What do you do when Macallan and Springbank aren't cool enough anymore?
Very easily. You go to Japan and look for Ichiro Akuto.
West of Tokyo, in the city of Chichibu, Ichiro Akuto, the founder of the Chichibu distillery, produces what is probably the most coveted whiskey in the country (or even the world!?) at the moment.
In this blog article, we present a total of 6 of the hottest bottlings from the Japanese cult distillery Chichibu in detail. You won't find the information on the bottle label, but it comes directly from the source, from a tasting with Yumi Yoshikawa, Brand Ambassador of Chichibu. Kanpai!
1. Ichiro's Malt & Grain - World Blended Whiskey (Current Batch:
Ichiro's Malt & Grain Whiskey describes itself as a World Blended Whisky. This whiskey is currently the only Chichibu bottling to be delivered without packaging and is most easily recognizable by the classic white label stuck to the bottle. While the current batch features a world map on the back of the bottle, there are also batches without this detail, just with Japanese text.
Which countries are represented in Ichiro's World Blended Whisky? If you take a closer look at the map, you can see that the whiskeys used for the blend come from Scotland, Canada, Ireland and the USA . Of course, like any other Chichibu bottling, Ichiro's Malt & Grain also includes whiskey from its own distillery. The ratio of the whiskeys used is different with each batch.
In addition, Ichiro's Malt & Grain is a so-called NAS (No Age Statement) whisky. While there is no official age statement, we learned from Yumi that the average age of the whiskey is around 10 years.
There are also some limited editions of this whisky , including the Ichrios Malt & Grain - Japanese Blended Whisky. Unfortunately, this bottling, which only uses malt and grain whiskeys from Japan, was never released in Germany. Another example is the annual limited edition Malt & Grain, which we will discuss in more detail later.
2. Ichiro's Malt Pure Malt Whiskey - Double Distilleries (Current Batch: 98)
As the name suggests, Ichiro's Malt Double Distilleries is blended from two different distilleries . The first distillery is of course Chichibu, but where does the second whiskey come from? From the defunct Hanyu distillery!!!
The story of Chichibu and Hanyu is certainly worth its own article, but here's a quick summary: The traditional Hanyu whiskey distillery, founded by Ichiro's grandfather in 1941, went out of business in 2000 and was demolished in 2004. Ichiro bought the approximately 400 remaining casks of Hanyu Distillery and then established Chichibu Distillery in 2004 (operational since 2008).
Therefore, when Chichibu Distillery started, while waiting for its own whiskey to mature, most of the whiskey used was from Hanyu Distillery's old casks. However, the stock of Hanyu whiskey is coming to an end and in the current batch 98 of the Double Distilleries bottling there is only one Hanyu cask for about 30 Chichibu casks. This corresponds to a share of approx. 3-4%. How old is the Hanyu whiskey used in this blend? Up to 30 years!!What does the future hold and what will Chichibu do when the last Hanyu cask is filled? If Chichibu's Yumi is to be believed, there could eventually be a Double Distilleries Blend with Yamazaki or Yoichi . This is of course not officially confirmed, but we can be curious!Mars and Chichibu have already exchanged their casks and one bottling is the 2021 limited edition Mars Malt Duo Komagatake × Chichibu Blended Malt.
3. Ichiro's Malt Pure Malt Whiskey - WineWood Reserve (Current Batch:
The Wine Wood Reserve, WWR for short, is also a blended malt whiskey. Initially, malt whiskeys from Chichibu and Hanyu were blended for bottling, but due to the scarcity, the Hanyu share is now being replaced by a whiskey from Scotland. Which distillery would you like to know? We too... Unfortunately, there is no official information on this, but could Ben Nevis possibly be in the WWR? If you have an idea, please let me know in the comments.
Another special feature of the whiskey is its marriage (that's what blending is called in German) in the famous egg-shaped Vatting cask. The next time you see a picture of Chichibu Distillery, you will definitely recognize it. The truly unusual and distinctive shape of the cask helps the alcohol spread differently and the subsequent bottling, in a sort of "Solera Cask" tradition, means that the vatting cask is never completely emptied, but always at around half full is refilled.
A little tip for the next Chichibu blind tasting: The Wine Wood Reserve can be clearly recognized by its dominant sulfur notes in the nose. Imagine the smell of a freshly lit match. This clearly reflects the influence of the wine barrels.
4. Ichiro's Malt Pure Malt Whiskey - Mizunara Wood Reserve (Current Batch:
The Mizunara Wood Reserve (MWR) is also a blended malt whiskey that has its own history.
Here, too, whiskeys from Chichibu, Hanyu and a malt from Scotland are used. the additional aging in Mizunara casks make the difference. What is mizunara? Mizunara is Japanese oak and this gives the whiskey its very own character, which differs significantly from European and American oak. This gives the whiskey a special sweetness and spice that you cannot otherwise achieve with other types of casks.
The entire production process of the Mizunara Wood Reserve bottling is also very special and complex. The whiskey is first stored for a long time in a mixture of bourbon and sherry casks. Then, in the first blending step, about 50 of these casks are married together in a Mizunara oak vatting tank (the egg-shaped cask of the WWR is not used here) and then filled into smaller Mizunara oak hogshead casks. After a maturing period of several years, around 30 of these Mizunara casks are put back into a vatting tank to be married there for several days or weeks before the final bottling begins. As with the WineWood Rerserve, the barrel is only emptied halfway and a kind of Solera process is used.
By the way, all Mizunara casks used by Chichibu are first-fill casks (Virgin Oak) , which means that only new casks are used, in which no other whiskey has matured before.
And what can one expect from the whiskey in the glass? In the beginning you have the smell of coconut in your nose. This gives way to soft wood notes and strawberries (Haribo foam berries).
5. Ichiro's Malt & Grain - World Blended Whiskey Limited Edition 2020 (Current Batch: 30)
Ichiro's Malt & Grain Limited Edition is also often referred to as Blue Label (please don't confuse it with Johnnie Walker Blue Label...) . This is due to its dark blue label and is the easiest way to tell the whiskey apart from the standard white label Malt & Grain bottling.
Another difference can be seen in the alcohol content. The Limited Edition is bottled at 48% ABV , while the Standard Malt & Grain is only bottled at 46-46.5% ABV.
Interestingly, this whiskey is also sold without an age statement, although Chichibu has confirmed to us that the youngest cask for bottling is at least 10 years old , regardless of the batch. Logically, this also applies to the house Chichibu whiskey that is added to the blend. Some of the other whiskeys in the blend are even up to 20 years old.
The age of the whiskey is also noticeable in comparison to the standard Malt & Grain bottling. Overall, he looks a bit more mature and rounder than his younger brother in white.
Why wasn't 10 years printed on the label of the whisky? The answer is given by the last whiskey that we will discuss in this article.
6. Chichibu The First Ten - Single Malt Japanese Whisky
Also, unlike the other whiskeys presented, this bottling is not a blended whiskey that adds casks from other distilleries, but has become a real Japanese single malt whiskey .
What does the term single malt whiskey mean for The First Ten in concrete terms? Almost 40 barrels, all coming directly from the Chichibu distillery, were used for this special first bottling. Most of the malted barley (Malted Barley) comes from their own malting floors (Malting Floors) on site and the part of the barley that was not locally grown in Japan was procured from England. The subsequent maturation took place mainly in bourbon casks, but sherry casks and other types of casks were also used.
With this whisky, which is not only in its own league in terms of price, you should definitely take the time to enjoy it. A quiet hour in the evening, a comfortable leather armchair, a Glencairn glass, a good music album and, if you like it, a piece of dark chocolate make the whiskey experience perfect.
Ichiro Akuto's Chichibu Distillery has quickly become a cult since it opened in 2008 and represents the art of Japanese whiskey like no other . There are only a few comparable master blenders in the industry who have managed to create such an interesting and diverse whiskey portfolio in such a short time.
Each bottling has its very own character. And while The First Ten and the Limited Editions are generally hard to find and therefore expensive, there are four great whiskeys in the distillery's core range that you shouldn't miss: Ichiros Malt & Grain, Double Distilleries, Wine Wood Reserve and Mizunara Wood Reserve .
If not sold out, you can also buy most of the current bottlings from Chichibu in our shop. Just have a look.
We end the article the way we started it. Kanpai!*
*This Japanese expression means Prost in German, or Slàinte Mhath as whiskey lovers in Scotland would now say.