family gin – known most fondly as Kokoro – such an exquisitely unique flavouring.”
On the nose, you can detect complex floral aromas, juniper, sweet orange. The smooth flavour has predominant notes of liquorice, sweet citrus, pine and a warming pepper finish. The citrus element offsets and the strength of the its peppery character that is not overpowering but rather pleasant.
Kokoro Signature G&T
- 50ml Kokoro Gin
- 15ml Yuzu Juice
- 10ml Kafir and Lime syrup
- 1 dash Hellfire bitters
- Tonic water to top up
Fill a chilled highball glass with ice cubes and pour all the ingredients aside from the tonic over them. Give them a stir and top with tonic water. Garnish with a slice of dry orange and enjoy!
Bikan Yusu (a sense of beauty and playful imagination)
- 25ml Kokoro Gin
- 50-75ml Merchant’s Heart Hibiscus Tonic
- Garnish with Yuzu, lemon or mandarin peel and dried hibiscus petals
Fill a chilled highball glass with ice cubes and pour the gin over them. Top with tonic water and garnishes, leave to infuse for a couple of minutes and cheers!