135 East drinks beautifully, neat—but makes for an intriguing complex base spirit. (photo courtesy of the distillery)

Last month, I attended a virtual “masterclass” sponsored by Kimio Yonezawa of Japan’s Kaikyo Distillery, which intended to increase exposure to several Kaikyo products: two whiskies, a plum sake, and 135 East Hyogo Dry Gin. A week before, I had received a care package including their Hatozaki’s Finest and Small Batch whiskies, a bottle of Akashi Tai Umeshu (plum-infused sake), 135 East gin, and a bottle of Monin hibiscus syrup. As part of the invitation, they included a recipe for their flagship cocktail, the Longitude Line.

The hour-long event was highly informative, and (with the help of a translator) we had an opportunity to discuss the distillery’s history and philosophy with its principals. The whiskies were straightforward, and the sake excellent, but the 135 East gin stole the show!

The gin and the signature cocktail take their name from the distillery’s geographic location in Akashi, Japan, along the 135th meridian. Like most gins, 135 East is crystal clear, with antiseptic cleanliness typical of its grain neutral base. Juniper berries are prominent, adding hints of pine tar and lemon and orange zest. Typical inclusions angelica and coriander add savory spice both in the aroma and on the tongue, all pretty standard stuff (so far). It’s the other added botanicals that make the magic happen.

Leading the pack is native Japanese Sansho pepper, adding a zingy red pepper kick up front. Yuzu, a Chinese cultivar crossing Mandarin orange with papeda (it looks like a misshapen lemon), kicks up the citrus zest and adds an orange-blossomy perfume. Sencha, a variety of Japanese green tea, adds hints of grass and vegetal earthiness. Shiso leaf imparts a hint of mint-like spice and savory herbaceousness similar to basil. Ume, also a Japanese native, adds a touch of lightly sour-plum fruitiness. Finally, we have 135’s most unique characteristic—added sake, which provides a hint of salt and dryness, particularly in the aftertaste.

Describing the individual flavor components is useful, but it oversimplifies their synergistic impact. 135 East offers a mouthful of intense but nicely integrated flavors and aromas. Some of the most forward include cedar, dry ginger, muted peppermint, lemon zest, and freshly ground peppercorns. It exhibits a soft but spicy mouthfeel, leading to a long, crisp herbal finish. The gin is lovely, served neat, but its flavors make for a great mixing spirit.

We finished the event with the Longitude Line.

  • 1 oz. 135 East Gin
  • 1/3 oz. Akashi Tai Umeshu (plum-infused sake)
  • 1/3 oz. hibiscus syrup
  • 1/2 oz. lime juice
  • 1 oz. egg white or aquafaba

Combine the ingredients, and then “dry shake” (without ice) vigorously to create a foamy cap. Then, add ice, shake again, and strain into a glass. Garnish with a dried hibiscus flower.

The result is a clean, slightly sweet concoction exhibiting deep floral and savory herbal notes, followed by a hint of sweet spice and a clean and refreshing finish. I couldn’t help but think of sweet Thai chili sauce added to blueberry tea—not something you would think to order, but delicious.