Prestige Hong Kong - - INDULGENCE - Marcin Miller

The Ky­oto Dis­tillery, which makes Ki No Bi, is lo­cated in a quiet in­dus­trial area of south­ern Ky­oto, sur­rounded by non­de­script build­ings. Croll, who lives in Ky­oto, vis­its the dis­tillery sev­eral times a week, while Miller, who's based in UK, vis­its once or twice a year.

What did lo­cals think about a gin dis­tillery be­ing set up on their doorstep? “I think peo­ple were very sur­prised," says Croll, "be­cause gin hasn’t been a big thing in Ja­pan. If you go to a cock­tail bar, it’s there, but it’s al­ways just been like a work­horse for bar­tenders. To ac­tu­ally see it hap­pen­ing in Ky­oto, which is a very tra­di­tional, old­fash­ioned city with a long his­tory, it was sur­pris­ing, but I must say that the sup­port we have had has been in­cred­i­ble – from the city gov­ern­ment, the mayor and lo­cal com­pa­nies that have been in busi­ness for 15 gen­er­a­tions. We’ve been re­ally wel­comed, and that was im­por­tant to us be­cause we wanted to be a gen­uine Ky­oto prod­uct and part of the en­vi­ron­ment. We didn’t want to just slap the Ky­oto name on the bot­tle and then sell it over­seas.”

If im­i­ta­tion is the sin­cer­est form of flat­tery, then Croll and Miller must be feel­ing con­sid­er­ably chuffed. A year af­ter Ki No Bi launched, Sun­tory and Nikka came out with their own made-in-Ja­pan gins. Re­flect­ing on the suc­cess­ful reception in Ja­pan and over­seas, Miller says “it was al­most as if peo­ple were wait­ing for it but they didn’t know they were wait­ing for it. The Ja­panese are great sup­port­ers of their own prod­ucts – you only need to look at Ven­ture Whisky by Ichiro Akuto. His was the first true craft dis­tillery in Ja­pan. Be­fore he started it was just the big guys churn­ing out lots and lots of prod­ucts. He re­ally changed things and now his bot­tles sell out in­stan­ta­neously.

“When we launched, a lot of peo­ple who weren’t tra­di­tional gin drinkers were buy­ing it to try. They’d say, ‘Oh I re­ally like this, it’s very ap­proach­able,’ and they’d find their own ways to drink it.”

This last state­ment speaks to the great­est ap­peal of gin – its ver­sa­til­ity. More char­ac­ter­ful than vodka and less over­pow­er­ing than whisky, gin makes a suit­able base for cock­tails and is found in some of the world’s great­est mixes, in­clud­ing the Singapore Sling. Miller, how­ever, likes his Ki No Bi straight from the freezer into a mar­tini glass, “al­most as naked as it could be”. Croll prefers the clas­sic mar­tini while his wife, who is Ja­panese, en­joys it with cold wa­ter, a com­bi­na­tion known in Ja­pan as mizuwari. “Gin is so ac­ces­si­ble, al­ways,” quips Miller.

The arena of pre­mium gins ap­pears to be reach­ing sat­u­ra­tion point, but the duo are con­fi­dent they've laid a solid foun­da­tion for Ki No Bi. “I think there’s go­ing to be a rel­a­tively big shake-out in gin, be­cause there are too many of them,” says Miller. “To have a chance of suc­cess, you need sev­eral things. I think you need to have an ex­cep­tional liq­uid, a great story and your own pro­duc­tion – and we have that. There are many gin brands out there that are be­ing made by third par­ties, so they’re just brands, not crafted spir­its. What The Ky­oto Dis­tillery is all about is this Ja­panese con­cept of kaizen – small in­cre­men­tal im­prove­ments, al­ways striv­ing for the best.”


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