Producer: Ichiro’s Malt (Venture Whisky)
Age: No age statement
When Akuto Ichiro set up Chichibu distillery in 2008, most people thought he was crazy. Japanese whisky sales were at their lowest level in decades, causing distillers such as Nikka and Suntory to cut production massively. In hindsight though, Ichiro’s timing could not have been better. Although few saw it coming, the popularity of Japanese whisky skyrocketed around half a decade later. While his competitors were struggling to meet demand, Ichiro’s warehouses were full – and he was ready to capitalise on this new whisky boom. What of course helped immensely was the quality of his product.
Ichiro’s Malt is and always has been a craft whisky. Before setting up his distillery, Ichiro visited the likes of Kilchoman, Edradour, and Penderyn amongst others, to get a sense of what small-scale distilling looks like. Then he scaled back further still. With an annual production of just 60.000 litres and all steps of the production process being performed manually, Ichiro’s Malt truly is an artisanal product. To get a sense of the lengths Ichiro will go to in his quest for quality, consider that the washbacks are made of precious Mizunara oak, the mash tuns are stirred by hand, and the stillman decides when to make the cut based on actually tasting the raw spirit. Such painstaking attention to details is unheard of elsewhere in the whisky industry and makes Chichibu distillery a very special place indeed.
Lest we forget, Ichiro’s Wine Wood Reserve also includes some older stock from the now closed Hanyu distillery, which once belonged to Ichiro’s grandfather but was unable to weather the slump in Japanese whisky sales. Take a look at Ichiro’s range (such as it is – there aren’t any permanent bottlings) and you’ll quickly find that he isn’t afraid to experiment with different types of wood. Chichibu distillery employs two full-time coopers, who refurbish the most weird and wonderful casks in preparation for ageing Chichibu spirit. Expect more interesting releases from Ichiro’s Malt soon!
Nose: Wow, this Ichiro almost smells more of wine than whisky, offering aromas of sultanas, dried figs and Christmas cake. There’s a certain sweetness to the nose, with scents of hazelnut and raspberry marmalade. White pepper and star anise lurk underneath, but play second fiddle to the winey, almost sherry-like character on display.
Palate: Oh, incredible! The nose raised certain expectations, but it’s safe to say they are well and truly exceeded here. The texture is luxuriously oily, creamy almost. Raisins once more have the upper hand, but pecans also pack a punch. Chocolate truffles combine with nutty influences, before a few rays of malt are allowed to shine through.
Finish: The flavour intensity continues to build, as the tannins reach a crescendo. Although not overly warming, the aftertaste lingers for a long time, offering maple syrup and toasted European oak.
Verdict: What a treat this is! The Wine Wood Reserve is easily the best Ichiro’s Malt I’ve tried til date. Given the oak it’s been aged in, it might be weird to label this dram a sherry bomb, but that’s the sort of category I would place this Ichiro in. The dry, nutty flavours remind me more of a whisky matured in Oloroso sherry than in a wine cask. Anyway, that’s beside the point. What matters is that the Wine Wood Reserve is an extremely nice whisky: lavishly rich with a silky smooth mouthfeel. Its only flaw perhaps is that the cask is too present and is drowning out the flavours of that wonderful Chichibu malt. But really… that’s nitpicking when the oak is of quality like this. Another superb expression from Akuto Ichiro!