Jinzu Gin is a Scottish made, Japan inspired gin with an English woman at its heart. Designed by bartender Dee Davies for Diageo’s Show Your Spirit competition in 2013 (which it went on to win), the gin is a fantastic example of East meets West, with traditional gin botanicals joining cherry blossom, yuzu and sake to form a distinctive gin with a real sense of place.
The Show Your Spirit competition pitted European bartenders against each other in a bid to design a spirit that could join Diageo’s Reserve Brands portfolio. Amongst the finalist’s were a vanilla and blackberry whisky and a spiced jenever. Discussing the competition, Dee told us: “Show Your Spirit was an amazing competition and the most stressful week of my life. Luckily, even though all the competitors wanted to win there was a sense of comradeship between us all, which made things fun. It also meant I had tried everyone’s final product, so although I was confident of Jinzu, I also knew I was up against very stiff competition.”
Jinzu shares its name with the Japanese river that flows through the prefecture of Toyama, a city that sits on the Sea of Japan coast. The river is a site to behold, joined along its course by a thousand cherry blossom trees. Dee has been passionate about Japan and Japanese culture since visiting the country aged 16, so when the competition with Diageo came up, she leapt at the chance to join her two interests.
Once her idea was selected for the final, Dee was invited to Diageo’s World Innovation Centre, where she worked with Nicola Rowntree to turn the product from concept to liquid. They did this by making a compound gin with a juniper distillate and sake distillate and adding the other flavours as essences. Once they established what worked, they transferred this – through a process of trial and error – to a distilled recipe. The resulting product was extremely popular with the judges, and Jinzu Gin was born.
The gin is made in Diageo’s Cameronbridge Distillery in Scotland and was initially distilled under the watchful eye of Tanqueray distiller Tom Nichol (who retired in 2015). Dee is quick to praise him, saying: “I was a bit star struck the first time I met him actually, but he makes you feel at ease quickly. He was incredibly helpful with the development of Jinzu, although I’ve only been able to witness it in person a handful of times as he warns me (that) due to the difficulty of distilling the Japanese botanicals, it’s no place for a lady’s ears during the actual process.”
To make the gin, juniper, coriander and angelica are added to a neutral grain spirit in a traditional copper pot still. They are allowed to macerate for a short while before the cherry blossom and yuzu are added. There is no set amount of time for each run, rather the distillers will decide when to cut based on their knowledge of distillates, but it can take anywhere between two to two and a half hours.
The gin comes off the still at around 82%, and the Junmai sake – which is also made onsite – comes off at 60%. The two are blended and then watered down with demineralised Scottish water to bottling strength: 41.3%. Each distillation produces enough spirit to create around 16,000 70cl bottles.
Jinzu Gin to taste…
Tasted neat, Jinzu Gin is mild, easy to sip and to hold on the tongue. It’s altogether quite unfamiliar as a spirit, though notably still a ginny with a long finish and a strong enough juniper backbone that carries all the way through to the aftertaste. The yuzu brings a fresh, mandarin-like citrus and the sake provides a creamy mouthfeel and a taste which bites right at the end. The cherry blossom, too, holds strong in the mouth – it’s not sweet and not herbal, rather it sits somewhere in-between.
It’s a gin that does well to be progressive without being offensive; it’s very much still a juniper-focused gin with a strong coriander seed spice, but it’s something new that will appeal to both traditionalists as well as those who like their gin to be a little more adventurous.
Dee suggests green apple as her perfect garnish in a G&T – both because the acid in the fruit interacts well with the sake and because it makes a polite tip of the hat to her Somerset roots. There is a hint of that apple crispness about the gin, so we’d definitely side with her on that suggestion. Otherwise, we’d go for something like candied cherry blossom which is beautiful in both looks and taste.
In terms of cocktails, this would be delicious in a French 75. The delicate bubbles would couple up really well with the florals and the yuzu and lemon juice would be a match made in heaven. Another good match would be a Bees Knees – the piny floral aftertaste would be delightful coupled with honey.
Spirit aside, the branding for Jinzu is very well thought out; the bottle is genuinely beautiful and stands out. Everything is printed directly onto the glass, from the cherry blossom on the front to the birdcage on the back. The logo – a bird holding an umbrella – is both sweet and appealing, though we’re of the opinion that the packaging puts the bottle on a decidedly female trajectory. This isn’t a problem per se as the gin itself is not remotely gendered and will appeal to all.
The bottle has a cork stopper with a wooden top (this also featuring the bird), taking the bottle to premium product territory – it’d make a great gift, especially for those interested in gin, Japan or both. The next milestone for the brand now is to launch worldwide. An Australian launch is planned for later this year and we could see the gin going down well in luxury Asian markets, as it fuses both cultures with relative ease.
It’s a well-made, delicate twist on the category with huge potential. We’d certainly like to see it do well and are rooting for their continued success, but as with all the smaller brands on the Diageo books, don’t expect the parent company to be diverting too much attention away from their big names any time soon in order to do so. With quality and a cute, niche angle on its side however, Jinzu should grow just fine regardless. Pick up a bottle and give it a try, you won’t regret it!
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