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SAN: A Taste of Japan in Three Bottles

From the "Land of the Rising Sun" comes a masterclass in distillation from a house over 120 years old. Founded in 1899, against the rapid modernization of the Japanese Meiji Era, the House of Suntory was built on the dream of one Shinjiro Torii. A young entrepreneur, dazzled by the sophistication of Western wines and spirits, sought to introduce this culture to the Japanese people. A monumental challenge in itself, especially in the early 20th century, Shinjiro decided to innovate, a decision that changed the course of history. Creating his own spirits, which were made to match the subtle Japanese palate and sensibility, the House of Suntory was built to last. Today, it still stands strong with a portfolio of world-class spirits. Here are three that are readily available in Indonesia.

The Roku, Haku, and Chita are all incredible expressions of Japanese flavors in spirits. Each carries different symbolism and meaning in their production, which is typical in the poetic nature of Japanese design.

The Roku

Meaning "six" in Japanese, Roku Gin is a gin like no other. Made from six different botanicals sourced in Japan, it blends what the country offers in flavors. Sakura flower, sakura leaf, sencha tea, gyokuro tea, sansho pepper, and yuzu peel are the main raw ingredients that give the spirit its signature flavor. Representing the four seasons, all six botanicals and the extra eight create a harmonious blend that is uniquely Roku Gin.

The history of a Suntory gin date back to the founder, Shinjiro Tomi, who wanted to create a uniquely Japanese gin and launched Hermes Gin in 1936. The Roku gin is a product of innovation, the descendant of that original recipe, now coming into its own. Produced at the Suntory "Liquor Atelier," each botanical is distilled separately to extract the best flavor and is then carefully blended with the other eight botanicals (juniper berries, coriander, angelica root, angelica seed, cardamom, cinnamon, bitter orange peel, and lemon peel) to make the final recipe.

Tasting Notes:

  • Nose: Cherry blossom and green tea provide a floral and sweet aroma

  • Palate: Complex, multi-layered, smooth, and silky. The gin taste is the base, while the Japanese botanical notes and yuzu are the top notes.

  • Finish: Crisp Japanese sansho pepper brings out the spice to finish

I recommend enjoying Roku gin in a Gin & Tonic with fresh ginger and a Roku Onshitsu cocktail.

The Haku

A first for me, I had never tried vodka made from white rice before I landed on Haku Vodka. Derived from the Japanese word "Haku," which means white or brilliant, this bottle makes an effort to remind us of the meaning behind its name. Made from Hakumai - 100% pure Japanese white rice, it is fermented with rice koji then twice distilled to be blended and filtered through bamboo charcoal. Though bamboo charcoal filtration may seem new to many, it is actually an old Japanese practice to make tea water sweeter. The bottle is designed with curved lines to represent the glistening stream through the four seasons, and a label made of Junpaku (pure white) washi paper represents white rice. Its clean and minimal design extends to the flavors of the vodka. Perfect as a base spirit for a cocktail, it offers a unique but soft rice aroma. A one of a kind vodka, it is one to try yourself.

Tasting Notes:

  • Nose: Sweet, soft, and delicate aroma of rice.

  • Palate: Rich, natural sweetness and complex flavor of rice.

  • Finish: Smooth with a pleasantly lingering sweetness.

I recommend enjoying Haku Vodka over ice or in any vodka cocktail like an espresso martini.

Chita Whisky

An excellent addition to your Japanese Whisky collection, Chita Whisky stands apart from many of its counterparts. Created in the Chita Distillery located on the calm shores of the Chita peninsula, this bottle of whisky's history dates back nearly 50 years ago. The second Master Blender of Suntory, Keizo Saji, took a momentous step forward in pursuing Shinjiro Torii's vision. Keizo built a distillery dedicated to creating the highest-quality Japanese grain whisky. And this bottle of Chita is the result of that vision.

A single grain Japanese Whisky, Chita is mainly made from corn grain and put through multiple column distillation. Aged in American white oak barrels, the result is a smooth and complex whisky with a subtle sweetness. But don't take my word for it; try it for yourself!

Tasting Notes:

  • Nose: Honeydew, citrus, honey, and cereal

  • Palate: Vanilla sponge cake, honey, and orchard blossom

  • Finish: Medium length and zesty

I recommend enjoying Chita Whisky neat, over ice, or in an old-fashioned cocktail.

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