An Advertising Medium which is More Than Just a Drink - Shakotan Spirit's Craft Gin

Packed with the untapped power of plants that have survived in the harsh natural environment of Shakotan

We saw the potential for spirit production in Hokkaido beginning in Shakotan using Hokkaido's natural features.
Words by Hasegawa Michiru
Photographs by Ito Rumiko
Translation by Xene Inc.

Enjoying the forests of Hokkaido

Deep orange and crisp hops which are spicy and sweet with a hint of cinnamon. A landscape of coniferous forests comes to mind. HONOHO provides you with a rich aromatic experience. It is a craft gin produced by Shakotan Spirit, a distillery in Shakotan that specializes in craft gin.

KIBOU, a standard product of the HONOHO brand (courtesy of Shakotan Spirit)

In Shakotan, which is strongly associated with the fishing industry, the spark for the creation of spirits was ignited in 2015. Efforts to address the population decline and industrial decline looming in the region triggered a breakthrough. The company's president, Iwai Hirofumi, who has had ties to the town for 30 years explains, “At the time, the national policy for regional development projects was being formulated, and the time had come for the region to seriously consider concrete projects that could be put into action.”

Iwai Hirofumi

Iwai is also the president of a company that provides consulting and coordination services in the primary industry sector. After meeting again with the mayor and town hall officials and receiving information about the issues facing the region, Iwai conducted a preliminary survey in 2015. Among the six projects he drafted to create new industries and boost the community was the creation of a gin that utilizes idle farmland and forests.

Juniper berries, an essential ingredient in gin, are the fruit of a coniferous tree in the cypress family and are used to remove odors from meat dishes and to flavor sauerkraut dishes. These juniper berries are added to the base spirit, mixed with various plants and foods as flavoring accents, and then re-distilled. The distillation method that leverages the characteristics of the ingredients and the blending technique of the aroma are important factors in determining the originality of the gin.


The confidence to bring a story to life

When we think of manufacturing that makes use of forests and botanicals, the products that come to mind are those that we physically use. While items such as general merchandise and furniture have been created all over Hokkaido, there are not so many products that are made for drinking.

“Kemuriyama Yasuko, Hokkaido's leading expert on Mokuiku (growing with trees), provided some insight. She told us about Blackwoods, the northernmost distillery in Scotland and how Shakotan could do the same thing they are doing. The idea was that gin would be a good way to promote Mokuiku for adults as a way to utilize local resources.”

Sakhalin spruce, the main flavor of HONOHO (courtesy of Shakotan Spirit)

The Shakotan GIN Project, inspired by this idea, began in full swing in 2016.
The first step was the collection of plants on the peninsula by specialists, who re-confirmed the local vegetation and selected botanicals that could be used as raw materials for the gin. Shakotan Spirit was then established in 2018. It was necessary to take advantage of the region's natural features, the peninsula. Iwai was convinced that this was the best place in Hokkaido to make gin.

HONOHO was born in June 2020, with the confidence that "Only in this town can we bring the story of gin to life."


100 million yen in sales generating 1 billion yen in economic benefits for the region

Shakotan Spirit is said to be a rare distillery specializing in craft gin, not only in Japan but also in the world. The reason for this is that the distillery grows its own botanicals, which are used as raw materials, and blends the botanical distillate, which is made by distilling each botanical individually, with dry gin.

Botanical field cultivated with horses and currently growing about 80 varieties (courtesy of Shakotan Spirit)

At Shakotan Spirit, the sprouts of Sakhalin spruce, which are essential for the scent of HONOHO, are collected with the consent of landowners, and idle farmland that had been left unattended for some time in the town is newly cultivated to grow botanicals.

The core dry gin is produced in a 500-liter distiller, and 40 individual botanical distillates are produced in a smaller 50-liter distiller. It is not difficult to fathom that distilling such a large variety of botanicals requires a considerable amount of labor and time. Labor costs, which are a major cost factor in running a business, must also add up.

KIBOU copper distillation machine made in Germany

Iwai explains, “Since the project was launched on the basis of regional development, the company must create jobs. To be realistic, the distillery is expected to generate sales of up to 100 million yen, which will inevitably determine the maximum number of employees. Meanwhile, we aimed to expand the size of both the business and the town by using the Shakotan Spirit project as a springboard to establish a personnel system in the town.”

In fact, Shakotan is one of the few municipalities in Japan that accepts regional development cooperation teams not from the town office but from companies, and has sent 15 people to various businesses in the town. Shakotan Spirit also has two cooperation team members working in the town.

Furthermore, the establishment of Shakotan Spirit has attracted unique talent to the region resulting in the establishment of new companies. The possibility of expanding the economic impact of the entire town to 1 billion yen is becoming increasingly possible.


Hokkaido transitioning from a raw materials supplier to a manufacturing hub

Another reason for choosing the labor-intensive method is making the gin an advertising medium through OEM.

“Having separate botanical distillates allows for greater flexibility in product creation. This is one of the advantages of taking on small-lot OEM projects. In fact, we have planned and produced around 30 varieties of original gin from offers all over the country.”

The HONOHO brand includes several series such as BOUQUET, BOUQUET LIQUEUR HAMANASU, UMI, and more.

Iwai says, “There are people who consider what to showcase using objects. By teaming up with these people, gin will evolve into an 'advertising medium' rather than a mere beverage. It will also become a means of communicating our business and our town to a wide audience.”

Shakotan Spirit also sponsors the membership project, the SHAKOTAN UMI-MORI PROJECT, which holds events and seminars where everyone can enjoy the abundant food, climate, and charm of local life in the Shakotan Peninsula.

(Courtesy of Shakotan Spirit)

Shakotan Spirit
Nozuka-cho Wento 229-1, Shakotan-cho, Shakotan-gun, Hokkaido

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