There have been a number of rare whiskies appearing from Hanyu recently, and we’ve had our eye on a very limited release bottled by TWE’s sister company Speciality Drinks Ltd. This isn’t on general release, having been exclusively bottled for Zuma and Roka, widely regarded as one of the leading Japanese restaurant groups in the world, with sites in London, Hong Kong, Dubai, New York, Istanbul, Miami, Abu Dhabi and Bangkok. Along with some of best modern Japanese food, they also pride themselves on their bars, and snapped up the Hanyu as a centrepiece for their impressive Japanese whisky selection. If you’re looking for a dram, make sure you pop by: the Hanyu is far from the only impressive whisky they have.
Founded in 1941 by Isouji Akuto, Hanyu was the latest chapter in the Akuto family’s history of making drinks. Natives of the town of Chichibu, they had been making sake since the 17th century, but the distillery floundered in the post-war market and begun a steady decline. They moved into producing Scotch-style whisky around 1980, but continued to slide until 2000, when they stopped distilling at Hanyu. The site was sold and the stills were dismantled in 2004, removing any chance of the distillery starting again.
Fortunately, there is still a member of the Akuto family involved in the world of distilling, who has kept the distillery’s legacy alive. Ichiro Akuto, grandson of distillery founder Isouji, started out as brand manager for Suntory before joining his grandfather’s company as a sales manager. He rose to be company president before, after the demise of Hanyu, starting his own whisky label – Ichiro’s Malt. The new owners of the Hanyu site didn’t have any need of the whisky, and Ichiro bought the remaining casks. Since then, he has been releasing the whisky under the Ichiro’s Malt label, as well as allowing a few casks to go to independent bottlers.
He is also connected to Karuizawa thanks to his new distillery, Chichibu, which had some spare warehousing space. Number One Drinks, which imports Ichiro’s whiskies into the UK, purchased all of the remaining casks of Karuizawa from the owners of the site, in a manner reminiscent of Ichiro’s Hanyu purchase. Number One needed somewhere to store it, and Akuto-san had warehouse space to spare because so few casks of Hanyu were left, so a deal was struck and he and allowed the company to use the space to store the whisky – a suitable location to continue the maturation of the latest cult Japanese whisky: at the country’s newest distillery.
Sadly, we don’t have any of the Roka/Zuma Hanyu for sale, but it’s available by the dram from their bars and restaurants. We doubt you’ll be able to persuade them to sell you a whole bottle, but it might be worth a try…