Afan Woodland provides the stage for this story. It was here in the tranquil wilderness that a man, an adventurer, a wrestler, a writer, a singer, a man of infinite wisdom and sagacity called Old Nic revealed the heart-warming, tongue-tingling powers of the Sansho berry to his family. This small berry is what gives Kokoro its distinctive flavour. A citrusy zing balanced by a warm and peppery finish. It’s the soul of the forest at the heart of Kokoro gin. The berries grow wild in the Afan Woodland in the Japanese Alps, where C.W.Nicol (aka Old Nic) introduced them to his nephew James in 2014. James immediately recognised the zingy combination of citrus and pepper was the perfect complement for gin, and Kokoro was born. Today they pick the berries by hand at the start of the season when they are at their freshest, flash freeze them and pack them in dry ice back to the UK. For many, the making of gin is to be considered an art. Others take the view it is undoubtedly a science, and it is here that we find one Mr James Nicol, founder of Kokoro and nephew of Old Nic. It was he who first experienced the electrifying epiphany of the sansho berry, and he who set off on a great quest to bottle its unparalleled delights. Armed with nothing but eight botanicals and an unfathomable palate, Mr James’s journey took him to the brink of insanity before he arrived at his gin-based paradise. Today he balances the books at Kokoro rather than the botanicals, but his insatiable appetite for adventure sees him return to the Afan Woodland whenever he can.
If James is the science behind the story, then his brother-in-law Mr Barry Darnell brings a refreshing wave of artistry to operations at Kokoro. This gentleman of visual delights and branding mastery can often be found during daylight hours behind the protective shield of a computer monitor, turning the mundane into the magical. Barry was the first person James discussed the idea for Kokoro with and, using his experience within the on-trade and spirits sector, has helped create a brand as rich and distinctive as the gin itself. He still visits Japan as often as possible, but is as likely to return with a collection of kaiji monsters as he is a bag of sansho berries.