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10 Best Japanese Gins in 2023 (Japanese Alcohol Expert-Reviewed)

Wondering what to serve during your next cocktail party? Amaze your party guests with a sophisticated bottle of gin from Japan! Japanese gin is intricately flavored due to the use of local botanical ingredients. However, it's still easy to drink, which appeals to liquor aficionados and casual drinkers alike. Enjoy it with a splash of soda to taste each ingredient, or use it in a Japanese-themed cocktail.


Japanese gin only started entering the market in 2016, making it difficult to find information about the options available. We've scoured the Internet and put together a list of Japanese gin that deserves a space in your liquor cabinet. One of our favorites is the Ki No Bi Kyoto Dry Gin from Kyoto Distillery due to its clean citrus-forward flavor. Keep reading to see the rest of our recommended Japanese gins, and check out the buying guide reviewed by a Japanese alcohol blogger to learn how to choose one that's perfect for your taste buds!

Last updated 06/15/2023
Whiskey Richard
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Whiskey and Alcohol Expert
Whiskey Richard

Whiskey Richard is the founder of nomunication.jp, an English-language drinks blog specializing in Japanese whisky, spirits, and Tokyo's cocktail culture. He has lived in Tokyo since 2008. He is a certified Cocktail Professor, SSI Shochu Kikisakeshi, and he provides consulting services for foreign spirits brands seeking to enter the Japanese market. Since 2021 he has served on the Executive Committee and as a judge for the Tokyo Whisky & Spirits Competition.

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Table of Contents

How to Choose a Japanese Gin - Buying Guide

There are many types of Japanese gin with different flavor profiles. We recommend paying attention to the botanicals, location, and how you plan to serve it.

① Look for Local Ingredients for a Distinctive Japanese Flavor

Look for Local Ingredients for a Distinctive Japanese Flavor
Gin is a versatile spirit. While in the West, gin is often associated with juniper berries and other herbs and spices found in Europe, many Japanese gin producers choose to only use ingredients available in Japan to create a uniquely Japanese product. Some even go a step further and focus on ingredients sourced only in their prefecture.

Citrus-forward gins are often made with yuzu, kabosu, mandarin oranges, or other local fruits. Spicier gins incorporate sansho peppers, ginger, wasabi, and leaves from other spice plants. Earthier flavors include kelp, pine, teas, and mushrooms. Finally, floral flavors include cherry blossoms, hibiscus, or other seasonal and regional flowers. All of these unique flavors help to create gins with a Japanese twist.


Because these ingredients can't be found in Western gins, gin enthusiasts can rediscover this spirit through Japanese varieties. Plus, most Japanese ingredients are relatively subtle, meaning beginners can enjoy them too.

Whiskey Richard
Whiskey and Alcohol ExpertWhiskey Richard

Local food and drink are a huge part of Japanese history and culture, so it's no surprise to see this extended to Japanese gin. For example, the country's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries notes over 100 varieties of satsuma mandarin in its registry. And that's just one species of citrus! With so many different varieties of herbs, vegetables, and fruit, the possibilities for Japanese gin makers are virtually limitless.

② Choose a Gin Based on Location

Location is an important factor in gin production. Japanese gin producers make sure their gin is distinctively Japanese in ingredients, style, and quality.

Japanese Artisanal Gins for the Best Flavor

Japanese Artisanal Gins for the Best Flavor

Japanese craft gin emerged into the scene around 2016. Within just a few years, the craft gin scene in Japan has boomed. Currently, there are about 31 distilleries producing gin in Japan compared to about 1410 sake breweries and 273 shochu distilleries.


There are also several Western gins inspired by Japan that attempt to create an all-encompassing Japanese aroma. However, these often lack the nuance and regional focus that true Japanese gin craftsmen emphasize in their products.

 
Even in Japan, some distilleries are jumping on the bandwagon by adding juniper berries to redistilled shochu. This method doesn't capture the craftsmanship of Japanese artisanal gin makers. To find an authentic craft gin made in Japan, check the manufacturing location and list of botanicals.

Whiskey Richard
Whiskey and Alcohol ExpertWhiskey Richard

While gins in, for example, the UK begin with neutral grain spirits, some Japanese gins begin with non-neutral spirits such as potato shochu. This means such gins won't be categorized as "London Dry," but don't let that prevent you from giving them a try. A non-neutral base can help highlight certain notes in the botanicals that the distiller has selected, yielding truly unique Japanese gins.

Local Distillates and Local Water Build Flavor

Local Distillates and Local Water Build Flavor
Incorporating the distillery's own base liquor products builds flavor through the distillate. Many Japanese gins are distilled from rice distillate, imparting a sweet soft flavor. Other distilleries use their own shochu made from rice, sweet potato, or barley; some even use sugarcane molasses. 

Some distilleries use local spring or mountain water to further emphasize the focus on locality. Soft water or hard water can also affect the gin's final texture. 

Some also add finishing touches to their blends by incorporating a splash of their own sake or local water. This technique means that the gin makers are adjusting the flavor of their gin until the very end, ensuring a focused product. 

Consider More Unique Local Ingredients for Unconventional Tasting Notes

Consider More Unique Local Ingredients for Unconventional Tasting Notes
As mentioned earlier about botanicals, many Japanese gin producers are known to source very locally. In Japanese culture, regionality is an aspect that even the everyday Japanese person is aware of. In addition to botanicals, Japanese gin producers also use unique regional ingredients to further enhance their spirits.

For example, gin producers from tropical Okinawa utilize goya (bitter melon) and guava native to the island. In seaside Hiroshima, gin producers crush up local oyster shells to impart a salinity into their gin. In Kyoto, the distilleries have better access to high-grade teas produced in the region.


Seeking out these unique regional ingredients is a great way to experience new, unprecedented flavors in gin, especially if you have an adventurous palate. 

Whiskey Richard
Whiskey and Alcohol ExpertWhiskey Richard

Because most Japanese craft gin producers remain very small, they often source ingredients by tapping personal relationships with local farmers. Shipping certain kinds of produce and other botanicals overseas is sometimes difficult due to expense, logistics, or freshness, but some makers have managed to capture the essence of certain botanicals thanks to gin. It's now possible to go on a botanical tour of Japan just with a flight of Japanese gins!

Japan’s Seasons Gives Gin a Unique Edge in Variety

Japan’s Seasons Gives Gin a Unique Edge in Variety

Japan has four seasons and varied climates across the country, allowing for a range of unique products. Some ingredients can only grow in certain seasons, like yuzu or Hiroshima sweet oranges. Gin producers often wait for the perfect timing to harvest ripe ingredients for the best flavor.


Some distilleries batch-release gin to match the seasons and focus on certain ingredients. For example, a spring release made from sakura petals picked from the distillery grounds. Due to the small-batch nature of budding Japanese craft gin distilleries, experimentation is common. 

Whiskey Richard
Whiskey and Alcohol ExpertWhiskey Richard

Though gin and tonic may be a traditional summer drink, Japanese cuisine emphasizes seasonality, so a Japanese gin that matches the season can be great year-round for pairing. Spring brings fresh cherry blossoms and sansho pepper. For summer, try a gin with cooling mint, cucumber, shiso, or plum. Hearty mushroom and pumpkin can be great in autumn. Then, warm up your winter with seasonal citrus, like mandarin and yuzu.

③ Match the Botanicals to Your Cocktail Ingredients

Match the Botanicals to Your Cocktail Ingredients

In general, a gin with fewer botanicals is best for mixed drinks. Use a simple citrus-forward gin for cocktails where there is less room to “hide” the flavor of the gin, like a martini or gin and tonic. 


A floral gin is a good match for sweeter drinks like a Tom Collins or gimlet. Funkier gins with bitter notes can elevate intricately-flavored cocktails like a negroni.


You can also bring out certain flavors in cocktails by matching the botanicals. For example, find a gin made from yuzu and tea if you plan to make a matcha yuzu gin fizz. 

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10 Best Japanese Gins

Here are our choices for the 10 best Japanese gins available online! We chose these gins based on factors listed in our buying guide and online reviews.
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Key features
1

The Kyoto Distillery

Kinobi Kyoto Dry Gin

The Kyoto Distillery Kinobi Kyoto Dry Gin 1枚目

Best Balanced Gin With Clean Lemon Notes

2

The Kyoto Distillery

KI NO TEA Kyoto Dry Gin

The Kyoto Distillery KI NO TEA Kyoto Dry Gin 1枚目

Best for the Green Tea Aroma

3

Suntory

Roku Japanese Gin

Suntory Roku Japanese Gin 1枚目

Best Gin for Beginners

4

Nikka

Cafe Gin

Nikka Cafe Gin 1枚目

Best Gin for a Deep, Complex Flavor

5

Sakurao

Japanese Dry Gin Limited Edition

Sakurao Japanese Dry Gin Limited Edition 1枚目

Best Unusual Gin With Notes of Oysters and Wasabi

6

Masahiro

Okinawa Japanese Craft Gin

Masahiro Okinawa Japanese Craft Gin 1枚目

Best Herbaceous Gin Using Tropical Ingredients

7

Fujishiro Distillery

Kozue

Fujishiro Distillery Kozue 1枚目

Best Gin for a Fresh, Earthy Flavor

8

Komasa

Sakurajima Komikan Gin

Komasa Sakurajima Komikan Gin 1枚目

Best Gin With Fruity Fragrances

9

Kyoya

Yuzu Japanese Gin

Kyoya Yuzu Japanese Gin 1枚目

Best Gin for Summery Cocktails

10

Benizakura

9148 Gin

Benizakura 9148 Gin 1枚目

Best Rare Gin With Umami Notes

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No.1

The Kyoto DistilleryKinobi Kyoto Dry Gin

Kinobi Kyoto Dry Gin Image 1
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$37.13

Best Balanced Gin With Clean Lemon Notes

Pros:

  • Reports that it's easy to drink
  • Balanced botanical notes
  • Distilled separately and then blended

Cons:

  • Complaints that subtle notes can become lost in complicated cocktails

Ki No Bi utilizes eleven botanicals that are distilled separately and blended back together to create subtle balanced flavors. This gin features lemon and yuzu at the forefront. It even uses local water from the the district of Fushimi.


Some said that this gin isn't suitable for complicated cocktails due to its mellow nature. However, many enjoyed it in more basic cocktails, like gin and tonics, or on the rocks. Reviewers complimented its subtle and smooth flavor, saying it's easy to drink.

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No.2

The Kyoto DistilleryKI NO TEA Kyoto Dry Gin

Best for the Green Tea Aroma

Pros:

  • Uses the highest quality tea leaves
  • Subtle chocolate-like sweetness
  • Great on the nose

Cons:

  • Some reviewers noted a light saltiness

Ki No Tea is a product born out of collaboration with a local tea grower founded in the Meiji era. Tencha (the leaves of matcha) and gyokuro (tea leaves grown in the shade) come together to give this gin a distinctive sweet tea flavor that's reminiscent of white chocolate. 


A couple of reviewers noted a hint of saltiness to the palate. However, most praised this gin's enticing scent and fragrant aftertaste, and they recommended serving it on ice to truly savor the tea flavors.

No.3

Best Gin for Beginners

Pros:

  • Easy to drink for beginners
  • Pairs well with ginger
  • Ingredients harvested at the peak time

Cons:

  • Reviewers say that botanicals are a little ordinary

Suntory's Roku Gin is crafted with Japan's four seasons in mind. Roku, meaning "six," represents the botanicals in this gin that can only be sourced in Japan. They make sure to harvest these ingredients during the peak of the season to take full advantage of their flavor. 


Though some gin drinkers commented that its flavor combination was a little unadventurous, most praised its clean, crisp taste. Many also loved the bottle design. Drinkers enjoyed pairing it with a good tonic, and some even suggested trying it with ginger ale. 

No.4

Best Gin for a Deep, Complex Flavor

Pros:

  • Smooth, long finish
  • Each botanical is distinguishable on the palate
  • Corn imparts sweetness, and barley imparts cereal notes

Cons:

  • Difficult to mix in some cocktails

Though Nikka is most famous for their whiskey, they've adopted their signature distillation method to create a silky gin. This gin utilizes 11 botanicals, including many citruses. Sansho pepper is also a stand-out ingredient, showing itself in the peppery finish. 


Many reviewers felt like the pepperiness is the highlight of the gin. Many also praised its depth of flavor and smoothness. Reviewers recommended drinking it neat or using it in a Negroni due to its slightly bitter citrus and pepper notes. 

No.5

SakuraoJapanese Dry Gin Limited Edition

Best Unusual Gin With Notes of Oysters and Wasabi

Pros:

  • Uses only Hiroshima-sourced ingredients 
  • Crushed up oyster shells and wasabi are standout ingredients
  • Uses Japanese juniper berries

Cons:

  • Use of oyster shells makes it not suitable for vegetarians and vegans

Sakurao's Limited Gin encompasses the spirit of Hiroshima by including 17 locally-sourced ingredients. Oyster shells and wasabi are impressive additions, adding depth and uniqueness. This gin also features local Japanese juniper berries, whereas most other gins use imported juniper.


If you're vegan or vegetarian, this gin may not be suitable for you. However, most reviewers were intrigued by the bold brininess imparted by the oysters and how it blends with earthy spice and citrus notes. 

No.6

Best Herbaceous Gin Using Tropical Ingredients

Pros:

  • Uses only local Okinawan ingredients
  • Reviewers like the interesting herbaceous notes

Cons:

  • Some complaints of a strong Awamori flavor

Masahiro's Okinawa Craft Gin embraces the southern tropical Japanese region. They distill local tropical ingredients such as guava, hibiscus, and bitter melon into the Okinawan rice spirit "Awamori." This results in a unique gin with a different flavor profile than ones from Japan's main island.


Some drinkers felt like the taste was assertive due to its use of Awamori. But, most others praised its unconventionality and layers, noting that it's not juniper-forward like most gins are. They also said that the green notes from the botanicals give it a bold flavor that's perfect for sipping

No.7

Best Gin for a Fresh, Earthy Flavor

Pros:

  • Locally sourced ingredients from Wakayama
  • Earthy and peppery notes set it apart from most citrus forward gins
  • Reports that it's good for cocktails

Cons:

  • None

This gin uses ingredients only from Wakayama, including citruses, pepper, and Japanese umbrella pine. This special pine botanical provides the gin with fresh, earthy notes that peak through the juniper before the sansho rushes in with a punchy peppery aftertaste.


Most drinkers enjoyed the uniqueness of the umbrella pine, saying it adds many fresh notes. They also noted that this is a great gin for making cocktails

No.8

Best Gin With Fruity Fragrances

Pros:

  • Good for sweeter cocktails
  • Citrus forward
  • Good for those who like a strong liquor taste

Cons:

  • Doesn't list all of the botanicals
  • Some say it tastes more like shochu than gin

Komasa's Komikan Gin is made using the distillery's rice shochu and the world's smallest mandarins, known as komikan, native to the volcanic island of Kagoshima. These fruits pack a mellower punch than your standard orange, while the addition of coriander emphasizes the fruit's sweet fragrance.


Some drinkers felt that the use of rice shochu as the distillate makes this taste more similar to vodka. However, this gin was widely praised for its burst of citrus notes.

No.9

Best Gin for Summery Cocktails

Pros:

  • Good for beginners
  • Ideal choice for those who love cocktails

Cons:

  • Some comments say that the citrus is a little one-note

This gin is packed with fresh local Miyazaki yuzu citruses. The straightforward yuzu flavor makes this an accessible and refreshing choice for those who love cocktails. The distillery also distills its botanicals with a sweet potato and sugar cane base, adding extra body. 


Some drinkers noted that this gin has a less complex profile. However, many loved the strong flavor of the zesty yuzu, and others still praised the elegant wax-sealed bottle. Most suggested drinking it in cocktails, like a gin and tonic.

No.10

Best Rare Gin With Umami Notes

Pros:

  • Use of umami ingredients
  • Botanicals are sourced from a local park

Cons:

  • Not recommended for beginners

The Benizakura 9148 Gin is a product from Hokkaido. This distillery often releases batches based on seasonal botanicals, and ingredients are collected in their 100-year-old park. This version features kelp, dried radish, and mushroom for a blend of intriguing umami notes


Some drinkers said that the taste might be difficult for beginners to enjoy. Overall, however, many enjoyed the slight umami flavor, saying it rounded out the rest of the notes. They also suggested pairing it with Japanese food.

Frequently Asked Questions

In addition to reviewing and commenting on our buying guide, Whiskey Richard also took the time to answer a commonly asked question about Japanese gin.

How do you drink Japanese gin?

"Many Japanese gins are more citrus than juniper-forward, so they tend to work better with soda than tonic," Whiskey Richard explains. "I recommend first trying the gin straight, then adding a few drops of water to see how the flavor profile changes. Also experiment with tonic and soda to see what works best for you. 


For cocktails, first try simply using Japanese gin in place of a traditional London Dry to see how it impacts flavor. This will help give you a better idea of how it will work for new drinks that bring out the best in each gin's botanicals."

More Fantastic Japanese Alcohols to Try

Though gin is the newest addition to the Japanese alcohol scene, other classics are sure to impress as well. Here are some other Japanese alcohols to consider adding to your liquor cabinet!

Top 5 Japanese Gin

No. 1: The Kyoto Distillery | Kinobi Kyoto Dry Gin

No. 2: The Kyoto Distillery | KI NO TEA Kyoto Dry Gin

No. 3: Suntory | Roku Japanese Gin

No. 4: Nikka | Cafe Gin

No. 5: Sakurao | Japanese Dry Gin Limited Edition

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