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Chichibu

The Way of Ichiro - The King of Japan’s Independent Distillers

While Ichiro Akuto can trace his ancestors’ association with brewed (and later distilled) beverages back to 1625, the origins of this story start in 1946, when Akuto’s grandfather established the now closed Hanyu Distillery in Saitama Prefecture. Initially a Saké brewery, Akuto’s grandfather began to dabble in Whisky after WWII. His passion was passed on to his son, Akuto’s father, who, by the late 1990s had amassed about 400 casks of maturing Hanyu Whisky. However, following an economic downturn, in 2000 the Akuto family were compelled to sell the distillery and its assets to a Kyoto-based Shochu producer. 

We’ll skip chapter and verse, but in short, Akuto found a way to eventually rescue Hanyu’s equipment and its maturing stocks and set about bottling a series of Whiskies that went on to become legendary in the industry, selling for thousands per bottle (see Ichiro's Malt Card series). The seed money gained from these sales helped him establish, in 2007, what is now considered arguably one of the most important independent Japanese Whisky distilleries, at a site just 50 km from the old Hanyu land—Chichibu.

Until recently, Chichibu was probably the closest Japan came to a craft Whisky distillery. Ichiro has 14 employees and just two small copper pot stills, designed by himself and made by Forsyths in Scotland. The eight 3,000-litre washback’s—made from Hokkaido Mizunara oak—produces ten batches per week resulting in approximately 60,000-litres of new-make—a drop in the ocean compared with Japan’s big players (to put it in perceptive, a single washback at Yamazaki can hold over 100,000-litres). 

It’s not always the case that rarity equates to quality, yet that’s certainly the case at Chichibu, where Ichiro Akuto’s faultless technique meets a meticulous attention to detail.

Most of the current production is unpeated, using Norfolk barley. A peated new-make, however, is produced during the last month before maintenance season starts (Ichiro uses malted barley peated to a mighty ‘Ardbeg-level’ 50 ppm from Crisp Maltings). Recently, Chichibu has finished their own floor maltings and has begun experimenting with locally grown Japanese winter barley. If a bona fide, pure Japanese Whisky is going to materialise soon, it will probably be from here first. Chichibu has even begun to harvest Japanese peat in preparation for a locally grown peated malt. It’s all enough to make your head spin. 

Thanks to its size, and Ichiro’s sense of adventure, the distillery can experiment with a variety of casks for maturation: ex-bourbon casks, Sherry hogsheads, French wine barrels, and new American oak—to name but a few! —as well as casks made from the native Mizunara oak, which are coopered on site. Yes, the distillery now has its own, small, bespoke cooperage.

We aim to ship the entry-level Ichiro’s Malt and Grain Blended Whisky as often as we can. Once a year we receive an allocation of Chichibu’s smaller-batch bottlings, which are often defined by the aging vessel, but are sometimes a blend of aged materials and bottled as a collaboration or for a significant event. Please note, most Chichibu Whiskies are released on allocation. Please get in touch to find out more.

Currently Available

Chichibu Ichiro's Malt Wine Wood Reserve
Bibendum Bar

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 both 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
Chichibu Ichiro's Malt Double Distilleries Pure Malt Whisky
Bibendum Bar

Chichibu Ichiro's Malt Double Distilleries Pure Malt Whisky

46% ABV. A vatting of single malt from the Hanyu Distillery, built by Ichiro Akuto's grandfather, 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 and Grain Limited Edition
Bibendum Bar

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 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.

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

“Each time I go to Chichibu there’s something new. This small distillery, two valleys to the northwest of the town, has become a university of whiskey, and a beacon for new distillers around the world… The unpeated new-make is slightly oily, fresh and intense, with just a hint of cereal. Water brings out juicy fruits, blueberry and apple. It sticks to the mouth and doesn’t want to leave.” Dave Broom, The Way of Whisky

Country

Japan

Primary Region

Saitama Prefecture

People

Ichiro Akuto

Availability

National

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