My neighbour Kokoro
I love gin, it’s true. Last time I counted we had 15 bottles with everything from African gin made in Malawi to tea-infused gin, quince-flavoured gin and cacao gin. As well as a love for all things gin, I also love Japan, so an invitation to find out more about Kokoro Gin, a Japanese gin, was right up my street.
The night was hosted by Nippon KItchen, which I’m a big fan of. It was a bit humid however founder James Nicol sorted us all out with a Kokoro Gin perfect serve: Kokoro over ice with a twist of lemon and a large sliver of ginger. Perfect indeed!
We settled down with a gin to hear about Uncle Nic and the story behind Kokoro Gin.
Uncle Nic, is an adventurous soul and sounds like the kind of uncle everyone should have. He has been an arctic explorer, wrestler, author and has even advertised whisky. After such an eclectic life, he settled down in then Kurohime area of the Nagano prefecture for a more relaxing life (when we were in the Nagano area last year we sampled some local sake and beer but were unaware of the gin at the time).
Over the years Uncle Nic became part of the land. Embracing the lifecycle and appreciating the care needed to maintain the surrounding forestry. This included buying the land surrounding his house as developers were circling and threatening the natural balance. Now with 30 hectares of forest, safe from development, he has donated the land back to the Japanese people.
Within these forests grow Sansho berries. These small berries are packed with an intense flavour. Eat one and you can taste why this is a perfect ingredient for gin. Citrusy, peppery and a warm long-lasting tingle.
Placing my nose into the bowl of berries is like sniffing a fragrant Thai curry with lemongrass and sweet smelling pepper.
The berries are hand-picked and frozen for travel to the UK where, along with botanicals such as Juniper, lemon peel, sweet orange, almond, angelica, licorice and coriander seeds, the gin is distilled.
The branding of Kokoro Gin is simple. Kokoro means ‘heart’ in Japanese which reflects the ‘heart of the forest’, which is at the heart of the spirit and the family. The associated artwork has been designed by Guy McKinlay. These drawings are delicate but with lots of detail, they reflect what Japan is to me – complex but also simple. Appreciate the simple things in life, such as a gin but also appreciate what is needed for these things to be created.
We got to try a selection of dishes served with a matching Kokoro Gin cocktail.
First up was a mix of vegetable, seafood and chicken gyoza served with Tanuki cocktail: Kokoro Gin, lemon juice, sugar syrup, peach liquor, sake and ginger ale.
Next course: salmon and sea bass sashimi served with Tsuki no wa guma, Kokoro, elderflower honey and green tea.
Our final course was flamed fillet beef and eel nigiri served with Inoshishi. This was like a Japanese negroni with Kokoro, Aperol, Campari, sake and plum.
Each dish was delicious and the matching gin cocktails were given a thumbs up by all.
Kokoro Gin can be bought online.