Ichiro’s Malt Chichibu The First

Ichiro Akuto. Now that’s a cool name, but his distillery name is even cooler – Chichibu. Try saying that without smiling.

Ichiro comes from a long family of distillers. His grandfather acquired a license for distilling in 1946, and the family invested heavily in whisky production the 1980s at the Hanyu distillery. All good so far. But in 2000, after getting in financial difficulties in Japan’s lost decade, Ichiro’s father decided to sell up shop. That family business? Gone.

But Ichiro couldn’t stay out of the family business for long. He bought up a load of stock from Hanyu, started belting out incredible blends until more recently he could set up the Chichibu distillery, located in the prefecture of Saitama, Japan. Search for images (this is the sort of thing I tend to do for most distilleries) of Chichibu and you’ll come up with loads of wonderful photos of Japanese flowers and mountains, clear skies, amazing vistas – reviews, sadly, can never really capture the environment and local magic that influences the whisky. The distillery itself seems remarkably clean, with an almost unnerving newness and freshness about it.

But Chichibu is already making waves as one of the most interesting craft distilleries in the world, and Ichiro is earning himself a fine reputation. (If you want to know more about the Chichibu distillery, I found this excellent blog post – it’s got photos and everything.)

So, ‘Ichiro’s Malt Chichibu The First’ is the first single malt to come from the distillery – now it’s 3 years old it can legitimately be called whisky. It’s matured in ex-bourbon barrels, and bottled at 61% ABV.

Colour: pretty pale straw colour, perhaps as you’d expect from a young whisky. On the nose: a lovely fruity wheat beer scent. Apple juice. Marmalade. Sharp tang in the distance that kind of reminds me of some single grain whiskies (just what is that?) To be honest, I’m astounded that such a young whisky can have such a nose. It’s seriously seductive.

In the mouth: Wow. Succulent, sugary plums. Currants. Chewy. Coastal blast, timber yard. Heather honey melting into porridge. It’s got a lot of weight. Peppery tang. Not too long a finish, but while you’re there… wow. Sexy, or what?

This whisky is three years old. It packs more of a complex heft than many older whiskies I’ve tasted. When this distillery comes of age, it’ll be an award winner, no doubt about it. Well, in fact, it’s already doing so, taking Whisky Advocate’s Japanese Whisky of the Year – that’s no mean feat.

A bottle can set you back a bit – £80 or so. But if you’re feeling rich, get a couple now, put one aside as a collectors’ item, wrap a ribbon around it, and drink the other. Chichibu single malt is worth it and will probably be worth even more in a few years.

In a nutshell: I think I have a whisky crush on Chichibu. Ichiro Akuto, we salute you.

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