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1st Hokkaido-brand gin has unique local flavor

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Akiyuki Koshikawa holds bottles of Benizakura Distillery’s original gin.

The Yomiuri ShimbunSAPPORO — Hokkaido’s first gin distillery has opened in Sapporo, with kelp and other local products used to create a spirit with a distinctive flavor.

Hokkaido Liberty Whisky Inc. launched Benizakura Distillery with the aim of selling its products locally and abroad as “craft gin” — gin with unique characteristics created through carefully selected ingredients and production methods.

“I want to show the world what’s great about Hokkaido through our gin,” said Hidekuni Hayashi, 45, president of the company.

The firm was launched as a whiskey maker. However, because whiskey production, including the aging process, requires several years before a finished product can be shipped, Hayashi instead decided to sell a liquor that can be produced and shipped in a shorter period. Gin was the perfect choice.

Located inside Benizakura Park, the company’s private park in Minami Ward, Sapporo, the distillery aims to ship 6,000 liters of gin annually.

Gin is a type of spirit flavored with natural plant materials, often juniper berries, and is regarded as one of the world’s four major spirits along with vodka, tequila and rum.

Spices and herbs, used to flavor gin, are essential for creating the distinctive character of the spirit.

Benizakura Distillery’s gin is named “9148” and sells for ¥4,860 for a 700-milliliter bottle. To give the product a flavor unique to Hokkaido, local specialties such as kelp from the Hidaka region, shiitake mushrooms and shredded dried daikon radish are used.

Local underground water is then added to the stills to dilute the mash, and the contents are repeatedly distilled and cooled to create gin with an alcohol content of 45 percent.

The distilling process is overseen by Akiyuki Koshikawa, a 35-year-old bartender who studied in Britain, a major gin production center.

“We’ve produced gin with outstanding originality and character, thanks to the variety of umami flavors [from local ingredients],” he said. “I recommend enjoying this straight or on the rocks.”

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