The makers of Roku Gin aim for nothing less than a pure expression of Japan in all the marvellous diversity of its varied landscapes and the magic of its changing seasons: haru (spring), natsu (summer), aki (autumn) and fuyu (winter). Roku means “six” in Japanese, and every elegant hexagonal bottle of Roku Gin contains six exceptional botanicals sourced from across the country – and across the year, which are then blended with eight traditional gin botanicals.
“We harvest in harmony with the seasons – so we go to the north later because everything ripens later there,” says Roku brand ambassador Raffaele Di Monaco. The master artisans who create Roku Gin bring all their skills to the task of blending each individual element into a final product that’s fragrant and piqued with quintessentially Japanese flavours.
“The Roku botanicals are each a faithful reflection of a particular season,” says Di Monaco. “The sakura flowers and leaves bloom in spring, while the sencha and gyokuro teas must be picked in summer.”
Sakura flowers are better known in the west as cherry blossom, and the delicate sweet aroma of Roku Gin is a direct tribute to the magic of haru (spring) and the national celebration of the arrival of the glorious pink flowers every year. The two teas also have different personalities that result in a spirit celebrating their unique elements in one delicious liquid.
“Sencha grows in the sun, so it gives herbaceous and citrus flavours, while the shade-loving gyokuru has more savoury, umami flavours,” says Di Monaco. Later in the year, the vibrant, lightly numbing sansho pepper adds a scattering of autumnal spice, while yuzu, a powerful citrus fruit with notes of mandarin, grapefruit and bergamot, is plucked in the winter.
“Yuzu is very fragrant and very present in the Japanese culinary tradition – it’s used in lots of seasonings or dressings,” says Di Monaco. Each ingredient is distilled as soon as possible after it is harvested, using the method best suited to its character. The aim is to retain freshness and individuality, so the delicate sakura flowers and leaves – so popular in the sweet pink cakes called sakura mochi – are distilled at a very low temperature, to protect their distinctive sweetness and perfume, and the almond note that brings a nuttiness to the gin.
Sancho pepper is also traditional in Japanese cuisine: it tingles distinctively on the tongue, bringing spice and excitement to dishes such as eel. It’s this electric liveliness that gives vibrancy to Roku Gin. It is distilled in a pot-still that is different from those used for the teas or the flowers, in accordance with its different character. “It takes a year to gather all the ingredients for a bottle of Roku Gin,” says Di Monaco.
The annual viewing of the cherry blossoms, accompanied by drinking and feasting, is a joyous celebration of one particular season, but Japanese cuisine extends that appreciation to all times of the year, with food markets showcasing the finest of what is available at that exact moment, and chefs changing their menus to honour the changing conditions.
The kaiseki meal – a multi-course feast that has been reinvented by many of Japan’s plethora of Michelin-starred chefs – takes this focus on seasonality to another level, in much the same way as their British contemporaries now put the seasons at the heart of their menus. “It’s the best way to highlight the essence of what it is to appreciate nature in Japan,” says Di Monaco.
Harvest that essence, infuse and distil it, pour it into a beautiful bottle whose shape reflects its contents – and you have Roku Gin.
Roku is available to purchase from Sainsburys