10 facts about Chichibu
- Isouji Akuto was the 19th generation of his family making sake in Chichibu since the 1600’s
- In 1941, Isouji set up a distillery in Hanyu, gaining a license to produce spirits in 1946.
- The production of [Scotch style] whisky only started in the 1980’s.
- Due to lack of demand for Japanese whisky at the time [oh how times change], the Hanyu distillery closed in 2000 and was fully decommissioned in 2004.
- Isouji’s grandson. Ichiro Akuto who had previously worked for Suntory [as a brand manager], and was president of his father’s company at the time, managed to salvage Hanyu’s remaining stocks with the financial help of a Sake company called Sasanokawa Shuzou.
- Under Ichiro’s new company ‘Venture Whisky’, he began bottling Hanyu’s remaining stock as ‘Ichiro’s Malt’. [He also acquired the remaining Kawasaki stock].
- In 2007 he realises his dream and starts his own distillery in Chichibu, which by as early as 2008 is producing barley spirit. At the time, Chichibu was the first new Japanese whisky distillery to be built since the 1970’s .
- Ichiro’s emphasis is on quality and provenance and he ultimately aims for Chichibu to be 100% Japanese. He currently sources the majority of Chichibu’s barley from Warminster but also a small percentage of locally grown barley. His distillery has an in-house floor maltings [for their local barley], are sourcing local peat, have their own bottling facility and a cooperage.
- The cooperage, local to the distillery was owned and run by a 87yo Japanese cooper who wished to retire. Ichiro bought the cooperage and employed the former owner to train the new coopers.
- In 2011 he releases his first single malt, ‘The First’:
Now i realise I’m late to the game, but i won’t miss the party. I was getting acquainted with Yamazaki in 2011 when the 10yo was less than £40 in Sainsbury’s!
- N: Rich caramac, oily cereals and a solid [porridge-paste] mash base – albeit with prunes, stewed apples and hey,. apple strudel! Then there’s the bubblegum dunnage – well thats bourbon casks talking. Then there’s hot [and spitting] golden syrup. Ha, love the nose – it conjures up all sorts of childish whimsy in me
- T: There’s continuity here with a heavy, dark, porridge-paste malt, one that cloys a touch
- F: ,….. long long unravel before cocoa spirit calls last orders.
- C: What a fine start for this distillery, and only three years old! Let’s see how a 3yo Chichibu was a year on.
Scores 84 points
Chichibu 2009/2012 3yo ‘The Floor Malted’ Ob. [8800 bts] 50.5% WB85
- N: After ‘The First’, comes a second. Lovely barley mash, dryish cereals, vegetal fruits [leafy plums] – bottled at a divine [abv] strength, heralding the briny=waxy mouthfeel that’s to come.
- T: A savoury one, thin cardboard-barley, dried mushrooms, but its the copper from the distillate and cereals [Shredded Wheat] that shine – coated in a strong briny=waxy mouthfeel. In fact, its an equal mouthfeel/taste sensation
- F: Shortish finish but with a resonating loveliness, ending with spirity caramac, waxy [beeswax] maltiness.
- C: Yummy indeed and flawless. This has the edge over ‘The First’, but they are both very good. Let’s try a single cask from the same year, but twice the age.
Scores 85 points
- N: Theres a smoke [peat?] element here along with that broadly collective tomato/Worcestershire sauce/tamari taste i haven’t officially committed an abbreviated name to yet, although TWT is certainly in the running. its raisin central here with a sherry-sulphur note and dark, rootsy [below the earth] notes.
- T: Lots of raisins, sherried raisins.
- F: Moves into gooey confectionary now. Young oak shows
- C: Good nose, and lots of wood action thereafter.
Scores 86 points
It wouldn’t be right if we didn’t have at least one Hanyu. Lets finish with one of the ‘last vintages’.
Hanyu 2000/2015 15yo ‘Ichiro’s malt’ The final vintage [btl#2330/3710] 46.5% WB89.52
Within the first few minutes of the doors opening, more than 100 flippers [buying before trying], formed a misshaped but orderly queue in front of the Whisky Exchange Show shop to get their hands on less than 100 [think it was 75] allocated show bottles of Hanyu. Meanwhile on the other side of the hall, the man himself Ichiro Akuto stands unoccupied at the Number One Drinks stand, waiting to pour the ‘juice’ that many of those successful in buying a bottle may never actually get to try.
- N: Plenty of chat from an array of cask types it seems. Sherry [port & cognac?] fruits and bourbon candy make for a colourful nose.
- T: Malty, fruity and peppery – lots of wood.
- F: Fruity and ashy
- C: Rather fine. The pricing was fair given its potential re-sale value. Probably should have queued, aah well – i got to try it!
Scores 89 points
If Hanyu’s timing [with regards to single malt production] wasn’t right, it seems Chichibu are perfectly placed to capitalise on a growing international demand for whisky and a thirst for quality, craft spirits.