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Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Two Chichibu

One is tempted to see Chichibu single malt as the Kavalan of Japan, with their Oh-My-Shit prices for five-year-old whisky and buoyant reviews by the whisky machers (not a Japanese word), but unlike Kavalan there was never a full-court media press for every early Chichibu single cask and the brand's owner Akuto Ichiro has long been a known quantity in the industry. Though I don't foresee owning a bottle of Chichibu due to the cost, I have been trying to get in on some bottle splits. Thankfully two such opportunities landed this year. Previous to this tasting, my lone Chichibu single malt experiences occurred during my 2017 trip to Nihon, and they were all very positive. Though I'm very excited about this opportunity, I am moderating my expectations. Because 2020.

Chichibu "The US Edition 2019"

Distillery: Chichibu #1
Ownership: Venture Whisky
Type: single malt
Location: Saitama Prefecture, Japan
Age: ???
Maturation: Seven mystery casks
Bottling year: 2019
Outturn: 1556 bottles
Exclusive to: These United States
Alcohol by Volume: 55.5%
(from a bottle split)


The nose is stop-what-you-are-doing lovely, like a pristine 20yo bourbon cask Speyside. Swirls of yellow cherries, yellow nectarines, yuzu peels and key lime pie meets crushed rock dust and steel wool. Diluting it to 46%abv doesn't soften it one bit. It gets earthier while holding onto its tropical and stone fruits. Some gentle wood smoke drifts in, followed by more citrus and flowers.

The palate matches the nose's remarkable fruitiness. The yellow cherries and nectarines up top, then peaches + yuzu + limes, then lychee and crisp sake. Clouds of smoke and earth linger beneath. Reducing it to 46%abv makes it maltier and more herbal, and perhaps younger? More flower blossoms, more citrus.

Lots of peaches (yellow and white) in the finish, along with tangy chiles, soil, flower blossoms and a mineral bite. Diluting the whisky to 46%abv shifts the finish to match the palate.


How do they do this? Seriously. The whisky's age is in the mid-single digits, yet it can do things that single malts from the home country struggle to do at thrice that age. And unlike Kavalan, there's no cask aggression. May I also note that despite the piles of fruit I mention above, the whisky is never sugary. It's just essence upon essence. Meanwhile there are enough minerals and soil to give it grand weight and dimension. It's flabbergasting.

Availability - It's around
Pricing - $300 when it first came out, now it's being slung for $600-$800
Rating - 91

Chichibu The Peated (2016 edition)

Distillery: Chichibu #1
Ownership: Venture Whisky
Type: single malt
Location: Saitama Prefecture, Japan
Age: 3-4 years (2012-2016)
Maturation: ???
Bottling year: 2016
Outturn: 6350 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 54.5%
(from a bottle split)


The fruit is here too, specifically baskets of peaches and apricots in the nose, followed by sandalwood and incense (very mizunara). There seems to be a multitude of peated things going on: smoked seaweed, smoked fish, cured meat and burning hay. Diluting the whisky to 46%abv brings out more farm, incense and smoked seaweed, with the stone fruits moving into the background.

The palate runs sweeter and sootier than I'd expected, but remains balanced with stone fruit skins. A bitter peach pit, cherry popsicles. Smoked cloves (if that's a thing) and flower blossoms. The palate remains smokier than the nose when the whisky is diluted to 46%abv. Plumes of dark sooty stuff, herbal bitterness, black pepper and a hint of peaches.

It finishes with wood smoke, minerals, stone fruits and sugar cookies. There's also something like a clove, cinnamon and cardamom-laden chutney going on. Reducing it to 46%abv turns it almost monolithic, a slab of stone, smoke and bitter herbs.


It's difficult to get one's head around the fact that this is 3-4 years old. When neat, the whisky makes me think of teenage pre-LVMH Ardbeg. When diluted it's more like the better batches of early-LVMH Ardbeg Ten. I can only continue to guess at how they whip up barely legal whisky like this. Is it the spirit? Saitama has warmer weather than Scotland, but not the heavy sweat of Bangalore or Taipei, so perhaps the climate is Goldilocks-style just right, just like the whisky.

Availability - Very scarce
Pricing - $500-$600
Rating - 88


With single malts that any of the world's distilleries would be jealous to possess, Chichibu may represent Japanese whisky's future, quality-wise, I also wish for something priced below $200. For now it remains tremendous whisky at massive prices. With Chichibu #2's production beginning last year, supply will soon increase, so perhaps we're allowed a glimmer of hope.

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