Chichibu is a distillery that’s rapidly getting a lot of attention. Sat at the front of the new wave of Japanese whisky distilleries, it also has heritage, making for a combination of old and new that has caught the imagination of whisky fans.
That attention means that every Chichibu release is accompanied by much fanfare, and while it’s been single cask releases grabbing headlines of late – including our very own, very sold-out Chichibu Cask #2089, sold in one of our most heavily subscribed bottle ballots yet – regular releases from the distillery are also appearing, including one that hints at what’s to come: Chichibu On The Way 2019.
Where have they come from?
Chichibu is a relatively young distillery, founded by Ichiro Akuto in 2007. While Chichibu is Ichiro-san’s focus these days, he has a long history in the Japanese whisky world.
The Akuto family are a long-respected producer of alcoholic drinks, with the family business starting out in the 1600s producing sake. In 1946, Ichiro’s grandfather, Isouji Akuto, started making whisky at the recently-built Hanyu distillery, and the family’s shift to whisky began. Ichiro worked at Suntory for a while, before returning to the family business, where he worked at Hanyu in its final days – the distillery closed in 2000 (part of the downturn in Japanese whisky that happened at the time) and was dismantled in 2004.
Undeterred, Ichiro bought the remaining casks of Hanyu spirit and started his own whisky company – Venture Whisky. Single cask and small batch bottlings of Hanyu and his own Ichiro’s Malt range laid the foundation for Chichibu, and while the Hanyu is now gone (so Ichiro tells us, although always with a grin and a glint in his eye), Ichiro’s Malt is still growing, picking up fans and awards around the world.
Where are they going to?
Ever since the first Chichibu New Born releases – bottlings of spirit too young to be called whisky – the Chichibu team have been bottling their spirit and whisky to show drinkers how it is developing.
We’ve had Chibidaru, exploring the distillery’s use of small, chibi (Japanese for ‘cute’), 130-litre quarter casks; The Floor Malted, using barley malted in the old-fashioned way; The Peated, looking at the distillery’s growing experience using smoky barley, including grain peated by the team on an away mission to England; IPA Cask, finished in beer casks to see what that does to the spirit (answer: it makes it even tastier); Port Pipe, featuring whisky matured in – you guessed it – port casks, layering on thick, juicy wine notes; and On The Way: a whisky showing off ideas of what Chichibu might become as the releases move towards being 10 years old.
CHichibu On the way to where?
While an On The Way release is normally a thing to celebrate on its own, this year it is something even more special than usual – an ongoing Chichibu release is almost here.
There have been rumours for a while, but no confirmation until recently. Although, the confirmation has been ‘it would have launched, but then Covid-19 got in the way’. So, it’s delayed, but imminent, and Chichibu On The Way 2019 is the final stepping stone before it appears, hopefully hinting at what the ongoing release might be like.
Chichibu On The Way 2019
The whisky is from a batch of 52 casks, all matured for between five and ten years. They’re mainly first-fill ex-bourbon, but there are also some second-fill chibidaru casks in the mix, as well as some hogsheads with mizunara (Japanese oak) heads and some peated whisky. An eclectic and very Chichibu mix.
Nose: Fruit, fruit and more fruit – the fruitiest Chichibu I’ve ever tried. Sweet apples, just-ripe pears, fresh pineapple, plump sultanas, dessert grapes and dried apricot. Coconut cream and a dusting of desiccated coconut follow, with buttery pastry and a touch of double cream not far behind. Hints of polished oak and spring-meadow honeysuckle develop.
Palate: Rich and rounded, with sweet butter and buttery pastry dipping into lightly stewed fruit: the apples and pears from the nose with a sprinkling of dried pineapple. Sake-like notes of white melon and strawberry laces build, with yeasty touches and malted milk biscuits. Soft spice sits at the back.
Finish: Green grass and flaky-pastry-topped apple pies. Gentle char notes develop with a touch of tannic pear skin.
Comment: My favourite Chichibu in a long while – the fruity character combined with carefully controlled oak influence is a stone-cold winner. I really hope that the ongoing Chichibu takes after this style. If so, I’ll be a regular customer.
When will it be here?
Chichibu On The Way 2019 is now sitting in our warehouse. We’re just finishing up the final logistical bits before we can start selling it, and it will go live on Saturday 30 May 2020 for £215 a bottle, one per customer.
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