Nozawa Onsen Distillery is the latest addition to Nozawa’s growing culinary and craft beverage scene. Built in a refurbished canning factory, this elegant distillery produces gin and whisky using local ingredients. The distillery is owned by expats who fell in love with the village’s skiing and hot springs and made Nozawa Onsen their home.
Although it opened in December 2022, they’ve already made an impressive name for themselves by bringing home four gold medals at the 2023 World Spirits Competition in San Francisco and platinum, double gold and gold medals at The Sip Awards. They were also named the 2023 New Distillery of the Year at the Tokyo Whisky & Spirits Competition.
Currently, they offer four types of gin year round. Production is planned around when they can receive the freshest ingredients and botanicals. Their signature Nozawa Gin is said to invoke feelings of walking through the forest. This dry gin uses floral and sweet kuromoji (Japanese cedar) to represent Nozawa’s evergreen forests while adding a citrus aroma, and woody kakidoshi for its mint and sage-like, earthy undertones. This gin is best served straight or with soda.
The spicy Classic Dry Gin uses Japanese sansho, a punchy and citrusy pepper, Villafranca lemons and the sweet orris root with hints of white chocolate. Nozawa is traditionally a farming village and their Iwai Gin symbolizes the harvest season and the Japanese sweets eaten around traditional celebrations. This gin uses sweet and sour sumomo (Japanese plum), sakura (cherry blossom) leaves and Meyer lemons.
Finally, the Shiso Gin is a fruity herbal fusion using locally grown purple shiso with hints of anise, green shiso for its citrus and mint flavors and freshly cut applewood. They also produce limited, seasonal releases like the Autumn Gin or the Doso Gin, a tribute to the village’s famous Dosojin Fire Festival.
Nozawa Onsen is known for its natural hot springs and has access to fresh natural spring water which you can hear funneling down the mountain throughout the village.
“Our unique location gives us access to amazing ingredients, botanicals and fresh spring water, necessary for good distilling,” says master distiller Isamu Yoneda. “This allows us to experiment with new gins with different flavor profiles. For example, our Nozawa Gin uses ingredients that are located at higher elevations, giving it a rich blend of woody flavors. On the other hand, our Iwai Gin uses sumomo sourced from a local farmer lower in the valley.”
Aside from gin, they are also producing and storing whisky in barrels. The maturation period varies between different types of whisky, barrel types and sizes. Spirits must be aged for at least three years to qualify as Japanese whisky; however time will tell as the distillery plans to release the whisky only when they are ready.
Nozawa Onsen Distillery’s gin is at most local bars where they’ve collaborated to produce custom cocktail menus, restaurants and bottle shops. They are also available online and at nearly 160 locations around Japan, and have even expanded to select locations in Singapore, Taiwan and Australia.
For some après ski or an afternoon off from riding, this distillery is a fun visit. There is no need to make a reservation to walk around the facility, enjoy gin tastings, purchase merchandise and visit their cocktail bar. There is also a guide-led production and distilling area tour (reservation only).
Nozawa Onsen Distillery
Open 12 p.m. – 7 p.m. (Closed Tuesdays)