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Ginza Bar Chronicles – A Pair of Chichibus

I’ve said it before. I’ll proudly say it again. I think Japan is the greatest country in the world.

I love so many things about it; there’s something about the energy there that makes it an extremely addictive place to eat and drink. Its cleanliness and general safety make it extremely relaxing, and its ability to mix the modern with the traditional is amazing. The locals are generally helpful and nice. I must not fail to mention the marvelous butt-cheek warming toilet seats. If someone were to ask me why I love Japan so much, though, the top reason is how much they value being quiet.

I’ll admit, Japan is not perfect. We are slowly becoming more aware of their issues. But as a gaijin, who am I to talk about those issues? I’m only in Japan for about two weeks per year. I’ve never lived there, so I don’t have the credentials. Behaving myself as I enjoy my time there is how I do my part.

It is surprising and amazing that busy areas like Ginza and Shinjuku are generally quiet. You barely hear any horns honking. The locals usually speak softly. The noisy people are probably foreigners or a drunk group of salary men saying their goodbyes to each other. You will occasionally hear the welcome voices of children or those robotic advertising voices. In fact, while walking in some parts of Ginza, I could even hear someone’s footsteps 3 meters away.

There’s no music blasting in the subway. All one can hear are the soft voices of people talking, their footsteps, the ticket machines, the PA voice and the sound of the trains. Commuters barely talk on their phones and usually listen to music via earphones. Cell phones are encouraged to be on silent mode.

I love quiet moments and places. I believe it’s necessary in order to process or digest one’s thoughts. I think it is needed to enjoy certain things in life. I need moments like these to keep me sane. Peace and quiet allow me to think well.

I guess my comfort in silence is why I like movies like Lost in Translation. It’s one of those films where the audience isn’t blasted with the soundtrack in almost every part of the movie. I love scenes like this one, where the only thing one hears in intense moments is the background noise. I think the silence is meant for us to focus and interpret how the actors slowly unravel those scenes. It makes us try to guess or anticipate what will happen next—and just like enjoying the sounds of nature in the mountains, the lack of blasting sound tracks also allow us to just take in a scene.

Because this is MALT, I am sure some of you have guessed I will liken loud shows and loud movies to loud brands. I do not like the in-your-face marketing of some companies. Where did our freedom go? When did it become okay for brands to constantly shove their ads in our faces? It’s like the corporations are forcing us to pick only amongst them big boys. When did life become all about peacocking?  For me, all their use of influencers, ads, excessive packaging and superfluous words is very telling of products’ lack of quality. They’re surely compensating for something. All those shenanigans are meant to distract the less-discerning buyer’s senses. They’re meant to trick you into liking the product before even smelling or tasting it. Is making distractions a part of our daily life a scheme by the big boys?

This is why I tend to fall for brands who let their products speak for themselves, brands that rely on discerning consumers to be their honest, passionate and non-incentivized advocates. One of those brands is Chichibu.

Yes, it is often raved about by Japanese whisky drinkers and chasers. It has been given sort of an ill reputation these days due to the ridiculous prices triggered by the lack of allocation.  Have they been loud with their marketing, though? Unlike Beam Suntory, whose ads are all over the place, I didn’t see any in Tokyo. I haven’t seen any in Kansai. Agree with me or not, one cannot deny they make damn good stuff! They don’t need to trick you into liking their products.

A lot of these small owner-operated bars in Japan follow the same philosophy. A lot are found in unassuming places. They don’t use bright and blaring signs to draw in clients. Their social media accounts, if they have any, do not have big followings. News of them are, in my experience, spread by other’s recommendations, or by just randomly finding them. Don’t let me give you the impression that there was no effort in building the bar, of course. Some of these places look really swanky once you get inside, from beautiful wooden bar counters to comfortable leather chairs. Still, they let their product and service do the talking.

Bar Kage is one of these. I was walking around Ginza during lunch time to see what I could check out in the evening. Then I saw the words Bar Kage in an alley. As a Naruto fan, the word “Kage” appeals to me. So I checked out the bar on Google Maps and saw a lot of Chichibu photos. Sold!

Bar Kage is a two-person operation. The owner, Kageyama-san, is assisted by a woman; I don’t know if she is an employee or his wife. The bar counter can fit about eight people. Then there are, I think, three tables that can fit four people behind the bar counter. The Scotch selection is great. They have the standards that typical Japanese whisky fans enjoy, but the true gems of this place are the Chichibu whisky. I think I saw at least 30 different bottles there.

The first Chichibu I will review is a Malt Dream Cask. I am not familiar with this bottler or label. According to Kage-san, this is from his friend’s 10 year private cask. But, judging by the label, it’s only a month away from being a true 10 years old. Only 150 of these were bottled. It was aged in an ex-Heaven Hill bourbon cask.

The 2nd Chichibu is bottled by Asta Morris. This bottler was covered by Noortje aka Whiskylifestyle some months ago.

Chichibu Malt Dream Cask – Review

Cask # 212. Ex-bourbon cask. 62.8% ABV. Distilled December 2008. Bottled November 2018.

Color: Muscovado sugar syrup.

On the nose: Lots of chalky almond mochi-like cake, almond jelly, marzipan, licorice, pickled onion, wax, toffee, caramel, white chocolate, persimmon, kumquats, chocolate powder reminiscent of Ovaltine.

In the mouth: Hot, peppers, toffee, almond jelly, grilled green bell peppers, grilled tomatoes, grilled onions, hints of pickles, hints of tartness and chocolate, sweet corn chips, chalky dark chocolate, instant coffee, cinnamon, chocolate-flavored pokee (a mushy candy with sugarflakes). The Evan Williams bourbon flavor comes out at the end.

Score: 9/10

Asta Morris Chichibu 6 Year Old – Review

1st-fill ex-Bourbon. 60.9% ABV. Cask # 1552.

Color: Honey.

On the nose: Almonds, marzipan, yuzu, lemon, toffee, candied orange with chocolate, some sort of earthiness, chestnut, light smoke, a charcoal smell from those places that grill unagi

In the mouth: Cacao, orange peel, orange oil, chestnut, chalky chocolate, light almond jelly, marzipan, lemon, sweetness from grilled yakitori onions,  grilled greens, lingering tart chocolate and dates

Score: 8/10

Conclusions

:

Both were excellent whiskeys. They are both complex. The flavors linger. The flavors are balanced. Chichibu is a really good example of excellent but young whisky. I just love the distillery DNA of almond-like flavors. I guess this is a result of the Mizunara washbacks and four-day fermentation.

The Malt Dream Cask does not jump at you. This is like watching a flowing river in the mountains, the running water being the whisky. But a river is not just about water. There are wildlife, stones, trees and plants. There are some points where the tide is strong and mellow. Just like a whisky is not all about the age or the cask. The beauty of the whisky is the sum of all of its parts. Every little detail matters.

The Asta Morris doesn’t hit like 60.9%. It’s more mellow compared to the MDC, but also less complex, and the flavors don’t linger as much. It has a bit of an astringent texture. Despite the hints of sweet flavor, it is mostly dry.

Editor’s note: this is a lost article from 2019 that was recently uncovered in the Malt archives.

CategoriesJapanese
John

John is a cocktail and spirits enthusiast born and raised in Manila. His interest started with single malts in 2012, before he moved into rum and mezcal in search of malterntaitves – and a passion for travel then helped build his drinks collection.

  1. Tony says:

    Wow, John, lots of philosophy to unpack in this one! My favorite articles here are when the review/score takes a back seat to the preamble; this is one of them.

    1. John says:

      Hi Tony, thanks for the kind words. I’m glad you like this one.
      I’ll admit it’s been a while since I’ve written and have had the mind to write something like this. It’s a result of too many worries, too little fun and no traveling I suppose.

  2. Christopher McKowen says:

    Hi John, you might be aware but the Malt Dream Casks are the name for the private casks which Akutosan sold in the early years of the distillery to bring in some capital. ‘The malt dream’ being his ambition to make Chichibu the success it has become today. Dream realised i’d say!
    Best,
    Chris

    1. John says:

      Hi Chris, I did not know that. All I was told by the bar owner was his friend owned the cask and shared some bottles with him. That’s some pretty good information there. Thanks for sharing.

      Agreed that Ichiro Akuto’s dream has been realized!

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