- Jonathan Winters
Roku Gin Review
Updated: Sep 24, 2021
A well crafted, but not craft, Japanese gin
Review Roku Gin
Made in: Osaka Japan, by Suntory Inc
Method: multiple methods - they say they use 4 different methods for different botanicals.
43% alcohol/86 proof
Botanicals 14 : Juniper, coriander, angelica root, angelica seeds, cardamom, cinnamon, lemon peel, bitter orange peel, sakura* flowers, sakura* leaf, yuzu peel, sencha tea, sansho peppers, Gyokuro tea. I suspect orris root was omitted from this list, but I seem to detect it on the palate.
Style: Modern gin
Roku means six in Japanese. And if you take a good look at the bottle you’ll see that Roku actually says Roku Gin 6 on the label. That represents the six Japanese botanicals that are added to a more traditional botanical base to make Roku gin. The botanicals represent the four seasons of Japan - with Sakura flower and leaves harvested in the spring, green tea - both sencha and Gyokuro varieties, from the summer, sansho pepper in the fall, and yuzu from the winter.
Each of those botanicals is featured on a side of the hexagonal bottle that the gin comes in. They highlight the Japanese aesthetic and pay tribute to Japanese artistry, from the gin inside the bottle, to the calligraphy on the label to the washi traditional paper the label is printed on.
You could argue that the bottle is the most craft part of the gin - as despite what the label says (it calls Roku the Japanese Craft Gin), Suntory is one of the largest spirit owners/makers in the world (including Jim Beam, Makers Mark, Laphroig, Knob Creek, Bowmore, Canadian Club, Yamazaki, and of course Suntory) - and the distillery in Kyoto is not a minor producer. It does of course mean that the brand has serious global reach.
That’s not to say this gin is not uniquely Japanese - it clearly is, but classifying it as a craft gin may be a bit much. The mixture of cherry blossom and leaves (sakura), yuzu, green tea, and sansho pepper (Japanese pepper) are distinctly Japanese - although I suspect more and more gin makers may embrace some of these botanicals going forward, especially since Roku has been so successful globally.
This gin is gorgeous neat or on the rocks - and while the base spirit smells quite strong, the odor belies the level of heat intrinsic to the gin. This gin is delightfully bitter, with just enough sweetness to make it a sippers delight.
The aroma of Roku is fleeting, competing with the ethanol base of the gin. You’ll catch notes of cherry blossom, fruit, lemon, and notes of pepper, but it fades quickly and is overwhelmed by the base of the spirit.
Flavorwise citrus and resinous notes of juniper hit you hard and early, followed by an almost ethereal floral note of cherry and tea, that quickly is followed by bitterness, including almost wine-like tannins from the tea, and traces of anise, pepper, and smoldering leaves with just a trace of sweetness in the finish.
The feel of the gin is luscious, oily, and coating, it's quite pleasant.
It’s a delicious sipping gin, but the bitter nature of the tea, and pepper, (not to mention the strong yuzu) had me questioning how well it would work as a mixing gin.
This is good martini gin. It’s dry and bitter and extremely pleasant in a martini - especially a very dry one. It didn’t stand up quite as well with anything more than a 6-1 ratio. The makers suggest garnishing this with ginger, and that really set this up as a martini nicely.
As to the G&T it was really quite nice with traditional tonic water, but it was the thin slice of ginger that made the drink complete. I suspect it would also work nicely with a bit of star anise. I had wondered if the yuzu would be too much here, but it melded nicely with the tonic but the overall feel of the gin itself just doubled down on the bitterness of the quinine.
Roku’s own page suggests four basic cocktails for the gin. Obviously the martini, and a gin and tonic are two of them, and they push hard for ginger to be the big garnish for them - as again it completes those drinks. Not surprisingly for that reason it makes a good gin-gin mule, or pairs well with ginger ale.
It handled an Aviation very well - the strong components meshed well in the sweet and sour mixture of that cocktail. But it failed with the gimlet which at first I thought worked quite well with the gin, but towards the end it had a discordant note of anise that really didn’t quite mesh right with it. I strongly suspect a lot of cocktails won’t sit quite right with these flavors.
Roku is a damn nice gin. Not elite, but better than most mass produced gins. It’s conventional enough to appeal to the juniper forward crowd who love their London Dry, but different enough to show some uniquely Japanese character.
It’s best neat, with ice, in martinis and even gin and tonics. But it’s hit and miss in cocktails. For some it will clearly elevate, for others it may throw them off. I found more hits than misses, but I can see how this gin could run afoul in certain cocktails.
Floral 1/5 (Only in the nose).
Rating (Sipping): 92 - It’s a great sipping gin that will appeal to those looking for a variation on a classic flavor profile.
Rating (Mixing) 84 - this isn’t a perfect mixing gin. It’s good, and well worth trying. But when it hits a discordant note it hits hard.
Overall rating: 88 - For those who like their drinks bitter and clean this gin will be an eye opener, but it’s not going to mix well in drinks that are not quite as clean.
*Sakura is the Japanese Cherry tree - so the gin uses the leaves and blossoms.
What you need to know about my reviews: All my reviews are my honest opinions based upon my own personal tasting. I am NOT a paid reviewer, and no compensation was given, or expected. I may from time to time choose to do a second review and amend my opinion of a product, should I feel like it and find my review criteria has evolved, or that I’ve found it different at a later date. That said, as I’m unlikely to repurchase anything I thought was less than very good to excellent, it would be by chance or at the request of a distiller who thought I rated them very unfairly - BUT even then, whatever you get will always be my honest opinion.