As they say: When it rains it pours – and this is a storm that I am truly grateful for. Just this past December we saw the introduction of Nikka Whisky into the US market with their Taketsuru 12 and Yoichi 15. Now there is word that Ichiro Akuto and his Chichibu malts will be taking the plunge into the US as well. In some ways this seems to make sense because Chichibu is already available in Europe, however I am surprised by how quickly Akuto San decided to enter the market here. Suntory has only slowly over several years released the 4 currently available expressions here and as mentioned Nikka only launched a couple of months ago. It is not clear when exactly Chichibu will officially launch here or with what expressions. We will update as we obtain more information. If you are in the US and would like to meet Akuto San and chat a bit about his whiskies he will be attending the Nth Universal Whisky Experience in Las Vegas March 1 – 2.
Tag Archives: Ichiro Akuto
This Newborn was aged for a whopping 6 months in a new American oak hogshead. Dispite all of the grief craft distillers are getting here in the US for releasing young whiskies, I have enjoyed all of the Newborn releases that I have tried so far: Heavily Peated, Double Matured and Mizunara Cask.
This Newborn can currently be found at Liquors Hasegawa in Tokyo Station.
Stats of this Newborn are as follows:
Cask In: April 2008
Bottled: October 2008
Cask: New American Oak Hogshead
Price: 4,800 Yen
This is the second part of our interview with Akuto San. You can read the first part here.
WhiskyWall: You are growing your own barley, sourcing local peat and growing Mizunara trees. Is it your goal to make a 100% Japanese whisky – similar to Kilchoman’s just released 100% Islay whisky?
Akuto San: たぶん、ウイスキー造りをしている人間ならだれでも、同じような夢を持つのだと思います。高品質のウイスキーを造ることが最優先事項ですが、もし国産原料のみで実現できればとてもうれしいですね。どのくらいの数量が出来るかはわかりませんが、ぜひ実現したいと思っております。
I think probably anyone making whiskey has a similar dream. Of course I always try to make the highest quality whiskey, but it would be even better If I could do that with all domestic materials. I don’t know how much I could produce, but I want to make a 100% Japanese whiskey one day.
WhiskyWall: Your washbacks are made of Mizunara, why did you decide to do this?
Akuto San: 当時ウオッシュバックをステンレスにするか、木製にするか、迷っていました。たまたま木桶を造るメーカーに友人が勤めていて、良質なミズナラ材が使用できるという情報を得ました。ウイスキー蒸溜所でオーク材をウオッシュバックに使用しているところはありませんでした。専門家の意見も聞いたうえで、導入を決めました。
I was debating whether to use stainless steel or wood for our washbacks. Then, one of my friends who happened to work in a coopery business told me I could use Mizunara. No distiller uses oak wood for washbacks, but I decided to use Mizunara after checking with a specialist.
WhiskyWall: Chichibu releases have been primarily single cask expressions, do you plan on having a standard chore range of expressions?
Akuto San: 今年は２００８年の原酒が３年を迎えます。数量は限定になりますが、世界的にシングルモルトウイスキーとして発売を計画しています。年に数回、発売をすることになると思います。
The distribution may be very limited, but I’m planning on releasing a single malt made in 2008 that has reached 3 years world wide this year, several times a year.
WhiskyWall: What are some of the challenges for you as a relatively small distillery?
Akuto San: スタッフの人数が少なく、顧客の要望に十分応えることが出来ないことはあります。しかし、今取引があり顧客は十分理解を頂いておりますので、特にデメリットは感じていません。
We do not have enough staff to fully satisfy our customers’ needs. But our customers are also very understanding, so we do not feel bad about not being able to fully meet customers’ demands.
WhiskyWall: What are some of the benefits?
Akuto San: 原料仕入れから製造、熟成状況などのすべての工程を把握することが容易です。また、一回のロットが少ない分仕込みを頻繁に行うため、若い製造スタッフたちのスキルが急速に向上することも大きいです。
All of our staff are involved in the whole process, we make a small quantity at one time, but do it frequently. So young staff learn and get better at making whiskey in a short period of time.
WhiskyWall: Unfortunately, here in the US we do not have access to your whisky, do you have any thoughts of ever bringing your whiskies here?
Akuto San: ぜひとも、そうしたいと考えております。
Definitely. I am planning on selling my whisky in the US in the future.
WhiskyWall: What bottles of whisky do you have at home now?
Akuto San: 私はバーで多くの銘柄を試したいという気持ちから、ボトルのコレクションを積極的には行っていません。本気で集め始めると大変は出費になりますから。しかし、時々気になるボトルや限定ボトルを購入するこはあります。キニンビーのヘーゼルウッドやラフロイグ２１年、ボウモア２２年、古いスプリングバンク３０年や２１年、その他のスコッチの古いボトルも少々あります。理想を言えば、オフィシャルボトルであっても買っておけば、原酒構成が時代とともに変わるので大変貴重なサンプルになります。
I like to go to bars and try different whiskeys, so I don’t try to collect bottles and don’t have much at home. Kininvie’s Hasel Wood, Laphroaig 20 yrs, Bowmore 22 yrs, Springbank 30 yrs and 21 yrs, and other old Scotch whiskeys. Even official bottles will become precious samples as it ages over the year.
WhiskyWall: Are there any whiskies that just amazed you? Which ones?
Akuto San: まだ、ウイスキー経験が浅かった頃、「ウイスキーがこんな味がするのか！」と思ったボトルとして、濃厚な香水のようなブレーバーを感じたエドラダワーがあります。６０年台ボウモアの南国果実のようなフレーバーにも驚嘆しました。また、グレンモーレンジのアーティザンカスクもホワイトオークのフレーバーにも大いに興味を惹かれました。しかし、それ以外にも、多くのボトルが個性的でとにかくウイスキーの奥深さと多様性を感じさせてくれます。
When I didn’t have much experience, as for bottles where I thought “Whisky can have this flavor!” I felt Edradour had a flavor of dense perfume. I also admired Bowmore in the 60s for its passion fruit-like flavor. I was also fascinated by Glenmorangie’s Artisan Cask for its white oak flavor. Still, other than those, I have had the privilege of many bottles with individuality, whiskies with depth and diversity.
WhiskyWall: For those people that are not familiar with Japanese whisky, is there anything that you would like to tell them?
Akuto San: ウイスキーは蒸溜所ごとによる味わいの違い、熟成環境による味わいの違いを楽しむのがその醍醐味の一つだと思います。日本のウイスキーはスコットランドともケンタッキーやテネシーとも異なる環境で育まれてきました。その独自の環境で熟成されたウイスキーは楽しんでいただける価値があると思っています。ぜひとも、ご自身の鼻と舌でその独自性を感じてみてください。
To enjoy different tastes and different distilleries and environments is on of the ways to appreciate whisky. Japanese whisky has grown in a different environment from Scotland, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Therefore I believe it is worth is to enjoy whisky that is specific to a unique environment. I highly recommend that on tries the unique flavors using one’s own nose and palate.
The craft distillery movement has been gathering a lot of steam lately. It has definitely hit here in the Northern California, with the likes of St. George, Charbay, Old World Spirits and Low Gap. Although larger, one can make an argument that Kilchoman on Islay falls into this category as well.
Craft distillers are appreciated for their keen attention to detail and hands on approach. There is also some personality and a sense of connectedness with the distiller as you can identify the specific person who is actually distilling the whisky. The craft distillery movement is not limited to the United States (or Scotland if one throws Kilchoman into the mix) though. One of my favorite distilleries, for many of the same reasons people like craft distilleries, is Chichibu located in the prefecture of Saitama, Japan.
Chichibu was only recently established in 2008 by Ichiro Akuto (officially Venutre Whisky). Akuto San set up the distillery with the meticulousness and attention to detail that you would expect from a distiller/owner. The passion that he has is clearly discernible in his approach and methods of making whisky and it all culminates in the expressions that he releases. Simply put, Akuto San is doing some very cool things at Chichibu. You can follow the details of his work on his twitter feed. Although he tweets in Japanese he often includes pictures, which recently included his trip to some of the US distilleries and their cooperages. For some additional pictures of the distillery and equipment check out this site.
We have been fortunate enough to drink some of the spirit from Chichibu and found them both promising as well as tasty. We have also been intrigued with Akuto San’s history of distilling whisky as well as the details of his new venture at Chichibu so we set out to ask him a couple of questions. This is the first series of questions and responses, the second series will be posted shortly.
WhiskyWall: Your family has a long history of brewing sake, what got you started in distilling whisky?
Akuto San: 祖父が1941年に羽生に本社工場を設立し、1946年にウイスキー免許も取得しました。1980年台にはスコットランド式のポットスチル２基を使い本格的なウイスキー造りを始めました。しかし、２０００年になるころには経営が悪化し、父は２００４年には会社を手放すことを決めました。しかし、新オーナーはウイスキーに興味がなく、期限を設定し、引き取り手がなければ、設備もウイスキー原酒も廃棄することを決定しました。この原酒を引き取ることを決め、将来ウイスキー造りを再開することを決意いたしました。
My grandfather opened the sake business/main factory in Hanyu in 1941 and got a license for whisky distilling in 1946. In the 1980s we bought 2 Scottish pot stills and started to invest for making whiskies. However, in 2000, our business started to go downhill and my father decided to sell our company. The new owner was not interested in whisky distilling and decided to discard all the equipment and whisky if no one claimed it within a limited time. I decided to take the whisky and was determined to resume whisky making in the future.
WhiskyWall: Who are some of the biggest influences in your career of distilling whisky?
Akuto San: 歴史上の人物として竹鶴正孝や鳥井信治郎があげられます。また、新しい蒸溜所としていろいろな方からアドバイスをいただきました。とりわけ、現在の状況に至った背景として祖父や父の存在は大きかったと思います。
Masataka Taketsuru and Shinjiro Torii. Also, many people have given precious advice to us as a new whisky distiller. But the biggest influence is my father and grandfather who led me to this career.
WhiskyWall: How would you describe your philosophy for making whisky?
Akuto San: ウイスキー造りにトリックはありません。当たり前のことを積み重ねていくということです。
There’s no trick to making whiskey. Just do what I have to do one day at a time.
WhiskyWall: Chichibu is a new distillery, do you see this as a continuation of what you were doing at Hanyu or a completely new and different beginning?
Akuto San: 造り方の基本は同じです。しかし、環境、設備、人が異なりますから異なるシングルモルトが生まれています。羽生の経験を生かし、さらに細かいところに注意を払っています。また、羽生では使用していなかった樽も使用しています。
The basics are the same for making whisky, but environment, equipment and people involved make a difference for single malt. Based on what I learned through my Hanyu experience, I’m trying to be more cautious in the details. I also use casks I never used at Hanyu.
WhiskyWall: The expressions that have been release from Chichibu are very diverse from heavily peated to Mizunara – how would you describe Chichibu’s style of whisky?
Akuto San: 現在、さまざまな取り組みを行っています。目的は秩父スタイルの探求です。最初にスタイルを決めてしまうのではなく、回り道のように感じるかもしれませんが、５年、１０年と歳月を重ねることにより、秩父に適した樽やスピリッツが出来上がっていきます。徐々に秩父のスタイルが完成してゆくのだと考えています。
Currently, I am variously engaged with this. The goal is to pursue a Chichibu style. There was not an initial settling upon a style. Not taking any short-cuts as I make whiskies for the next 5, 10, or more years, I will create suitable casks and spirits for Chichibu. Gradually, the Chichibu style will be perfected, I think.
WhiskyWall: Both the Newborn Heavily Peated and Newborn Double Matured are very young whiskies but they have so much flavor already, how are you able to get that amount of flavor in such a short period of time?
Akuto San: なにも特別なことをしているつもりはありません。スピリッツの品質を日々吟味し、良質な樽を選ぶ努力を繰り返しをしているだけです。あとは秩父の環境が熟成を育むんでくれているのだと思います。
We don’t do anything special. I check the quality of spirit everyday and try to find the best cask each time. The rest of the flavor is nurtured to maturity by Chichibu’s environment, I imagine.
WhiskyWall: What are some of your goals for Chichibu’s whisky?
Akuto San: 個人的な目標ですが、３０年ものの秩父シングルモルトを楽しむことです。
It’s my personal goal, but I want to enjoy a 30 yr old Chichibu Single Malt.
Ichiro Akuto (Hanyu and Chichibu) has released a blended whisky. This is different from his normal single cask releases from Hanyu and Chichibu that we have come to expect. There is a blend of Hanyu and Chichibu as well as a vatting of Hanyu that have been released though. Unlike their Scottish counterparts, it is practically unheard of for Japanese whisky companies to share or trade barrels of their whisky with each other. You will not find a blend of Nikka and Suntory malts. This blend being released by Akuto San is a blend of 9 different malt distilleries and 2 different grain distilleries. It is non-chillfiltered at 46%ABV and comes in at roughly $40 (Damn exchange rate!). We know Akuto San has some serious distilling skills, let’s see how the blending skills are. I am going to pick up a bottle and try it out. – Chris
This is one of the whiskies that we tried at our Japanese whisky tasting in April. An interesting expression of the now closed Hanyu distillery – stocks are now being stored at Ichiro’s new Chichibu distillery location.
3 of Hearts ~$90
Distilled 2000, bottled 2010 at 61.2% ABV
1st Cask: Hogshead (Cask No. 465), 2nd Cask: Port Pipe
Bottle 463 of 807
Color: Medium-dark copper with some red and pink
Nose: Rutty, dirty, Mizunara oiliness, smoke, earthy, then a fragrant sweetness, caramel candy, meaty, seems disjointed at first but after letting it sit for some time it actually starts to come together in a weird way
Palate: Silky sweetness, then a big hit of Mizunara spices: sandalwood and incense, the youth of this whisky is fairly obvious, oak char, like biting into a dark cherry/strawberry jam filled crepe while catching a waft of fresh cigar smoke – weird but it works
Finish: Medium/long, leaves an airy fruit and spice flavor, port seems to add a gentle sweetness – wonder how long it was in the port pipe?
Comments: Just a touch of the port so it is not overpowering. It does remind me a lot of the 2009 Final Vintage of Hanyu. I would definitely let this one sit and take some time to get its act together though. Everyone liked it, well at least the empty bottle (as pictured above) leads one to believe that they did. – Chris
April 21st marked the third Thursday of the month and that meant it was whisky tasting time again! In March we celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with some Irish malts. In April we decided to go in another direction with some Japanese malts. There wasn’t any particular reason for why we went with Japanese whiskies other than we didn’t have the self-control to leave these whiskies’ flavors a mystery to us. The whiskies we decided to pour were available here in the US only via check in baggage. Nate brought these bottles back in February and we couldn’t wait any longer to open them.
We were lucky to have a good turn out of enthusiastic whisky folks to enjoy the whisky with. We decided to start off the evening by doing a quick comparison between Japanese whisky and Scotch whisky: a Singleton of Glendullan 12 and Yamazaki 12. It wasn’t the most scientific and there were probably better whiskies to use to compare, but hell it was what we had available to us.
After that we moved into the more serious whisky. We started with the Suntory Hibiki 50.5. Hibiki is a blended whisky – a mix of malt and grain – and as the name indicates it is bottled at 50.5% ABV. The Hibiki 12 is probably familiar to those in the US but this particular Hibiki was aged for 17 years. After the Hibiki we dove into the first single malt of the evening, a single cask Hakushu, distilled in 1996 and bottled in 2008 at 62%ABV. Hakushu is Suntory’s other distillery located in Yamanashi Prefecture. The last expression of the evening was one of Ichiro Akuto’s Card Series: 3 of Hearts. The Card Series bottlings are whiskies that were originally distilled in the now closed Hanyu distillery. This particular expression was first aged in a Hogshead and finished in a port pipe and ultimately bottled at 61.2%ABV. It was a great whisky to finish on!
…or at least we thought. For those that stuck around and got really comfortable in their seats, an additional two Japanese whiskies made their appearances. White Oak/Eigashima is one of Japan’s lesser known distilleries. The majority of their distilling efforts are spent on shochu and sake, but they do release a couple of expressions. We decided to try their Akashi 5 and 12 year old whiskies. Definitely different, bordering on funky was my impressions. Of course this was after a couple of hours on sipping on the three previously mentioned whiskies.
Overall it appeared that everyone had a good time (which is the most important thing) and enjoyed some different whiskies. We will post up more detailed tasting impressions of the whiskies shortly. Till next tasting! – Chris
Just a quick hitter here. Ichiro Akuto has for some time been slowly releasing his stocks of Hanyu, mostly in the form of the popular card series. Well this week saw a release of four more “cards”. Hanyu is in high demand and one shop that I normally shop at has already sold out of their supply. – Chris
Ten of Harts: 6,980円/~$85, Cask number 463, 295 bottles, 61% ABV, First cask: Hogshead, Second cask Madeira hogshead
Four of Diamonds: 6,980円/~$85, Cask number 9030, 546 bottles, 56.9% ABV, First cask: Hogshead, Second cask: Pedro Ximenez sherry butt
Two of Spades: 10,500円/~$127, Cask number 477, 290 bottles, 55.8% ABV, First cask: Hogshead, Second cask: Port hogshead
Eight of Clubs: 17,800円/~$215, Cask number 7100, 561 bottles, 57.5% ABV, First cask: Hogshead, Second cask: American oak Puncheon
This dram was generously provided by the fine folks at the Master of Malt. The Master of Malt provides a great service that allows you to purchase whisky by the dram instead of having to invest in a whole bottle. You can also find the Master of Malt on Facebook and Twitter.
Ichiro’s Five of Clubs (Hanyu Distillery):
Distilled in 1991, finished in Mizunara cask, 57.4%ABV
Ichiro has the whisky equivalent of the Midas touch. When he gets his hands on a whisky it typically transforms into liquid gold. In this case the color was more of a deep honey with some long, healthy legs. The nose, of which I couldn’t get enough, delivered and then some. Dark orange, heat, molasses, beef jerky, parmesan, and cola. A wild ride and it all worked. One sip and I got what the doctor ordered: smoke, tobacco and chewing gum (an inexplicably fun combination), a slight numbing tingle, sweet char, and rich roasted-grains stolen from a porter (the beer, not the person who carries your bags). All this in the eventual grip of an oily, chewy heat that instead of flaming out, lingered like warming embers. Harkens back to some of the best imaged memories of a traditional whisky from the Isles, in this case the Japanese ones. Amazing.
Color: Darkcopper and orange
Nose: Strong alcohol vapors, hidden peat with a dash of smoke, leather, oranges, some tobacco
Palate: Dark fruit sweetness, tinge of peat, oily, mizunara tones (sandal wood), incense, burnt orange peels, spice, full bodied and chewy.
Finish: Long, peat and tobacco leaves.
Comments: Intense and excellent stuff. The depth of flavor is amazing. Although there are layers and layers of flavor they are not too difficult to find, they just seemed to come to me. Another winner of a whisky distilled by Akuto San. You can purchase a dram of the Five of Clubs here.
Nothing ground breaking but nevertheless interesting. I got caught up in the release of the Yoichi 20 year Vintage that I forgot to mention that the Miyagikyou 20 year vintage is also being released. Similar to the Yoichi release except all malts going into it were distilled and aged at the Miyagikyou distillery.
Hanyu (now closed) has released Ichiro’s Final Vintage of Hanyu – a 10 year old malt that has been released annually for the last couple of years. I tried last year’s release and give my impressions of it here. This release is a big departure from the previous year’s which was a big powerful (60.1% ABV) single cask expression. This year’s is a lot tamer at 48% and appears to be a vatting of several different barrel aged spirits: Hogshead and Puncheon American Oak, Sherry and Spanish Oak. And no chill-filtration or added coloring. Definitely sounds like an interesting one as it seems like they are trying to make it a more balanced expression and is a departure from the normal single cask releases that we have seen from Chichibu and Hanyu. I will probably pick a bottle of this up shortly to try.