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The Art of Brewing
Craft gin and beer born from the spirit of the Old Capital

Known as the capital of Japanese tradition, renowned for its beauty, history and revered for its culture of craftsmanship nurtured for over a thousand years. It is this that makes the former imperial capital synonymous with exceptional quality, attention to detail and home to some of the finest brands and products in the world. Taking inspiration from its fine history and even finer ingredients, Kyoto, naturally, is also the perfect place to brew its unique and original crafted drinks. Keep your eyes peeled and your palate poised for a taste of the glorious ''spirits'' of Kyoto.

''KI NO BI''
Gin from the Kyoto Distillery

The Kyoto Distillery has its sights set on something decidedly more junipery, infusing the flavor of Kyoto into Japan's first ever craft gin. That is ''KI NO BI.'' ''KI NO BI'', meaning the ''beauty of the seasons'' is Japan's first craft gin. Distilled, blended and bottled in Kyoto, a city synonymous with exceptional quality, this is a gin that's just the tonic.

The Kyoto Distillery is owned by alcohol industry veterans David Croll and Marcin Miller. Originally from the U.K., Croll has lived in Japan for more than 20 years and has had a long love affair with Kyoto. Bringing on board Alex Davies as Head Distiller, who has often been likened to the ''Willy Wonka of spirits'' by the U.K. press, the distillery production license, which is believed to be the only one ever granted in Kyoto, was awarded last summer and the arduous task of producing a unique and delicious Japanese gin began.

Inspired by tradition and the abundance of exceptional ingredients on their doorstep, the team at The Kyoto Distillery decided to create KI NO BI by fusing traditional distilling methods with the art of blending. Unlike most gins on the market, Davies and his team identified six principle botanical flavour profiles.

Each is distilled independently into a high-quality rice spirit base, extracting the optimum flavor characteristics from each botanical category; Base, Citrus, Tea, Herbal, Spice and Floral. Containing 11 botanicals in total, 9 of which come from Japan and the majority of those from within Kyoto prefecture itself, KI NO BI's recipe includes several painstakingly-sourced traditional Japanese herbs, citrus and spices.

Yellow yuzu (citrus), green sansho (Japanese pepper), hinoki (cypress), kinome (Japanese pepper leaf), bamboo leaf and gyokuro tea are just a few from the long list of locally-sourced goodies. The resulting gin is brought down to bottling strength using famously pure Fushimi water and is beautifully balanced, complex and perfectly evokes the essence of Japan.

We paid a visit to the distillery and sat down with Croll and Davies to find out more about the mastery behind creating a truly artisan gin.

Why did you choose Kyoto?
The long tradition and culture of craftsmanship in Kyoto seemed the perfect inspiration for the gin we wanted to create. We felt immediately at home in a culture that respects the past but is very forward-looking and innovative.

When we started to look into Kyoto as a possible location for the distillery (the only place we seriously considered) we found it had everything we needed - the waters of Fushimi and the teas of Uji both a short drive away, craftsmen atelier to provide unique design inspiration, and a network of bartenders and hoteliers enthusiastic to support our launch and showcase the gin to their customers.

How much work goes into producing a new gin?
A lot! Especially with KI NO BI as I had to initially research a whole new flavor profile for the Japanese market. Don't get me wrong, exploring new ingredients typical to Japan was extremely interesting but it was incredibly time-consuming. Japanese ingredients are so seasonal that it took a full year to even taste everything, as each botanical is impossible to get hold of when it's out of season.

After a year of tasting we then had to decide on the botanicals we'd like to use and which base spirit would be the best. After putting the recipe together, we would trial it, tweak it and only when we were happy would we scale it up and finally run it on our stills! It's a long process, but I think that we have a great gin to show for all of our hard work.

Alex Davies, the Head Distiller, who has often been likened to the ''Willy Wonka of spirits'' by the U.K. press

What sets KI NO BI apart from other gins?
Collaborating with like-minded people, people who care about quality. We researched our suppliers for months in order to get the best possible ingredients from sustainable sources with real stories. Our yuzu citrus comes from Ayabe in northern Kyoto, from a family run farm whose owner, Mrs Tanaka, still chases away bears even in her 90s! Our tea is from Uji, regarded as the oldest tea producing area in the country and our supplier, Hori Shichimeien was founded in the Meiji era in 1879. We use leaves harvested in their Okunoyama tea yard, which dates back to 1300's. It's details like this that set us apart.

What is the most exciting thing about working for The Kyoto Distillery?
Learning an entire new set of ingredients applicable to the Japanese palate! Ingredients that other distilleries have never used before and ultimately creating an entirely new category of gin, a truly Japanese gin. I also really appreciate the fact that we can make anything we want. As we're not a big, corporate company, if we have an idea it's easy to run trials on a small scale and see if they work. That's the beauty of being a craft distillery!

Where to meet KI NO BI
KI NO BI is also available at one of the major department stores (Isetan, Takashimaya, Daimaru) and various liquor stores (Liquor Mountain and Yamaya) in the city while you'll also see it in a great many bars and restaurants. For more information about where to buy KI NO BI, visit their website. kyotodistillery.jp

Inspired by tradition and the abundance of exceptional ingredients, ''KI NO BI,'' the ''beauty of the seasons,'' is Japan's first craft gin fusing traditional distilling methods with the art of blending.

The Kyoto Distillery's newly released limited edition, ''KI NO TEA'': Distilling a number of specially selected superpremium Uji teas; tencha and gyokuro, which provide intense aromas and depth of flavor with a wonderful sweetness that occurs naturally in the distillation of these teas.

Craft Beer
The Kyoto Machiya Beer Brewery

Kinshi Masamune is one of the most acclaimed and time-honored sake breweries in Kyoto. The first generation, Kyube Matsuya founded his sake store in 1781 in the ancient capital of Kyoto. Eventually moving the brewing facilities to the Fushimi district for the favorable production conditions that existed there in 1880, they have been producing fine sake for more than 230 years.

Today, the family residence and sake brewing tools are cultural resources that can still be seen in their original location in central Kyoto. It is such a time capsule representing over 250 years from the 17th century. The main building still retains classical machiya townhouse structures such as the windows, latticework, courtyard garden, and earthen warehouses. These structures give a historical glimpse of machiya architecture and culture.

In 1997, this time-honored sake brewery made a breakthrough in their long history. Based on their long tradition of producing fine sake, Kinshi Masamune launched the new local craft beer brewery next door to the museum, the Kyoto Machiya Beer Brewery. This small brewery is set in one of the warehouses sitting next to the museum - No one can imagine there was a ''hidden'' brewery behind. Another surprise is that there are just two female brewers who are engaged in the entire production process, from the preparation of raw ingredients to bottling.

Chizuko Miyoshi, an experienced brewer with 20 years of experience since the launch of the Kyoto Machiya Beer Brewery and Natsuko Kotani, the younger brewer, talk about their passion for their job.

What made you decide to be a brewer in Kyoto?
I never imagined that I would be a beer brewer. Before I came to this brewery, I had no experience with the beer industry, let alone how to brew it. When I was younger, I studied German and wanted to do something related to Germany. German beer is very famous and I thought I might be able to have some connection with Germany if I become a beer brewer.

I was wondering if it was really possible to be a brewer with no knowledge and experience, but it also sounded an exciting job to try. I have been working as the main brewer of our brewery for 20 years, since our establishment in 1997, but am still learning and enjoying my job every day.

NK: I had no experience and knowledge about brewing beer at all before I joined the company, either. I was born in Kyoto and have lived in the city all of my life. I majored in Japanese language in university and was always impressed with the profound history and culture of Kyoto. Eventually, I became interested in craftsmanship and manufacturing in Kyoto. Brewing beer seemed to be a work of ''craftsmanship'' for me.

Chizuko Miyoshi (right) and Natsuko Kotani (left), two brewers who are fascinated by ''growing life'' in beer

What is the most challenging part of brewing beer?
Since I'm still new here, I'm learning a lot every day from Chizuko. Although I learn the theory and our work flow is always consistent, the result of every brewing cycle is different. For example, temperature is very important in fermentation and we have to be sensitive to the environment, like the different climate in summer and winter, in order to keep the quality of beer the same.

This is because we are dealing with yeast and yeast is alive. Like human beings, yeast changes ''mood'' depending on the condition and surrounding environment. I often feel that it's not me that produces beer but I only support the yeast so that it can work well to produce good beer. It is not always easy because they don't speak the same language as us, though.

CM: Natsuko is right. We are working with living yeast. I feel that I raise my yeast with my heart, like raising a child. Every child has their own personality and character, and they need consistent care and attention. I treat my beer in the same way.

We are only two women working here through the entire process and some of the processes are very hard physically, for example, carrying a big quantity of hops and stirring them while they are extremely hot right after boiling. The quantity we can produce in one brewing is very limited, too, but we both feel it is worthwhile and feel honored that we are responsible for the entire process.

Clear pure water springs up from the Well of Peach

What would you say is the key feature of Kyoto Machiya Beer?
One of the essential ingredients for good beer is water. Since ancient times, Kyoto has been known for its quality ground water. There are several famous wells in the city and local people still enjoy natural water. Essentially, Kinshi Masamune brewed its sake with this water during the time their brewery was located here. Our beer is born from the water of one of the wells located in our museum which is called Momo-no-I, or the Well of Peach.

CM: While beer is traditionally brewed using bottom fermentation techniques, we chose top fermentation to produce an original beer that is aromatic and full-bodied as well as suited to the food culture of Kyoto. Kyoto cuisine is often praised for its delicate sensitivity both in taste and looks. Our beer tastes relatively soft and gentle so it will not disturb one from sensing the sophisticated taste of Kyoto cuisine when both are enjoyed together.

''Hanamachi-Mattari'' (Alt)
Brewed in a Kyoto machiya, this altstyle amber beer is unpasteurized and characterized by its rich, full-bodied flavor.

''Machiya-Karuosu'' (Koelsch)
The harmonious balance of a delicate aroma and characteristic acidity are just what you would expect from this unpasteurized beer.
''Heian-Kuro-osu'' (Dry Stout)
A dry stout beer produced in a Kyoto machiya. It is unpasteurized and characterized by deep roasted-malt undertones and a refreshing flavor.

Where to find the Kyoto Machiya Beer Brewery
Kyoto Machiya Beer are available at the Kinshi Masamune Memorial Museum. They are also often served at major department stores in Kyoto and various restaurants and izakaya bars.

Visit Kinshi Masamune Horino Memorial Museum, the wonderful cultural museum using the former residence of the Horino Family and root of Kyoto-brewed sake; kinshimasamune.com/en/beer