Today on MALT we have a rare appearance of a Japanese whisky in single cask form. A unicorn whisky sighting indeed, in today’s heady times and instant gratification through values and flipping. Even rarer we exclaim with a Sir David Attenborough degree of excitement, as the seal has been broken!
It has been some time – or at least it feels that way – since the Scotch Malt Whisky Society unleashed something from the hotbed of Japan. A single cask from an established Japanese distillery is something to be savoured. The big players in the domestic market have regrouped and focused on supporting what core ranges they can. Taylor touched upon the fallout in his Hakushu 12 and Hibiki 17 article. Faced with increasing demand and fever for anything Japanese whisky, a new generation of distilleries have been inspired to join the madness. Time will tell for these new players and those that engage in dubious practices such as bottling Scotch in Japan, then trying to sell it as simply Japanese whisky. Ben Nevis deserves better treatment!
In-between all of this madness resides Chichibu distillery.
Even Chichibu has been forced to adapt, stepping away from various single cask bottlings as it prepares to release a 10 year old expression. Meaning that single cask Chichibu is almost as rare as seeing a capercaillie in the wild. That’s a fearsome Scottish woodland grouse if you didn’t know. And no, I’ve never seen one either. Maybe one day, like an opened Macallan…
For those of you new to Chichibu, can I direct you towards our Everything About Chichibu article, which oddly enough was a Japanese whisky tasting on Speyside. If anything, it shows how the tables have been turned. Touring these giants of Scotch with their heavily automated factories, lack of staff and a hands-on ethic. Where everything had been condensed into an efficient series of tasks, with efficiency being the dominant force. This feeling seeped into our collective consciousness and this was prior Macallan-tele-whatever-it-is-land opened the amusement park for business.
We sat in that small room, hearing and seeing Chichibu come to life. The overriding sense that the whisky is key. The flow of the new make spirit, cut by hand, by the stillman who used his senses of smell and taste to identify the right moment. The abundance of staff, eagerly working and learning the necessary skills, brought back memories of Bruichladdich and Springbank. Not all distilleries are one and the same, despite the homogenisation we’ve seen in recent years. 2019 will hopefully see a growing prevalence and appreciation of distilleries that do things with kindness and a touch of love if you will, right from start. Not when the bottle is sealed and needs to be marketed.
Chichibu has already made such an impression with many whisky enthusiasts since its inception in 2007. A modest annual output of just 60,000 litres is a mere drop in the ocean compared to Hakushu at 4 million and Yamazaki scaling up to 6 million. Yet which would you reach for given the choice? Even Chichibu is looking to expand but in a more modest fashion. The whisky and the process will remain key. Larger doesn’t necessarily mean things have to be worse or tasteless. There, I’ve just opened the perfect segway into the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. As a member, the releases have been relentless of late. A new drive from the Leith bottler means we’re seeing more average casks hitting the membership with increasing frequency. And those bottles that do spark interest vanish very quickly. Like this Chichibu funnily enough, gone in 60 seconds or whatever the film was called. Purchased for good friends, who are big fans of the distillery and passed on at cost price.
This Chichibu was distilled on 12th January 2010 before being bottled at 8 years of age. A 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel resulted in 191 bottles at 60.9% strength. Even with an asking price of £180 this release sold out instantly.
SMWS 130.2 Tropical Thunder – review
On the nose: Tropical fruits and sandalwood. Beeswax and toffee with honey. A dulled vanilla with worn leather signs of a good cask. A Chinese green tea, dried orange and mace. Christmas cake spice? A hint of lime and with more time vanilla custard and dates. Water brings about more creaminess and waxiness.
In the mouth: An oily, oozing texture. A little flat and subdued on the finish. Creamy, with vanilla caramel, popcorn, more beeswax and stewed fruits. Ginger root, lemongrass and buttery with some bitterness from the wood and flashes of citrus. Water removes the oiliness and loses some of the texture but amplifies the fruits and citrus qualities.
Extremely close to granting an 8 score here, which is something I rarely do. Just that price which puts me off in all honesty. £180 for a sub-10-year-old whisky. Yes, it is from Japan and arguably the price point is a reflection of the market currently. The admission fee is just a little too high and whilst you cannot blame the SMWS for charging around this level – because it will sell out no matter what – I’m still able to deduct a point.
A real treat for members and friends.
My thanks to Dirk and Noortje for the opportunity to try this release.