Recently, Japanese gin distillery Ki No Bi released Ki No Tou Old Tom Gin, and Ki No Bi Sei Navy Strength Gin, here in California. This is a momentous occasion not just for Japanese spirits, but for the gin world as well.
Ki No Bi is a distillery from Kyoto and what makes them stand out is the fact that they exclusively make gin – they are not a sake brewer, or shochu/whisky distillery also making gin. We have sold Ki No Bi Kyoto Dry for nearly a year now, which is a very special gin made with native Japanese ingredients such as hinoki wood, yuzu, and sansho – with fresh local waters of Fushimi. It is a favorite among spirits connoisseurs and gin lovers at Umami Mart.
Old Tom and Navy Strength gins are both British styles from the 18th Century. Not a coincidence that Ki No Bi partner David Croll, and master distiller Alex Davies both hail from England. Sugar is added to Old Tom (Kokuto sugar from Amami Island for the Ki No Bi version), which gives it a golden hue and lush flavor; Navy Strength Gins are potently botanical-forward, with a powerful ABV of around 57% (Ki No Bi's is 54.5%).
I'd say that these two Ki No Bi gins are about as opposite as the spectrum of gins go in terms of flavor profile. And both styles are admittedly obscure (in comparison to wildly popular London style gins like Beefeater, or juniper-forward gins like Hendrick's), so I took a few bottles home to tinker with in some of my favorite cocktail recipes: the Martini and Martinez.
These two cocktails are about as classic as you can get, but there is a lot of folklore surrounding them both, like, which one came first? I spoke with UC Berkeley Oral Historian and author of Bay Area Cocktails, Shanna Farrell to demystify the Martinez and its history in relation to the Martini. She confirmed that the Martinez is widely assumed to be the precursor to the Martini, and although it is not documented, to be born in the lovely East Bay town of Martinez, CA (just over the hills of Oakland!). It is believed (although hotly disputed) that Jerry Thomas, father of American bartending, created the Martinez in the late 1800s specifically using Old Tom gin, and when I asked Farrell, why Martinez, CA?, she said that most likely because it was a port city with a lot of international folks coming through, like the British.
Farrell also shared a funny side story about the creation of Navy Strength gins: it was distilled at a very high proof so when the British Navy spilled it all over the cannons during war, the bombs would still fuse. God bless those drunks!
Here are my Martini and Martinez cocktails, modified using Ki No Bi gins and genshu sakes (for Sake Gumi Genshu Month!). I enjoy using genshu (tank strength sakes) in place of vermouth in classic cocktails – I think they add balance and sweetness in a unique way. Here are some more classic cocktail recipe riffs using genshu sakes if you are interested!
Build drink in a mixing glass, add plenty of ice, and stir for 15 seconds. Garnish with olive.
1oz Ki No Tou Old Tom Gin
2oz Kikusui Funaguchi Nama Genshu
1 dash Miracle Mile Forbidden Bitters (or sub Angostura)
1 dash Miracle Mile Orange Bitters
Slight barspoon of Maraschino cherry liqueur (like Luxardo - I say "slight" for those who find Maraschino to be offensive, like me. But it's an important ingredient)
Build drink in a mixing glass, add plenty of ice, and stir for 10-12 seconds. Garnish with orange peel.
Let me know what you think of these cocktails, and the gins! Kanpai!