Age: No age statement
The SunGrain Chita distillery is – what’s in a name? – a grain whisky distillery owned by Japanese drinks giant Suntory. Since 1972, Chita has produced the raw materials for Suntory blends such as Hibiki and Kakubin. With the current shortage of Japanese malt whisky though, Chita has taken on a more prominent role. Over the past decade, sales of Japanese whisky have skyrocketed. With stocks of aged malt dwindling quickly, distillers have been unable to keep up with the sudden spike in demand. Much like in Scotland, Japanese whisky has therefore seen a shift to NAS (No Age Statement) bottlings, but single grain has also entered the scene to fill the gap in supply. Nikka Coffey Grain was the first example of this, and The Chita followed quickly as Suntory’s answer.
Chita is also known as the Silent Distillery, since it is not open to the public. And this is for a good reason, since the distillery is anything but scenic (or silent for that matter). A huge industrial behemoth belching out steam and smoke, it’s no wonder that Suntory prefers to show pictures of the surrounding countryside on its website. Chita uses corn as the raw material of choice for their continuous column stills. However, where most grain distilleries have two columns, Chita has four, using them in different combinations: a heavy spirit using two stills, a medium using three columns, and a clean spirit using all four. All three of these spirit types are used in The Chita, giving it a softer, lighter character than most single grain whiskies. There are no maturation facilities onsite, with the ageing process taking place at Hakushu distillery instead. And for this Suntory has managed to rustle up some interesting oak, with a combination of bourbon, sherry and wine casks being used. The result is quite an unusual whisky that’s well worth trying out.
While I’ll never quite get used to the screw cap found on most Japanese bottlings, the rest of The Chita’s packaging is pretty stylish. So let’s relax and make it a Suntory time (sorry I just couldn’t help myself…)
Colour: Pale gold
Nose: A rush of vanilla overwhelms the senses at first. Once this subsides, there are fruity aromas of bananas and ripe plums. There’s a distinct sweetness throughout, with scents of maple syrup giving way to cornbread. On the nose at least, The Chita is a typical grain whisky with almost bourbon-like qualities.
Palate: Fresh, lively, yet pleasantly smooth. Flavours of crème caramel and vanilla custard balance delicately with The Chita’s fruity profile. This gives way to bitter flavours of charred oak with just a dash of spice.
Finish: Sharp but short, with a brief explosion of dried fruit, pepper and nutmeg.
Verdict: Leave it up to the Japanese to create something so subtle, with an almost fragile balance. The Chita may be a delicate whisky, but it has so much character. I’ve quite enjoyed the interplay between the classic grain whisky profile and the fruity flavours from the sherry and wine casks. While the grain makes The Chita quite a crisp, cheerful dram, the different types of wood give it a certain elegance. The result is a very intriguing bottling from Suntory. I snapped up The Chita at the airport with quite some discount. I’m not sure I’d buy it again at full price, but it’s been nice to make acquaintance with this whisky.