Kokoro is a British gin with a distinctive Japanese heart, and uses Sansho berries as the star botanical.
Price: ~ £28
Kokoro, meaning ‘heart’ in Japanese (at least in the context of the soul or essence), was inspired by founder James Nicol’s introduction to the sansho berry by his Uncle who lives in Japan. Uncle Nic has spent years restoring parts of the woodland in Nagano Prefecture, and it is here those first inspirational berries came from. Basing the recipe around the tangy, citrus-pepper flavours of the Sansho berry, James and brother-in-law Barry Darnell created the brand, which includes gin liqueurs.
The bottle is a standard shape and height, with frosted glass all over. In fairly typical classical Japanese style, it is minimalist in design, with the name of the gin drawn in Hiragana (phonetic alphabet) by master calligrapher Koshu, above the name in English. On the side, written vertically is the usual legal info, then on the back is a nice blurb about the provenance of the gin and it’s inspiration. The seal label also features the kanji for ‘Mori no tamashi’, which means ‘soul of the forest’, and finally on top of the stopper is a kodama, or forest spirit, that changes form depending on which way up you look at it. It’s simple and with the calligraphy, definitely eye catching in a pleasant way. I like it.
Juniper is first from the glass, making clear that this is still very much a London Dry gin. From there, the citrus and pepper notes follow, sweet and tangy but with a dry bite. The added citrus from the peel is clearly present, softened by the coriander, liquorice, and almond so as to never seem sharp. Then, as things develop, the brighter peppery notes from the sansho, acting as a backdrop to everything, shine through a little more brightly. It’s a classic gin aroma, but with a slightly savoury, grassy edge right at the end. It’s very nice.
Neat, the juniper is not nearly as prominent as expected and the initial taste is much more soft and savoury, with a distinct tingly aftertaste. I’d go so far as to say that this tastes almost nothing like is smells, though that is not a criticism either. There are plenty of peppery notes at the fore, with robust savoury flavours from the angelica, almond, and herbal elements from the savory. Surprisingly the citrus is very muted for me, but i’m enjoying the savoury flavours, and the peppery zing at the end.
With water, those savoury, earthy, and herbal notes really come alive. There’s a wonderful play of sweet herbals and peppery tones that make it very easy to forget there’s much citrus here at all. It’s warming, smooth, and soft on the palate, despite the pepper. Quite different to expectations, but very pleasant.
Finally, a G&T (initially 3:1 Lamb & Watt Light Tonic with dried lemon peel to garnish, but I found the gin wasn’t coming through enough so I’ve added more to make it approx. 2:1, then I added a dash of sugar syrup as I felt it needed it). The result is nice, and very interesting. There is a really delightful bittersweet umami flavour which I think works really well. It has herbal elements, as well as hints of citrus, and even a little earthiness too. Quite unusual, and once again a step away from how the gin tasted neat and with water. It is almost like several of the classic flavour profiles of gin have been given a slight nudge into new territory.
Kokoro is a very interesting gin. It almost seems to take on the persona of a London Dry, then plays with it and turns every facet of it into something both familiar and different. It’s got so many of the classic notes: the citrus aroma, the peppery and savoury taste, etc. but it also manages to be a little different all the way through. It strikes me as a versatile gin, so I look forward to trying it in other things, but with all that said I can see some coming away feeling a little unsure. As for me. I’m a fan.
Kokoro is available online and in supermarkets
All reviews are of the author’s personal collection, bought and paid for by the author, unless otherwise stated.