Chichibu

Write up by Luke Jones…

This week’s tasting from TLWC is the special Charity Chichibu Tasting with @thewhiskybarrista.

James originally intended to be running the Speyside Marathon on 14th October and has been raising money all year for The Drinks Trust. Since the global pandemic, the work of this charity has become even more important in supporting those in the hospitality industry, and as a club we have been donating £2.50 for every single virtual tasting pack sold. Unsurprisingly, the Dramathon was sadly cancelled but James’s efforts for the Drinks Trust have continued unabated, replacing it with the very kind offer to host an exclusive Chichibu tasting online, featuring bottles from his own collection and with all proceeds going to charity. Together with this grand gesture there’s an additional bottle donated by Jez and Kieran, making this a special eight dram tasting. Given the limited quantity of whisky available, spaces were understandably very limited which made for an intimate session; despite this, the club was able to raise £1,522.31 for The Drinks Trust.

As for Chichibu, what’s the fuss all about? It’s fair to say that James is a big fan, and has even been fortunate enough to experience a distillery tour. For those of us that are not yet well acquainted with the brand, let me introduce you.

Founded by Ichiro Akuto, Chichibu is a hands-on, jobs-for-locals distillery with very low production volumes. Their limited releases are highly sought after around the world, prices seemingly growing exponentially; from importing their own barley from Scotland to maintaining their own in-house cooperage, their attention to detail and love of whisky has helped them acquire a cult-like following.

Chichibu is a relatively young distillery; operational from 2008, it was the first new Japanese distillery since 1973. Ichiro has a long history in the Japanese whisky world; the Akuto family are a long-respected producer of alcoholic drinks (the family business started out in the 1600s producing sake). In early 1940’s Ichiro’s grandfather, Isouji Akuto, started making whisky at the Hanyu distillery and the family’s shift to whisky making began. Ichiro spent a period of time at Suntory before returning to the family business, where he worked at Hanyu in its final days in the lead up to its closure in 2000. It was eventually dismantled in 2004.

Ichiro bought the remaining casks of Hanyu spirit and started his own whisky company – Venture Whisky. Single cask and small batch bottlings of Hanyu, coupled with the Ichiro’s Malt range have laid the foundation for Chichibu and while the Hanyu is now long gone, Ichiro’s Malt is still growing and so is its number of followers. 

Onto the drams and the exciting line-up for the night’s tasting:

  • On the Way 2015, 55.5% ABV
  • On the Way 2019, 51.5% ABV
  • Highlander Inn x The Dramathon, 59% ABV
  • IPA Cask Finish 2017, 57.5% ABV
  • LMDW Single Cask Burgundy Wine Finish, 60% ABV
  • The Single Cask 2650, 59.3% ABV
  • The Peated 2016, 54.5% ABV
  • Black Rock Single Cask, 62% ABV

********************PICTURE********************

Dram 1 – On the Way 2015 55.5% ABV

Chichibu’s On the Way is a series of releases (2013, 2015 and 2019) that map the distillery’s progress from start up to their inaugural release. The inaugural was planned to coincide with the Tokyo Olympics but given this was also a victim of Covid, the release has been delayed. The 2015 release is a multi-vintage vatting distilled at various times since Chichibu become operational in 2008; with an outrun of 10,700 bottles, it is a surprisingly complex whisky (with its distinct sandalwood nose) considering the age. This can be somewhat explained with the big temperature difference that the city experiences; summer can be as high 35 degrees while winter is very much like Scotland and this fluctuation leads to faster maturation. The whisky is also matured in small casks so while its only 5y/o, all of these factors allow this to drink more like a 10y/o.

Nose: Herbal with leafy notes leading to peach and soft toffee with vanilla and honey.

Taste: Spicy and fruity, with apple, peach and sugary pastry. More spiced orchard fruit follows. This has a cask driven profile with the oak and sandalwood notes.

Dram 2 – On the Way 2019, 51.5% ABV

This whisky is from a batch of 52 casks, which have all been matured for five to ten years. It’s predominantly from first-fill ex-bourbon, but there is also some second-fill Chibidaru casks together with some hogsheads with Mizunara (Japanese oak) heads and lastly some peated whisky. This is a very eclectic mix, but also very Chichibu. This is darker than the 2015, which is coming from the extra maturation in the cask, but does have a similar flavour profile (if not a little sweeter and less perfumed).

Nose: Fruit, all, types of fruit and more. Apples, pears, pineapple, grapes and it keeps going. Coconut, buttery pastry and double cream. Hints of polished wood with spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and pepper.

Taste: Rich, buttery and fruity. Apples, pears, grapefruit and pineapple. Soft spice with grass and vanilla.

Dram 3 – Highlander Inn x The Dramathon, 59% ABV

A special Chichibu, distilled in 2011 and bottled in 2019 for The Highlander Inn in Craigellachie to celebrate the 2020 Dramathon. As we now know this event didn’t happen but luckily, the bottle did, this time from an outrun of 249 produced from a single cask, 2011/1441, matured in Mizunara. The Dramathon is a marathon distance race along the Speyside Way from Glenfarclas distillery to Glenfiddich distillery. Fingers crossed it will be back next year.

This is now the second bottle making use of Mizunara wood. It’s used to give the whisky its sweet vanilla and coconut flavours but, because it’s virgin oak, too much contact will also turn it very bitter like a long-aged bourbon. Mizunara is also a porous wood and prone to leaking; therefore, only the heads are used rather than entire casks. 

Chichibu now has its own cooperage with two in house coopers; this allows them to play around with the casks and conduct interesting experiments such as this one. 

Nose: Wine gums, incense and sandalwood. The dry heat for spirit with some spice and a lingering note of mint.

Taste: Sour melon and artificial sweetener. It’s coming through as more of a fake sweetness than a fruity sweetness. Maybe a little bitter and tasting almost like grain whisky which probably comes from the Mizurana. 

Dram 4 – IPA Cask Finish 2017, 57.5% ABV

A limited edition Chichibu, developed in conjunction with a Japanese craft brewer. The brewery aged their beers in ex-bourbon casks from the distillery and then returned these ‘beer-washed’ barrels to Chichibu in order to mature their whisky. This one is about 5y/o, spending just over three years in ex-bourbon and about 18 months more in the IPA casks.

With an outrun totalling 6,700 bottles, the hoppy characteristics from the IPA very much come through with this whisky – though it also has a bitter grapefruit and Sansho pepper finish. This beer-finished offering arrived before Glenfiddich and SWMS created their own versions, and thus was the first distillery to beer-age their whisky.

Nose: Fruity and hoppy. Apple, passionfruit, yeast and beer. It’s fresh and floral whilst also malty. Silly string, beer foam, John Smith’s widget and even chemical soap. As this opens it’s like a pint that has been out in a stuffy bar left for a few hours.

Taste: Very fruity and the beer notes come through strong. Slight bitterness but also sweet and malty. The IPA lingers, which is more like a dark ale. The chemical notes of raw hops are present. Its leaves the taste of what I can imagine drinking whisky that someone has added a few drops of ale into.

Dram 5 – LMDW Single Cask Burgundy Wine Finish, 60% ABV

This is Chichibu single cask 2011/5080, and was finished in an ex-Burgundy wine cask. On this occasion Ichiro Akuto chose a cask that previously contained wine from one of the most prestigious appellations in the Côte de Beaune area; this gave him everything that he was looking for. The label features the artwork Mangacamo #2 by Fantasista Utamaro and is 1 of only 210 bottles, bottled in 2018 making this a 7y/o.

When drinking this, you’d be hard pressed to say this is a finish rather than a full maturation. As we’ve noted the summers get hot in Chichibu, and the heat draws out the wine flavours and tannins a lot quicker. Given the rules governing whisky production are not as strict outside of Scotland, distilleries like Chichibu have also enjoyed much more freedom to play around with cask types. At present you can find tequila, brandy and Calvados casks but only time will tell if any of these ever see the light of day.

Nose: Tomato leaves, floral notes, peat and not much more going on.

Taste: Leaves, stems, oak and sour. A little drying with tannins, pepper and spice.

Dram 6 – The Single Cask 2650, 59.3% ABV

Produced for Tokyo Narita Duty Free in American White Oak Oloroso Sherry Cask. Another new and very rare single cask, distilled in 2010 and bottled in October 2016 after initial maturation in a bourbon barrel before finishing in an American White Oak / Oloroso Sherry Hogshead. 1 of only 293 bottles, although this offering may have been left to mature too long; given the climate conditions, excessive time in the cask can easily lead to overcooking.

An this point we take a bit of interlude for James to provide some stories of his trip to Japan and even share some holiday pics. I think we can all agree this is what’s great about whisky; it brings people together, bonds relationships and makes for great memories. James spoke of the infamous pilgrim stick that he picked up in Chichibu before subsequently making his sister post it back to him in the UK, while providing reports of all the great bars he visited from Bar Snob to the Highlander Inn. Yes – the very same Highlander Inn from Craigellachie that bottled dram number three tonight, who have now opened a third branch: the second bar being in Tokyo and now a third in Chichibu. James further reminisced about all the great drams that he sampled, continuing to heighten our jealousy.

Nose: Cherries and black forest fruit. Red grapes, tarry and oily with a touch of glue.

Taste: Creamy, cherries, apricot and plum. Chewy feel like fudge. Black cherry. Lightly grassy, charred noted and a little drying. Very much over cooked sherried notes.

Dram 7 – The Peated 2016, 54.5% ABV

Back to the penultimate dram after our walk down memory lane. 

There’s been four versions of Chichibu’s The Peated to date. Two 3y/o (2009 + 2010) and two 4y/o (2011 + 2012), all of them bottled at cask strength. The 2010 bottling indicated has a PPM level of 59.6, and this bottle distilled in 2012 has a PPM of 50. When you consider that Ardbeg measures around 55 and Laphroaig at 40, these Chichibus are using some heavily-peated barley. Of course, the actual level of phenols drops off considerably during distillation and processing, but nevertheless, when Chichibu says ‘The Peated’ they really do mean peated.

Our version is the most recent release, bottled in 2016. It comes in at 54.5% ABV and was a release of only 6,350 bottles.

Nose: Sweet and medicinal peat – no wait it’s iodine peat. Its like a sweeter older Ardbeg. but keeps changing.  Citrus and coastal with smoked haddock. After the peat there is the honey sweetness with apples and vanilla.

Taste: Think and waxy with the peat being more subtle than on the nose. Honey, vanilla, chilli peppers, pears, caramel, ginger and syrup. Warming on the lips and tongue. Overall it’s buttery, creamy and smooth.

Dram 8 – Black Rock Single Cask, 62% ABV

A 2nd refill hogshead ex-Hanyu – then ex-Chichibu and peated single cask #2012/2074, making it 7y/o. This one was the bottle donated by Kieran and Jez, so a big thanks again from everyone for helping make this an eight bottle tasting.

Hanya in not widely used for whisky distillation – so is its use a gimmick? We all know that peat can cover a multitude of sins but in this case, we do get notes from Hanyu in a heavily-peated whisky; given Chichibu were able to make this work you can probably guess that the use of Hanyu has now blown up. At 62% we can all agree that this is a punchy whisky, which really benefits from a few drops of water. 

All the barley that Chichibu uses is shipped from Scotland pre-malted and pre-peated. They use Highland peat which is less mineral and sweeter than the peat found on Islay.

Nose: Less peat than The Peated 2016 with no tobacco but maybe a little tar. It’s more refined with hints of grapefruit, maple syrup.

Taste: Toasted brioche, that burnt buttery almost chargrilled flavour. Savoury with hints of sea salt. At the back end there is salami or peppered meat. Basically, a salty meat with a spice kick.

DRAM OF THE NIGHT

Let’s face it, this was a great selection of whisky and many of these could have won the dram of the night award at a different tasting. The dram that was crowned winner tonight, voted in first or second place by most attendees is, of course, the Black Rock Single Cask.

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The next club tasting is the Chivas Workhorses with Sandy Hyslop and Alex Robertson on Wednesday 4th November.

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