Festive spirits are in the air. We've survived the second year of the pandemic and 2022 is just a few weeks away from happening. Yup, it's time to celebrate. And despite there being an official Christmasy drink – the eggnog – I find myself gravitating towards gin when it comes to the year-end-slash-new-year celebrations. Hear me out.
For some reason, gin always seems to pop up on my radar at the end of the year. It's not hard to understand why, it's incredibly versatile and it's perfectly enjoyable on its own. I'm partial to a negroni as my go-to gin-based cocktail, no matter the occasion, but lacking Campari and red vermouth I'm down to just have a gin and tonic or even a gin sonic.
Gin also reminds me of the new year festivities I experienced in Japan. I've spent New Years a few times in Japan and there always seemed to be a bottle of Japanese craft gin to go alongside the absolutely delicious sashimi platters, karaage and osechi ryouri served at reunion dinners. Side note: I even cooked ba kut teh for New Years in Japan once! It was a proud moment for me as a Malaysian, as everyone seemed to love it.
Move Over London Dry
London dry gin is probably the most widely known gin style and its reverence is now being echoed in a new wave of modern gin distillers who have adapted this geographical approach to gin making. I've tried Brass Lion Distillery's Singapore dry gin and I enjoyed it. I recently attended a Ki No Bi masterclass and dinner at Nobu and became intimately acquainted with their core range of Kyoto dry gins – Ki No Bi, Ki No Tea and Ki No Bi Sei. This friends...is top shelf stuff.
Where most modern gins may use cereal grains or molasses as its base spirit, Ki No Bi opts for a rice-based spirit, keeping in line with its geography. Ki No Bi's signature Kyoto dry gin comes in at 45.7% abv and is made of 11 botanicals and six elements:
Base (礎) – Juniper berries, orris and Hinoki accounts for over half of the ingredients used
Citrus (柑) – Japanese yuzu and lemon zest add wonderful citrus notes
Herbal (凛) – Sansho peppers adds a piquant spiciness while kinome leaves add herbal and floral touches
Spice (辛) – Ginger is used to add a sharp, spicy kick
Fruity and Floral (芳) – Red shiso leaves and bamboo leaves give the gin a bitter, slightly earthy aromas
Tea (茶) – Gyokuro tea is added to round out the gin with a touch of creaminess
Ki No Tea takes all this wonderful balance and adds additional uji, gyokuro and tencha teas into the mix, bringing tea-forward aromas and flavours to a 45.1% abv gin. Ki No Bi Sei, on the other hand, is a Royal Navy-strength gin coming in at 54.5% abv.
Which One Do I Try First?
Well, I recommend the getting the original Ki No Bi if you're a first timer and the Ki No Bi Sei if you're looking for a more flavourful, full-bodied gin. It's difficult to go wrong with either choice really, it's a win-win.
Have A Ki No Bi Gin Cocktail Or A Pairing Meal
That's right folks, you read correctly. In celebration of The Kyoto Distillery's fifth anniversary, the gin maker has released a fantastic limited edition bottled called Ki No Bi Go and has partnered up with several Japanese restaurants around town.
First, the former. The limited release Ki No Bi Go brings the distillery's signature Kyoto dry gin style and strengthens it to 50% abv and while it retains the same 11 regional botanicals it switches out hinoki for akamatsu (Japanese red pine) as its base element. A slightly higher abv and just a minor tweak to the formula is enough to make this an incredibly fine gin, with pronounced notes of light wood and yuzu.
Now, for the latter. Six partner outlets will be offering special Ki No Bi experiences and promotions from now until February.
1) Nobu Kuala Lumpur – Ki No Bi Cocktails (from RM50++)
Ki No Bi Sei grapefruit
KI No Tea lychee lemongrass
December 1 – 31, 2021
2) The Iron Fairies – Ki No Bi Cocktails of the Month (from RM55 nett)
Tomoe Gozen feat. Ki No Bi Go
December 1, 2021 – January 31, 2022
3) Hana Dining Sake Bar – Bottle promotion with complimentary signature snacks
Ki No Bi with complimentary lamb saikoro (RM550++)
Ki No Bi Sei with complimentary kuruma ebi motoyaki (RM620++)
Ki No Tea with complimentary lamb ponzu (RM670++)
December 6, 2021 onward
4) Kogetsu, The Saujana Hotel – Ki No Bi 5-Course Pairing Menu
RM300++ per person inclusive of drinks
December 1, 2021 onward
5) Uni Omakase – Omakase 8-course menu
RM680++ per person
RM880++ per person with Ki No Bi drinks
December 4 – 31, 2021
6) Hoshun Ki No Bi Pairing Menu
RM648++ with additional RM240 for drinks pairing
Jan 10 – Feb 5, 2022