Japanese spirits are celebrating a new era these days.
In 2015, Japanese whiskey became one of the most coveted spirits overnight when Jim Murray’s Whiskey Bible named Suntory’s Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 the world’s best whiskey.
In recent years, Japanese gin has attracted the attention of connoisseurs.
And now, new craft vodka brands are hitting the domestic market, and like other spirits, they have a uniquely Japanese character.
Generally speaking, vodka is made through multiple distillations to increase its purity and smoothness. The resulting spirit is flavor neutral and ideal as part of a cocktail.
However, some vodka producers reduce the number of distillations to preserve the flavor of the ingredients. New Japanese vodka brands tend to focus on this ingredient-centric approach.
Here are some Japanese craft vodkas to try in 2023.
1. key and brick
Keys & Bricks’ tagline is “Vodka that tastes good on its own” and this vodka is designed to be drunk straight.
Ali Elsamni, founder and CEO of brand maker ADIATE Co. Ltd, grew up in Japan with parents from Japan and Egypt.
Embracing a rich Japanese heritage, he partners with a century-old sake brewery in Fukui Prefecture to produce vodka. So it makes sense that Keys & Bricks’ base his grain is Yamada Nishiki, the ultra-premium rice from which sake is made, and that the vodka’s flavor reflects the mellowness and sweetness of the delicate rice.
Keys & Bricks offers a plain version plus five flavors: mango, lemon, shiso, yuzu and sudachi (yuzu and sudachi are typical Japanese citrus fruits).
The bottle design is modern and not very Japanese. “I think it’s an outdated idea to visually emphasize Japan’s origins to sell products overseas. Just like sports, what matters is universally superior quality,” he said before founding the company. says Elsamni, who used to play soccer in the J.League.
Keys & Bricks will be available in the US in early 2023.
2. 1983 J.Caviar Vodka
As the name suggests, this vodka was born to be enjoyed with caviar.
Japan Caviar, 1983 J.CAVIAR Vodka producers have a unique history. In 1983, the former Soviet Union donated 200 sturgeon to Japan as a token of friendship, and Miyazaki Prefecture accepted sturgeon for an experimental fishery. The fishery successfully farmed sturgeon in 2004.
Sensing this potential, Motoo Sakamoto established a company to produce high-quality caviar. Currently, 16 fisheries in the prefecture are farming sturgeon, using special feed that is friendly to both the fish and the environment. His clients include national and international Michelin starred restaurants.
He grows Japanese caviar. It is a natural result to produce a Japanese vodka that pairs perfectly with precious eggs. So he developed in 2019.
1983 J.CAVIAR Vodka’s approach is very terroir-driven and sets this vodka apart from traditional Russian vodkas.
Uses citrus fruits “Hyuganatsu” and “Hebesu” native to Miyazaki Prefecture. Also added is Japanese spice sansho pepper from an artisan farm in Wakayama (the farm is called Kanja Sanshoen, whose customers include El Bulli’s Ferran Adria and other notable chefs).
200 years ago, Hyuganatsu was discovered by chance growing in a private garden. Its sweetness and delicate acidity are now highly valued in the market.Hebes was also discovered in late 2018th Its refreshing aroma and mild acidity are loved by famous kaiseki chefs. (Hebes was the secret ingredient for the bride to impress her husband with her cooking prowess.)
These rare ingredients are a blend of barley shochu (a traditional Japanese spirit), rice koji (a domestic Japanese mold grown on rice), and yeast, which are steeped for several days until all the essence is transferred to the liquid. Distilled once to preserve its flavor and filtered through birch charcoal.
The refreshing taste is the point of compatibility with caviar.
“A spoonful of caviar fills your mouth with umami that lasts for a while. Then take a sip of vodka. It’s a dangerous loop of pleasure, and at the end you’ll get drunk,” said representative Takashi Fukumoto.
“I somehow didn’t get a hangover the next day.
As of December 2022, the products are only being exported to China, but the company hopes to expand overseas distribution in 2023.
There are other brands that are only available in Japan and some that are available through specific distributors overseas. For example, craft vodka “Akihikari” from Okayama Prefecture uses locally grown barley “Nijo”. Aichi Craft Vodka Kiyosu is a brewery of Kiyosu Sakura Sake Brewery, which has been making sake since 1853.
There are also popular Japanese-style vodka brands that are already widely available in the United States, such as Suntory’s Haku. Haku is made with 100% short grain Japonica rice and fermented with Japanese koji mold. The moromi is distilled three times and filtered through bamboo charcoal.
“Bamboo is special. Bamboo filters more finely than other types of wood, so liquids are powerfully purified. and it transfers into the liquid during filtration,” says Beam Suntory brand ambassador Gardner Dunn.
Try any (or all) of the above. If you’re looking for a new style of vodka, 2023 is going to be a fun year.