Chichibu is the first new Japanese distillery since the seventies, built near the city of the same name by Ichiro Akuto. Akuto started building the distillery in 2005 and in 2008 the first spirit ran off the stills. But 2005 is not the start of this story. No, this story starts in Chichibu in 1626 when the Akuto family started brewing Sake. In 1941 Ichiro’s grandfather, Isouji Akuto, built another distillery near the town of Hanyu, for making Sake and Shochu. Five years later a licence was obtained for distilling Whisky, initially a continuous still essentially making Grain Whisky. This still was eventually replaced by a copper still.
In 1980 Ichiro’s father, Yutaka Akuto, started to make Single Malt Whisky instead of the more common Blended Japanese Whisky (Scottish Malt Whisky blended with Japanese Grain Whisky). In 1983 the first spirit became Whisky but by 2000 Hanyu stopped making Whisky due to the severe lack of profitability. Ichiro, who worked at Suntory at the time, was brought in to save the company. He had to sell Hanyu to do just that. Hanyu was dismantled in 2004, but Ichiro bought the remaining Whisky stock as well as the distilling equipment. The equipment is still stored at Chichibu, but was never used since Ichiro´s new distillery was fitted with new equipment.
Color: Full gold.
Nose: Fresh entry, elegant and flowery. Toned down, dried Jasmin leaves (tea and soap). Slight hint of powdery and spicy oak, alcohol and quite fruity. Pear and a hint of menthol and red fruit jello. Old dried ginger and sawdust. It smells pretty mature and complex for a 3yo Single Malt.
Taste: Quite woody, good aroma and even a bit sweet. Vegetal and much less fruity than the nose. It tastes even less complex than the nose, and with this it shows its youth. It’s easy to “see” that this one does needs its higher strength. Creamy vanilla, some candied yellow fruits enter the mix after (a lot of) air. Fabulous creamy custard paper pudding aftertaste with proper length. Lovely stuff especially considering its age.
This is an excellent 3yo Japanese Whisky, but it will only show its full potential if you let it breathe a lot. This is the kind of bottle you open and leave in the closet for a week or two without its cork. In the glass just let it sit around for half an hour before you even nose it. This needs air.
Now all the Karuizawa’s and Yamazakis are gone and Nikka struggles to release even a Whisky with an age statement I give you a glimpse of the future of Japanese Whisky. This is high quality stuff with massive potential, but as long as Ichiro is releasing Malts at barely the minimum age, that taste as well as this, it will tie us over as we wait for the Japanese Whisky to mature. My only fear will be that when a Whisky will reach its adulthood, it will be extremely expensive as the Karuizawa’s and the Yamazaki’s of today.