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Chichibu, Yuza and Akkeshi

Rare Whiskies from Three of Japan’s Cult Distilleries
Chichibu, Yuza and Akkeshi

Today, we’re delighted to offer a small selection of rare spirits from three of Japan’s cult distilleries: Chichibu, Akkeshi and Yuza. Few independent distillers have been as visible in Japan’s second coming as Ichiro Akuto, whose Chichibu Distillery stands as one of the most influential operating in Japan today. Although demand and price for Chichibu’s limited-edition bottlings have soared, Akuto’s Leaf Series and Blended bottlings (some of which are offered below) remain more than fairly priced. 

If Chichibu is the established cult star of Japanese Whisky, then Yuza is one of its most promising. A young and dynamic project, Yuza was started in 2018 on the flats near the Sea of Japan, a marginal site chosen for its access to pure, soft snowmelt water and underground springs by the sponge-like crevices of lava of the Mount Chōkai volcano. Masaharu Sasaki is a disciple of Ichiro Akuto, yet the wonderful single malts made here have a distinctive, enveloping personality all their own.

Keiichi Toita’s love of Islay malts led him to establish his small distillery on the cool, foggy coastline of Hokkaido at Akkeshi. Every element of the distillery’s equipment (including two pot stills by Forsyths), process and source ingredients have been selected to match Islay’s top distilleries. Even the water used in the production is passed through a layer of peat. Here, we offer the two latest bottlings from Toita-san’s fabulously enigmatic small-batch 24 Sekki series. 

It’s not always the case that rarity and hype equate to quality, yet that’s certainly the case with these spirit artisans. At each distillery, attention to detail and innovation has risen to an almost ritualistic level—remember, this is the same culture that gave us the chanoyu, or tea ceremony. Likewise, the makers’ pride and passion for their craft are tangible. “I love to share experiences with Whisky lovers,” says Akuto, “which is why that first experience releasing Chichibu the First made me so happy. For me, it’s all about sharing the experience.” Amen.

The Whiskies

Akkeshi Taisetsu Single Malt Japanese Whisky
Bibendum Bar

Akkeshi Taisetsu Single Malt Japanese Whisky

55% ABV. Taisetsu is part of Akkeshi’s 24 Sekki series, which refers to Japan’s 24 divisions of the solar year. These releases vary in style and origin and are blended to mirror the personalities of the seasons they represent. The Japanese call the 21st of their 24 solar terms ‘Heavy Snow’, a time that captures the winter solstice and when bears retreat into hibernation—the inspiration for the label.

On the nose, Akkeshi’s trademark peat notes sit behind complex sweet aromas of toffee, orange rind, cocoa butter and malted milk, with nuances of flax and lanolin. On the palate, it’s big and round, with explosive flavour. Pineapple and dried mango fruit flavours rise before chocolate and a fresh, waxing tide of tarragon, mint and white pepper. It’s one of the distillery’s lightest peated bottlings in recent times, and it’s an exceptionally refined and delicious one at that. 

On the nose, Akkeshi’s trademark peat notes sit behind complex sweet aromas of toffee, orange rind, cocoa butter and malted milk, with nuances of flax and lanolin. On the palate, it’s big and round, with explosive flavour. Pineapple and dried mango fruit flavours rise before chocolate and a waxing fresh tide of tarragon, mint and white pepper. Delicious.

Akkeshi Taisetsu Single Malt Japanese Whisky
Bibendum Bar
Akkeshi Taisho Blended Whisky
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Akkeshi Taisho Blended Whisky

48% ABV. Taisho is the 12th of the 24 Japanese solar terms. The hottest period of the year, this is a celebratory time with many festivals and fireworks. The indigo label is inspired by yukata, the light summer kimono worn during the warmer months. As always, the exact production details are difficult to pin down, but the key malt is 100% from Hokkaido, aged in a variety of casks, including Mizunara and Bourbon, alongside imported grain purchased as new make and aged entirely in-house (nine separate components contributed to the blend).

This is signature Akkeshi, with fresh yet savoury/saline peatiness positioned at the forefront. A hot-blooded blend, this changes constantly in the glass and is best without water. Secondary notes of spun sugar and tropical fruit are joined by deep citrus, burnt sage and green almond notes in the mouth. It finishes spicy, salty and long.


This is signature Akkeshi, with fresh yet savoury/saline peatiness positioned at the forefront. A hot-blooded blend, this changes constantly in the glass and is best without water. Secondary notes of spun sugar and tropical fruit are joined by deep citrus, burnt sage and green almond notes in the mouth. It finishes spicy, salty and long.

Akkeshi Taisho Blended Whisky
Bibendum Bar
Chichibu Ichiro’s Malt and Grain Blended Whisky
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Chichibu Ichiro’s Malt and Grain Blended Whisky

46% ABV. While Chichibu tends to focus on single-cask bottlings, its constant, the Whisky that Ichiro himself is said to partake of each day (especially with a dash of warm water in winter), is this blend that has come to be known as ‘White Label’. As it says on the back label, it’s designed to represent the world of Whisky, with the blending components sourced from England, Canada, United States, Ireland and Scotland. The source material is a closely guarded secret but is believed to contain around 30% malt and 70% grain, the majority unpeated, with an average age of 10 years (the oldest stocks are up to 20 years of age). Each of the sourced world Whiskies are aged between three and 20 years in their countries of origin before being brought to Chichibu for 2–3 years of additional aging.

Although it’s not a single-cask Whisky, even this bottling retains individuality, with each batch only running to about 3500 bottles from around 100 casks. The batches are married in Mizunara oak tanks, with a nod to the solera system (a portion from the previous batch is always retained for consistency). Each batch will vary slightly, but expect a genuine appreciation of the grain characters to provide a dominant rye note to the nose, with definitive Sherry cask spice and a touch of peat.

There’s plenty of warm, spicy kick on the palate, with banana bread and fruity undertones painted across the background with shades of apricot, orange and peach. The peat is evident again on the finish, with a gentle medicinal tang rather than a smoky hit. Bottled without additives or colouring, it’s a deep, sophisticated and nuanced introduction to one of the more fascinating distilleries on the planet.

Each batch will vary slightly but expect a genuine appreciation of the grain characters to provide a dominant rye note to the nose, with definitive Sherry cask spice and a touch of peat. There’s plenty of warm spicy kick on the palate, with banana bread and fruity undertones painted across the background with shades of apricot, orange and peach. The peat is evident again on the finish, with a gentle medicinal tang rather than a smoky hit. Bottled without additives or colouring, it’s a deep, sophisticated and nuanced introduction to one of the more fascinating distilleries on the planet

“The label says this is a ‘worldwide blend.’ Price-wise Ichiro’s Malt and Grain is Venture Whisky’s entry-level drink and it’s quite good. Morning beach air and the taste of mangoes, strawberries and bananas for a sweet, sleepy finish.”
Yuji Kawasaki, Brian Ashcraft’s Japanese Whisky: The Ultimate Guide to the World’s Most Desirable Spirit
Chichibu Ichiro’s Malt and Grain Blended Whisky
Bibendum Bar
Chichibu Ichiro's Malt and Grain Limited Edition
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Chichibu Ichiro's Malt and Grain Limited Edition

48% ABV. Ichiro’s Malt and Grain Limited Edition is the senior sibling to the Whisky above. Like the entry Malt and Grain, this is a blend of Whiskies from around the globe, but here the practically ancient Akuto stocks (up to 40 years old) also feature, along with a higher proportion of malt to grain. Again, we don’t know the exact balance. You can expect the blend to include Scotch Whisky, Canadian Rye Whisky, American Bourbon, Irish Whiskey, and Ichiro’s own Japanese single malt Whisky. Each Whisk(e)y is aged for at least 10 years before vatting; many of the sourced whiskies are aged 20–40 years. It is packaged in Mizunara oak.

Behind its blue label, this supremely drinkable blend is layered with a sweet and spicy complexity. Although the grain component is less prominent here, it is still allowed to shine before apple pie and spices layer upon lemon curd and oats and then progress towards more decadent toffee and malt notes, with a whisper of salty smoke to finish. As you would expect from a distiller described by Whisky writer Tristan Stephenson as the “closest you are likely to get to Whisky royalty in Japan”, the balance and overall quality are exceptional.   

Behind its blue label, this supremely drinkable blend is layered with a sweet and spicy complexity. Although the grain component is less prominent here, it is still allowed to shine before apple pie and spices layer upon lemon curd and oats progress towards more decadent toffee and malt notes and a whisper of salty smoke to finish. As you would expect from a distiller described by Whisky writer Tristan Stephenson as the “closest you are likely to get to Whisky royalty in Japan”, the balance and overall quality are exceptional.

Chichibu Ichiro's Malt and Grain Limited Edition
Bibendum Bar
Chichibu Ichiro's Malt Double Distilleries Pure Malt Whisky
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Chichibu Ichiro's Malt Double Distilleries Pure Malt Whisky

46% ABV. Double Distilleries is a vatting of single malt from the Hanyu Distillery, built by Ichiro Akuto's grandfather, combined with younger distillate from the Chichibu Distillery, built by Ichiro himself.  After Hanyu was sold in 2000 (to a Kyoto-based Shochu producer), Akuto managed to rescue a mere 400 casks of mature Whisky from its vaults. This bottling, then, represents a family blend of Akuto Whiskies from different generations and different distilleries. The Whiskies are vatted in Japanese Mizunara Oak at Chichibu; the Hanyu material was traditionally matured in Sherry hogsheads, and the Chichibu distillate was also aged in Japanese oak. The marriage is a fine one indeed, with the delicate sweetness and punchy fruit notes of the Chichibu malt dovetailing with the more barley-rich, structured Hanyu. Non-chill filtered and non-coloured. 

“The dominant aromas here evoke camping during fall, sweeping of leaves, cool skies, warm jackets, sweet pine cones and dried fig. Calm like early afternoon in the mountains, this is a surprisingly soft whisky, which really opens up in the palette. It has flavors you don't often taste in whiskies, and you could totally drink this at teatime with little cookies.”
Brian Ashcraft, Japanese Whisky: The Ultimate Guide to the World's Most Desirable Spirit
Chichibu Ichiro's Malt Double Distilleries Pure Malt Whisky
Bibendum Bar
Chichibu Ichiro's Malt Wine Wood Reserve
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Chichibu Ichiro's Malt Wine Wood Reserve

46.5% ABV. Like the other Leaf Series bottlings, Ichiro’s Malt Wine Wood Reserve is a blend of single malts from Hanyu and Chichibu. The Hanyu element is composed of Whisky that was matured in French oak that previously contained Japanese red wine, while the Chichibu portion matured in the unique Ovum casks (20-hectolitre egg-shaped barrels made from French oak), shaped in the Charente region by Taransaud.

It’s a deeply coloured malt (naturally so) with a uniquely vinous nose and nut, berry and spice overtones. The palate continues the spicy theme, with balancing sweetness and a finish tinged with dark chocolate and a whisper of smoke. Ask any distiller, and they will tell you that wine cask finishes can be tricky to pull off; you’re in safe hands with this masterpiece.

It’s a deeply coloured malt (naturally so) with a uniquely vinous nose and nut, berry and spice overtones. The palate continues the spicy theme, with balancing sweetness and a finish tinged with dark chocolate and a whisper of smoke. Ask any distiller and they will tell you that wine cask finishes can be tricky to pull off: you’re in safe hands with this masterpiece.

Chichibu Ichiro's Malt Wine Wood Reserve
Bibendum Bar
Yuza Second Edition Single Malt Japanese Whisky
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Yuza Second Edition Single Malt Japanese Whisky

Unlike several of Japan’s young whisky distilleries, Masaharu Sasaki passed up the trend of releasing ‘newborn’ expressions. Instead, Yuza entered the market with a Japanese single malt that picked up Gold at the San Francisco International Spirits Challenge. 

This cask-strength second release was carefully selected from barrels from the first season at Yuza Distillery from February to July 2019. It’s estimated, but not confirmed, that this selection could contain up to 80% ex-Sherry barrels. As distinct from the First Edition—a very bright expression raised in ex-Bourbon cask—the Second Edition was blended for more complexity, depth and luxurious flavour.

This has a very old-world flavour profile (slightly reminiscent of top-shelf Speyside), and the alcohol sits in excellent balance with the complexity of the spirit. There’s a whisper of peat on the nose, with fragrant cereal notes before progressing towards deeper stone fruits and fig. It’s luscious and oily in the mouth, round and slightly earthy with spice and oat notes. It finishes dry with traces of liquorice and a mineral tang.    

This has a very old-world flavour profile (slightly reminiscent of top-shelf Speyside) and the alcohol sits in excellent balance with the complexity of the spirit. There’s a whisper of peat on the nose, with fragrant cereal notes before a progression towards deeper stone fruits and fig. It’s luscious and oily in the mouth, round and slightly earthy with spice and oat notes. It finishes dry with traces of liquorice and a mineral tang.

Yuza Second Edition Single Malt Japanese Whisky
Bibendum Bar

“Chichibu’s fame has, rightly, spread internationally, with the result that everyone wants a taste of its whisky. It is, however, a small distillery–and a new one. Ichiro Akuto has to balance the need to keep people interested and happy, while also building up stocks for the future. Be patient, though, whisky lovers; you will be rewarded.” Dave Broom, The Way of Whisky

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