Chichibu The First, 61.8%, £90
It has been a quiet year on the Japanese front. Stocks at the larger distillers are under pressure, the result of short-term production twelve to eighteen years ago, and while this is being managed capably by producers, it also means that they aren’t exactly embarking on a program of multiple new expressions. With Mars only just reopened, Gotemba extremely quiet, and Karuizawa silent, there was one distillery that rose above all of this. It’s Japan’s newest, and the smallest.
2011 was the year when Chichibu came of age. Owner Ichiro Akuto built the distillery after the enforced closure and demolition of his family’s previous plant, Hanyu, and did so in the same town where his ancestors started making sake 500 years ago.
He and his young team are crafting a new presence, or rather, by exploring all parameters of whisky making, are allowing a new being to come into existence. Three styles are made, light, heavy, and peated, and there are plans to malt on-site (using local barley and peat) and build a cooperage.
This first official release of whisky (rather than maturing new make) is of the quicker-maturing light style and shows typical Japanese clarity along with genuinely ‘Eastern’ aromas of citrus and fragrant spices, and a soft, unctuous feel. It shows enormous promise and demonstrates that there is hope for smaller distillers in Japan. Important in so many ways. —Dave Broom
Be sure to visit here tomorrow. We’ll be announcing our New World Whisky of the Year Award.