An eastern adventure

British gin with a Japanese flavour

Spirit of the east: James Nicol (right) with his uncle, CW Nicol, in the Afan Woodlands.

HERITAGE has become an important word in craft spirits, as brands clamour to show that they have an interesting and unique provenance.

So when James Nicol, co-founder of Kokoro Gin, decided to launch his own product into the rapidly expanding market, he must have been confident he had that base covered.

Kokoro was launched last year by James, an Edinburgh-based financial consultant, and his brother-in-law Barry Darnell, who runs a branding agency.

Although the London Dry-style gin is produced in the UK, it has a unique link to Japan, via James’s uncle, CW Nicol.

A noted author and environmentalist, CW (‘Old Nic’ to his family) has spent an eventful career travelling the world and working on various conservation projects in places as diverse as the Arctic Circle, Ethiopia and Japan, where he bought and restored a large section of woodland in Kurohime, Nagano.

It was there, on a trip to visit his uncle in the Afan Woodlands, that James was first introduced to the sansho berry.

“Uncle Nic picked a berry off the tree and said ‘try this’,” said James.

“I tried it and it’s just the most amazing flavour. We got back to his house and got talking about the sansho berry. It just felt like you should make gin with it.”

Returning to the UK, James experimented with different gin recipes – all of which have the sansho berry at their heart – until he found the right combination of ingredients.

“All of the different botanicals are in there,” he said.

“It’s a London Dry gin, which means everything goes into the pot at the same time. It’s all about the balance and the harmony and taking you back to the forest. So all the botanicals that are in there are there to accentuate and support the sansho berries.

“There’s lemon peel, sweet orange, to give it that citrus lift and a bit of body.

“There’s almond and liquorice to give it a bit of structure and strength to support the flavour. There’s savory, which has got a sort of minty herbal taste. And then there’s angelica and coriander to give that spicy warmth at the finish.”

In the summer James and Barry’s company, Forest Spirits, appointed drinks firm Mangrove to distribute Kokoro to the on and off-trades.

In the on-trade, the brand’s suggested serve, the Kokoro Negroni, reinforces the gin’s heritage by mixing Kokoro with vermouth, Campari and Japanese cherry green tea.