SB meets… Thomas Brayman, Nomu-Japan

The founder of Nomu-Japan tells us about the combination of Japanese craftsmanship and modern techniques to create Wabi Sabi Gin.

Thomas Brayman, founder of Nomu-Japan

Who is behind Nomu-Japan?

Nomu-Japan started with the three of us. Wakae, my wife, inspired the gin project, and she is the brains behind it. Born and raised in Tokyo, she has a natural palate and multiple wine certifications while her day job is a lawyer. Our friend and partner, Jérôme Quilbeuf, is an internationally award-winning chef from Paris, who helped accelerate the project.

I am the “business guy” of the gin project, a former American investment banker and entrepreneur. I was an amateur distiller before moving to Tokyo. I hold several oenological certifications and distillation diplomas. Nomu means “to drink” in Japanese, so “to drink Japan”.

What led to Wabi Sabi Gin?

The concept evolved when Wakae and I moved from New York to Tokyo in 2016. There were only a few Japanese gins that we liked. We wanted to create something with distinctive balanced flavors that was bold, elegant and modern, to showcase the best of Japan.

In 2017, I started experimenting with macerating and blending Japanese botanicals with grain-neutral alcohol to create favorable flavor profiles. I didn’t have a Japanese distillery license, so we called my concoction “Wabi Sabi Gin,” which loosely translates to “beauty in imperfection.” At the time, there were hardly any white label opportunities in Japan, which meant there was no chance of really creating the gin we wanted, so we dropped the project.

In the summer of 2020, we sat down with Jérôme at his newly opened restaurant in Tokyo. After a few G&Ts, we revived the idea, and with Jerome in tow, we decided to go for it. From there, Wakae embarked on a mission to find a Japanese distiller who could help replicate what we wanted and produce on a large scale. After over a year of testing, tasting and iterating, we found our guy, Kaz, one day before Christmas 2021, an amazing wine professional and distiller. How is gin produced?

We use organic botanicals from an amazing terraced farm that overlooks the sea. Our production blends two slightly different batches before some aging and bottling to add depth and complexity to the gin. The distillation process uses a modern precision still. When modern technique meets ancient Japanese practices and craftsmanship, magic happens.

What markets are you targeting?

Export is our main focus since the Japanese domestic market is small. In Japan, we will distribute to high-end hotels, bars and restaurants. Our primary target export markets for Wabi Sabi Gin are UK, EU and USA.

What do you have planned for Wabi Sabi Gin in the coming year?

We launched Wabi Sabi Gin in 2022 and received a grant from the Japanese National Tax Authority to promote gin internationally. As part of the grant, we are creating a low-calorie ready-to-drink (RTD) product that uses our gin as a base. In 2023, we are confident that we will expand our sales and distribution footprint internationally and launch our RTD.

What opportunities do you want to seize?

There are excellent craft spirit producers all over Japan because they are meticulous, exacting and progressive. The biggest challenge for producers are language barriers, access outside the country and knowledge of international regulations. This forces producers to depend on Japanese trading houses for exports, which kills their margins. We want to change this cycle by advising domestic producers of craft spirits and bringing them to international markets as partners.

About Michael Brafford

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