Nozawa Onsen Distillery: 
One and only Japanese whiskey in the snowy area. 
- Part 1 -


Nozawa Onsen Distillery:
One and only Japanese whiskey in the snowy area.
- Part 1 -

#Pick up

Yoneda Isamu/ヨネダ イサム by「Nozawa Onsen Distillery」

This month, Nozawa Onsen Distillery appears from the heavy snowfall region of northern Shinagawa! We interviewed Mr. Isamu Yoneda, aka "Sam-san," the distiller in charge of distillation, about their distinctive manufacturing process and the single malt whiskey they aim to produce.

writer:Ryoko Kuraishi

Sam has roots in Scotland and Japan. Before coming here, he used to make sake at a distillery in Ibaraki Prefecture. In front of a CARL pot still in Germany.

Due to an amazing water cycle.

Nozawaonsen Village, which celebrates the 100th anniversary of its ski resort this year, boasts an abundance of snow and fine powder snow, and although it has a population of only 3,500, it has recently become popular as a winter resort among foreign tourists.

The Nozawa Onsen Distillery, based in this village, officially started operation in October 2022.

Less than a year after opening, all of the craft gins released by the distillery have won gold medals in the gin category of the San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2023, an international liquor competition, and the distillery has attracted much attention for its production.

Why Nozawa Onsen Village?

The distillery was created by renovating an old canning factory.

My first visit to the village was in October 2021. It was the end of the green season, but I could hear the sound of running water everywhere in the village and I remember thinking, 'The land is alive! I remember feeling that the land was alive.

The beech forests surrounding the village and the natural beauty of the landscape reminded me of the forests and rivers of my native Scotland.

The snow that fell during the long winter eventually melted, and over the course of 50 years, it traveled through the ground and gushed out of the village.

Sam had been taught that water is the most important element in distilling spirits, and when he took a sip of the water, he was convinced, "If I make spirits with this, I can make something delicious! He was convinced that if he drank a sip of the water, he would be able to make delicious spirits.

He decided to work here as a distiller and moved in two months later.

From there, he set up distilling facilities, began developing a gin recipe, and opened ...... a year later, which is amazing.

The storage space, completed through the efforts of local craftsmen, is lined with aging barrels. The barrels are mainly bourbon barrels, but also include wine casks from wineries in Nagano Prefecture. The company plans to eventually expand production to 300 barrels per year.

Facilities for all kinds of grains!

As for the facility, the founders here had already ordered a pot still from CARL in Germany.

They were trying to create a flexible facility that could handle a variety of grains.

Most Japanese whiskey distilleries use roller mills and mash tuns, but I wanted to try something different, so I came up with a system that would make the most of this equipment.

I wanted to challenge myself to make something different, so I came up with a system that would allow me to make the most of this equipment. --This was Sam's idea.

This led to the introduction of the hammer mill and mash filter, the first of its kind in Japan.

Left: Hammer mill used mainly for grain whiskey. Top right: A mash filter used to collect wort. Lower right: Filtering allows more clear wort to be extracted.

By using a hammer mill and mash filter, it is also possible to make whiskey with grains other than barley, i.e., grain and rye whiskey, such as corn.

For example, why not use buckwheat, wheat, rice, or other uniquely Japanese grains from Nozawa Onsen Village ......? Therefore, in addition to malt whiskey, the "Nozawa Onsen Distillery" is also planning to distill small batch grain whiskey.

Whiskey production has just begun, but they are envisioning many challenges.

Another feature of the distillery is its international team.

The founders are Australian and Japanese, distilling is done by myself and Japanese distillers with roots in Japan and Scotland, and the distilling equipment is German and American.

The climate, climate, nature, and materials of Nozawaonsen-mura bring together the members with such diverse backgrounds.

The bottling process can be observed from the distillery's store space.

In this environment, the goal is to create "a bold, intense, world-class whiskey that cannot be tasted anywhere else but Nozawaonsen-mura.

Before opening the distillery, we visited various distilleries. I was touched by the individuality and enthusiasm of the distilleries and their makers, which are scattered all over Japan, and I realized once again how much Japanese whiskey is on the rise.

I hope to see whiskies with regional characteristics, and I would be happy if we can contribute to the growth of this movement," said Sam.

Like scotch, which has characteristics for each production area, such as Highland, Speyside, and Campbeltown......, if area characteristics are established for Hokushin & Niigata, Kyushu, and Hokkaido, Japanese whiskey of the future will be even more exciting. I look forward to such a scene.

In the second part of this interview, we asked Sam about craft gin, which is a hot topic, and the characteristics of botanicals.

Continue to Part 2.


Nozawa Onsen Distillery
9394 Toyosato, Nozawaonsen Shimotakai District, Nagano