Nina Westervelt

After creating (and selling out of) some of the world’s most sought-after whiskies, Suntory sets its sights on clear spirits. 

Dan Q. Dao
October 03, 2018

Japanese whisky may have a been a little-known product in the early aughts, but all that changed when Suntory’s Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask earned the title of World’s Best Whiskey in 2015. In just a few years, Japanese whisky has become some of the most expensive liquid out there, with Japan’s distilleries lauded for their artful blending, attention to detail, and pure spring water.

Now, Suntory is brining its principles of craftsmanship to clear spirits for the first time with the release of Roku Gin and Haku Vodka in the U.S. market. 

As collectors around the world snap up remaining supplies of older whisky stocks, it was only a matter of time before Suntory diversified its offerings. Increasingly popular, Japanese gin has been following in the footsteps of its whisky counterparts; other notable bottlings include Nikka’s Coffey Gin and the hard-to-find Ki No Bi Kyoto Dry Gin from Kyoto Distillery. An exciting release from the new Benizakura Distillery, using ingredients like kelp and shiitake mushroom, is still only sold in Japan.

Already available in Japan and several European markets including the gin-obsessed UK, Roku is made in Osaka by marrying six Japanese botanicals—sakura flower, sakura leaf, yuzu peel, sencha tea, Gyokuro tea, and sansho pepper—with eight traditional gin botanicals.The resulting spirit sips silky and smooth on its own, while adding a heady spice of pepper and hit of yuzu, an Asian citrus, to citrus-forward tonics and rickeys. The sextet of Japanese botanicals are also represented in Roku’s hexagon-shaped bottle and label, which showcases the kanji symbol for six.

Nina Westervelt

Suntory’s Haku vodka, meanwhile, is distilled in Kagoshima, Kyushu, and made from 100 percent Japanese white rice. Its name, Haku, is rooted in the Japanese word for white rice, hakumai. One of few Japanese vodkas currently available in the U.S. market, it’s notable for its filtration through bamboo charcoal in Osaka. Delicately sweet, Haku can be served in a martini or highball-style, with soda water and a fresh citrus peel.

Nina Westervelt

These two new releases are only the latest in the soon-to-be-booming categories of Japanese gin and vodka.

Both priced at $27.99, Roku and Haku are considered premium spirits, so while Suntory is arguably still the most famous of Japanese whisky producers, it will certainly be interesting to see how its competitors respond in a market with lower barriers of entry.