Ichiro’s Malt The Joker (distilled at Hanyu), 57.7%
Japanese | $273
The final deal of Ichiro Akuto’s Card Series, a vatting of Hanyu from 1985 to 2000. Highly complex, rich, and distinctly resinous. Typical Hanyu boldness, but with balance struck between weightiness, finesse, and intensity. There’s old cobbler’s shop, tack room, light smoke, incense, ink, autumn leaves, and sumac. The palate is sweet to start, then builds in power. Leathery, then praline, damson jam, and fine tannins. Water loosens the tension, allowing yuzu to show. What a way to go out. £220
Ichiro’s Malt, Hanyu 23 year old “sherry casks,” 58%
Japanese | $695.00
This oldie (from a distillery which closed in 2000) seems pretty straightforward compared to the Mizunara [see following review], but has less dried fruit than the sherry note on the label might suggest. Think dried peels rather than raisin, then stir in some freshly-polished floor. The aromas are saturated and heavy — almost as if they are drifting towards you on humid air.
The palate shows light smoke and then a pleasant quinine bitterness mid-palate. This has the Japanese quality of laying flavors out very precisely on the tongue while also heightening their intensity. Water reduces the quinine effect, allowing the richness of the spirit to come through. Hanyu was a pretty big and firm (even rigid) whisky. Here that shell has cracked, allowing anise and blueberry to come through.
£450. Price in US dollars was converted at time of review.
The Ichiro of the title is Ichiro Akuto, scion of the family which owned the now demolished Hanyu distillery, and proprietor of the brand new and incredibly cute (yes…distilleries can be cute) Chichibu distillery — even the name’s cute.
This release is a vatting of different (un-named) single malts from more than one distillery which have been aged in Japanese oak (mizunara, or Q.Mongolica). Mizunara has a highly distinctive aromatic spectrum — the Japanese say that it smells of temples, specifically the incense which scents Zen temples, but while totally accurate, that’s not much help if you haven’t been to one. Think of a heavy, exotic aroma of allspice, sandalwood, even redwood, and you’re almost there. In fact, if you think of the perfumed aspects of rye, but turned up a notch, then you’re in the right ballpark. In this one there’s even a hint of trail bar — maybe it’s a hike in a California old-growth forest.
The palate is soft and slow to start, then picks up mouthwatering acidity — there’s that rye parallel. Green plum and peach, balanced with spiciness on the end. Once encountered, never forgotten. £85. Price in US dollars was converted at time of review.
Delicate aromas of chamomile, marigolds, gardenias, peaches, apples, and vanilla undergirded by biscuity cereal notes transition seamlessly to an elegant palate of vanilla, green apples, malted milk balls, and fresh herbs. The finish has gentle spice that fades into warm chocolate with continuing creamy grain. A blend of Japanese and other whiskies that responds well to water.
Ichiro’s Malt Peated (distilled at Chichibu), 62.5%
Japanese | $145
Distilled 2011, bottled 2015. A warming, cozy, campfire of a nose, with everyone swathed in blankets as some hickory bursts into flames. There’s also an iris-like floral note and a vegetal thing at the back. With water, a nuance of cereal and wet dog. The palate moves into a rich, oily texture, then pulls back into hot embers of scented wood, and raspberry. The smoke is all-pervading, scented but sweet. Water brings out peppermint and smoky bacon. Hugely impressive for a 4 year old. £95