Benizakura Distillery in Hokkaido has created the region’s first craft gin, ‘9148’. The following article was originally written and published in print for Experience Niseko.
The artisanal spirit that is turning heads across Asia comes to Niseko.
Crafted by Benizakura Distillery in Sapporo, ‘9148’ is Hokkaido’s first craft gin. Despite only launching in April 2018, the fledgling brand has already won several international awards. This includes Gold at the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Wine & Spirits Competition 2018 and more.
Praised by critics for its distinctive umami (savoury taste from glutamates) and oral notes; the distilled gin uses Hokkaido’s specialty produce and botanicals to create a wide range of tasting profiles. CEO of Hokkaido Liberty Whisky Inc, Hayashi Hidekuni hopes that ‘9148’ will introduce the region’s produce to more overseas guests.
“We want our gin to connect Hokkaido and the world. Compared to tsukemono (Japanese preserved vegetables), we don’t have to explain what it is and it’s easier to get people to try it,” Hayashi says.
With a strong desire to announce the arrival of Hokkaido’s first craft gin to an international audience, Benizakura Distillery partnered with produce-inspired Niseko restaurant, An Dining in early 2019 to host one of their first gin tasting events.
“We chose Niseko as this is where many foreigners who are accustomed to drinking gin gather. We were curious to see
if they would like our gin, their opinion and what we should create next,” Hayashi says.
Already receiving strong recognition from international visitors, An Dining have decided to stock the series of gin starting in 2019.
Spearheading, the new wave of the craft spirit boom in Japan, Benizakura Distillery’s ‘9148’ is specially crafted to represent Hokkaido as a region.
“In Hokkaido, we are surrounded by nature with many different types of botanicals. We thought it would good to show this, that’s why we use plants and agricultural produce from Hokkaido. We also plant our own botanicals, fruits, and herbs to use,” Hayashi says.
The artisan producers combine Hidaka kelp, dried shiitake mushrooms, and Japanese radish to create a strong and balanced umami in the flavourful gin. Using a unique blend of Japanese botanicals from Sapporo’s 100-year-old Benizakura Park, the gin series carries refreshing oral notes.
Made in small quantities, Benizakura Distillery also creates limited edition themed gin throughout the year using seasonal botanicals to reimagine the beautiful four seasons of Hokkaido.
Capturing the aromas and scenery of each season, the brand has made cherry blossom infused gin in spring, momiji (red leaves) in autumn and a colour-changing gin using white birch extract in winter. For summer, ‘9148’ are in the works to create a gin-based on the blue skies and expansive fields in Hokkaido.
As a small-scale craft gin producer, Benizakura Distillery has plans to experiment with more of Hokkaido’s produce and make their gin more local and unique including the use of locally grown Juniper, byakushin.
“As a versatile spirit, our gin can be enjoyed with crushed ice, soda water, as a cocktail or paired with the summer lunch course at An Dining,” Hayashi says.
389-6 Sumikawa, Minami Ward, Sapporo, Hokkaido 005-0007, Japan
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Editor at Honest Food Talks. Combining her passion for food, languages, and adventure, she has travelled to some of Asia's most rural locations. She will order the weirdest sounding dish on the menu (and will do a lot in the name of food!). A polyglot, snowboarder and gourmet lover at heart.