Saving the world from mediocre martinis, one bar at a time…

Kokoro Tasting, Peony at Opium

We were delighted to meet Barry and Rasa from Kokoro Gin for the official 2018 Challenge tasting at the hidden Peony private bar located in the Opium Cocktail Lounge in London’s Chinatown.

Kokoro, meaning (roughly) “the beating heart,” finds its inspiration in the forests of Japan courtesy of the co-founder’s Uncle, nature advocate C.W. Nicol, affectionately referred to as “Old Nic.”

A key botanical, used exclusively by the distillers at Kokoro, is the Japanese sanshō berry. Sanshō can best be described as resembling a green peppercorn prior to being dried. Sampling the berry is quite the experience – it has a soft texture, breaks easily and releases a lovely peppery, spicy note that leads initially to a tingly mouthfeel. This tingling is quickly followed by an unexpected numbing of the tongue for a minute or so!

Does that effect translate to how the gin presents on the palate? Thankfully, no… The Kokoro distillers have demonstrated a restrained use of the sanshō such that, rather than overpowering their gin, it simply adds a detectable yet subtle dimension to how it tastes.


As always we began with our control. In this case, Daffy’s not being available, we used Tanqueray No. 10. Our tame bartender, Rasa, was in charge of the mixing and absolutely nailed it. Though presented with a lemon twist instead of the usual three olives, it was otherwise perfectly mixed and transported us to historic long nights over-imbibing at our spiritual home, Planefood.

Next up was the classic dry martini made with Kokoro. Interestingly, Tanqueray No. 10 was actually a benchmark for the Kokoro distillers when they were creating their flavour profile. We would agree that is a great benchmark to which to aspire.



And we would also say that they did a great job. Served again with a simple, yet elegantly sliced, lemon twist, Rasa’s classic offering presented on the nose with the expected citrus hit, followed by a nicely balanced citrus-led start as the gin hit the palette, and the influence of the sansho berry on the long finish.

As our regular readers know, we favour a gin that makes an eminently drinkable martini, and by that we mean of course three martinis! We would certainly say that Kokoro pulls that off.


The main event as it were. While we are described as prescriptivists due to our adherence to the classic extra dry gin martini – vodka and hyphen-tinis not welcome here – we also know that variety is the spice of life, and the bartenders we meet have skills and talents that deserve to be seen and recognised. Hence the competitors in our annual challenge have the latitude to submit a showcase recipe, each gin maker’s best expression of their gin in a martini.

Rasa did not let us down. Ahead of the tasting she had prepared her own “triple citrus” bitters and sanshō berry bitters. Along with some top quality ice, just a suggestion of Dolin dry vermouth, and the now ubiquitous custom-cut lemon twist, she laboured to produced a very subtle, yet subtly different, version of the previous classic she had served. The sign of a great bartender is to tap into a wide range of complementary ingredients and know exactly just how much to use to get the impact they desire. All in all, a great effort.

Thanks to Barry, Rasa and the team at Opium for hosting us and making it a memorable martini-tasting evening.