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Chichibu 2011 Independent Whisky Bars of Scotland

I’m a firm believer in the art of disagreement. Nowadays in our society, things that we cannot agree upon are a source of division. Whether it is religion, diets, Bruichladdich (which I suppose is a religion to some) and anything else come to think of it, including whisky. Many seem to seek out that division as a soapbox for segregation in the modern age of fake news.

Rather than shout down opponents – for that’s what they are viewed as by some – disagreeing should be a building block for better things, by debating and listening. For instance, I rarely agree with Mark on much, prompting some Malt writers to question if we get along, which we do very well. I accept his love of all things touched by Mark Reynier, the dislike of 3rd fill casks and his fondness of Nights in White Satin by the Moody Blues.

Our differences unite us and there are fleeting moments of agreement. Chichibu is one such example. A distillery we both appreciated back in the early days of the blogging hemisphere. Those bygone days where you could walk into a shop, or purchase a Chichibu online, without too much hassle, or the need for a ballot, or other unsavoury behaviours.

I expect many of us do remember those days as there were only 5, or so, years ago now. Things were more innocent for want of a better word. You could go online and purchase a Karuizawa whisky relatively easily and for a 3-figure sum. Adam touched upon this aspect during his Founders’ Club article when we had more blind faith and things were less about business: albeit investment and potential future value.

Recently, I watched a YouTube whisky vlogger episode, where the host was excited about a shop dusty find. The bottle itself wasn’t anything miraculous or valuable, but he was excited by the score, which I could identify with. Except that is, when he gauged its current and future value before deciding, it was best to open it. This struck me as kind of sad in a way. I know, personally, I live in a whisky bubble (thanks Rose) and I’m extremely fortunate. However, all my purchases are made because they interest me first and foremost. When I hang up my boots for retirement, I want to enjoy those twilight years with some whiskies that I picked out to enjoy.

If we’ve come to the point where a widely available release a couple of years ago has been tainted by the secondary market fever, then we’re at a sad crossroads indeed.

I’m at a loss to explain the current onslaught of single cask releases from Chichibu that have lit up the secondary market more than a bonfire on Guy Fawkes night. Either everyone with a connection to the distillery is bottling now, before the bubble pops, or it is a flawed strategy to flood the market in the hope of reducing values. I really pity any Chichibu collector, as only those with extremely deep satin-lined pockets remain in the game.

It’d be good to hear Ichiro Akuto’s thoughts on the current state of play. What a small distillery can do to tackle overwhelming demand? Much like the situation facing Daftmill in Fife. A distillery that won’t cut corners to maximise production and yet wants to see its whisky in the hands of drinkers as much as possible. As with most things in life, there is no silver bullet or miraculous solution, but you also should not play into the hands of speculators.

In Daftmill’s case, they own their casks 100%, whereas Chichibu has multitudes of casks owned by businesses, friends, fans and such-like. This somewhat explains the current onslaught and raft of cask types we’re seeing at market. Both distilleries have engaged with the Independent Bars of Scotland as a source to get their product out into areas where it would be unavailable for drinking.

Daftmill bottled a single cask from 2008 for the bars to sell by the dram and give punters a taste of this widely sought after Fife distillery. This was the only option to engage with the whisky, as no bottle sales were permitted and a quick search online suggests that this rule has yet to be broken. The Chichibu also followed this path, but like previous releases from the Bars, it was also available to purchase by the bottle. These included a Ballechin which I’ve enjoyed and as of yet haven’t bought a bottle to review, or that mighty Highland Park, which just underlined how inept the official range is nowadays.

Whereas the Ballechin, Glenfarclas and Highland Park were both available to purchase by the bottle exclusively from each bar, the Chichibu was deemed only suitable for a ballot in the face of excessive demand. The bulk of the outturn would theoretically remain with the bars themselves to pour. Leaving a very small number of bottles to ballot winners for the price of £245.

I know the Dornoch Castle Whisky Bar bottles do come with a condition that if they are seen at auction within 6 months that the seller will be suspended from their whisky club. I’d personally increase that period, but I guess Phil and Simon don’t want to be looking at bottle numbers for an indefinite period at auction. What I am surprised about is that the auctioneers as of yet haven’t removed the bottle numbers from their lot photographs – we’ve seen this before with Diageo employees selling special editions. The other bars may not have had such conditions, but already the bottle is selling for much more than its original price.

What can you do? Dornoch went to great lengths to ensure the ballot was fair and transparent. I’m sure there were still disappointed members no matter what was done. At least the bottle is available by the dram to members for a reduced price of just £5 for the initial pour. Non-members can expect to pay £15, which I think is still a good price to sample a single cask Chichibu and fairly cheap given some bar prices elsewhere.

This release is from a single cask first fill bourbon barrel #1173, bottled in 2019, at 50.5% strength and producing 251 bottles in total. Interestingly, it was made using Tipple barley, aka NFC Tipple by Syngenta, which was designed to be a spring barley and released to much acclaim 2006. Promising a greater yield and cost-effective growing is always music to the industry’s ears. However, it was prone to some of the major barley diseases and has declined in use. It was used by Syngenta along with the Quench barley, to create the popular Propino variety in 2010.

We could talk about whether the barley type impacts the flavour of the whisky. The most recent issue of the SMWS magazine poured scorn on such a concept. I’ve written enough for now and it is time for the whisky to do the talking.

Chichibu 2011 Independent Whisky Bars of Scotland – review

Colour: golden honey.

On the nose: spicy oak, almond paste and a lovely oily buttery popcorn dynamic. A touch of waxiness, fleeting hint of paraffin, freshly tossed pine nuts. Fennel, resin, pineapple syrup and a runny honey. Given time in the glass, a freshly scraped vanilla pod comes through nicely.

In the mouth: the strength comes through and it actually feels stronger. A really pleasant wholesome mouthfeel. Creamy, honeyed and not hugely complex, but very enjoyable. More time in the glass and a touch of water allows the apples, almonds, pineapple, delicate pepper seasoning and sandalwood characteristics to come through.

Conclusions

Another enjoyable Chichibu without the need for a fancy cask or extravagant label. Whilst this whisky has the same score as the SMWS 130.2 Tropical Thunder I reviewed last year, I’d say that this Bars of Scotland release has the edge, but not enough to warrant an 8 overall.

The mouthfeel is especially enjoyable, whether that comes as a result of the barley, cask or mother nature we can debate until the wee small hours. If you’re in one of the independent bars and they have this (still) on the shelf. Take it for a spin and appreciate that beneath the extreme prices, vibrant bottles and madness of investment, Chichibu the whisky is built upon strong foundations.

Score: 7/10

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  1. Jeremy
    Jeremy says:

    How do you mean “or it is a flawed strategy to flood the market in the hope of reducing values”? Surely any attempt at pushing the price down is good for drinkers? I guess a 3rd option is Chichibu are selling a lot of casks currently, to pay for the 2nd distillery which is just recently build?

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Jeremy

      I’m not criticising drinkers or Chichibu here. Excess supply will push down the equilibrium price, which is good for buyers and good for the producer if they are looking to break away from the vicious circle they are stuck in.

      Cheers, Jason.

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