Haru, natsu, aki, fuyu: Japanese gin that embraces seasonal flavors | Japanese craft gin

The makers of Roku Gin aim for nothing less than a pure expression of Japan in all the wonderful variety of its diverse landscapes and the magic of its changing seasons: Harrow (fountain), Natsu (the summer), okay (autumn) and Voyo (winter). Roku means “six” in Japanese, and each elegant hexagonal bottle of Roku Gin contains six exceptional botanicals sourced from across the country – and across the year, which are then blended with eight traditional botanical gins.

“We harvest in tune with the seasons – so we go north later because everything ripens later there,” says Roku Brand Ambassador Raffaele Di Monaco. The master craftsmen who create Roku Gin bring all their skills to the task of blending each individual ingredient into a fragrant, tangy end product of quintessential Japanese flavours.

“Every Roku plant is an honest reflection of a particular season,” says de Monaco. “Sakura flowers and leaves bloom in spring, while sencha and gyokuro teas must be picked in summer.”

The yuzu fruit, which is harvested in the winter, adds a citrus flavor

Sakura blossoms are better known in the West as cherry blossoms, and the delicate sweet scent of Roku Gin is a direct tribute to the magic of Harrow (Spring) and the national celebration of the arrival of the gorgeous pink blooms each year. Cheyenne also has different personalities resulting in a spirit that celebrates its unique elements in one delicious liquid.

“Sencha grows in sun, so it gives off grassy and citrus flavors, while shade-loving giokoro has subtle umami flavors,” says de Monaco. Later in the year, vibrant, numbing Sancho peppers add a bit of autumnal spice, while yuzu, a potent citrus fruit with notes of tangerine, grapefruit, and bergamot, is picked in winter.

“Yuzu is very fragrant and very present in Japanese culinary traditions—and used in a lot of seasonings or sauces,” says de Monaco. Each ingredient is distilled as quickly as possible after it is harvested, using the method best suited to its character. The goal is to retain freshness and uniqueness, so the delicate sakura blossoms and leaves—so popular in sweet pink cakes called sakura mochi—are distilled at an extremely low temperature, to protect their distinctive sweetness, fragrance, and almond note they bring from the silliness to gin.

Sansho peppers are also traditional in Japanese cuisine: they characteristically dart on the tongue, bringing spice and spice to dishes like eel. It’s this electric vibe that brings the Roku Gin to life. It is distilled into a different vessel than that used for tea or flowers, according to its different character. “It takes a year to collect all the ingredients for a bottle of Roku Gin,” de Monaco says.

Pink cherry blossoms on a white background
Cherry blossom celebrates the arrival of spring. Photography: Lea Csontos/Stocksy United

The annual display of cherry blossoms, accompanied by drinking and feasting, is a joyful celebration of a particular season, but Japanese cuisine extends this appreciation to all times of the year, with food markets displaying the finest available at precisely that moment, and chefs altering their menus to meet changing conditions.

The kaiseki meal—a multi-course feast reinvented by a slew of Michelin-starred Japanese chefs—takes this focus on seasonality to another level, in much the same way that their British contemporaries put seasons at the heart of their menus. “It’s the best way to bring out the essence of Japan’s appreciation for nature,” says de Monaco.

Harvest that essence, dip and drip, and pour it into a beautiful bottle whose shape mirrors its contents—and you have Roku Gin.

Roku is available to buy from Sainsburys

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