Monday, January 20, 2014

Ichiro's Malt Chichibu The Peated 2013

Distilled: 2010 - Bottle: 2451 - Outturn: 6700 - ABV: 53.5% - PPM: 59.6

Nose: Really clean earthy peat, drums of reaped barley/grist, ashy oak, wood chips, grease guns, brine, fresh licorice, and farmyard/sheep shed like qualities: shorn wool. Then, there's wheat biscuits and a pleasant malty milky aroma. From here PVC (blow-up toys) was present along with heavy, unforgettable aromas of a Japanese medicine called Seirogan (check here). Past all the above attributes lovely light fruits emerge at intervals: lemon and berry like qualities. With water sweet peat (smoked honey).

Taste: Elegant earthy peat, coal smoke, spicy black olives, smoked bacon cubes, a tad salty, rich wheat biscuits, herbs, and eucalyptus. Water allows brine, smoke, and cigar leaf to interact before moving on to the unforgettable taste of Seirogan. Water mellows the creosote like qualities and builds up the spice, natural earthy peat, cigar leaf, and adds Dutch licorice and again smoked honey?

Finish: Fresh herbal licorice and smoked bacon cubes, salt and pepper, eucalyptus candy. Evident Seirogan (unfortunately only those who have actually digested this will associate the comparison), mouth clinging ashy oak, and cigar leaf. Peated grapefruit sprinkled with brown sugar when diluted. Long and warm.

Comment: Your taste buds beg for more. Very well balanced and complex for its age. As soon as I can afford it I'm going to march down to the shops and get another bottle. I'd love to compare this to a much older version of 'The Peated' in years to come. Although The Peated 2012 bottling (here) was exceptional, if I had to choose my personal favourite it would be the second release.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Q&A with Chichibu's Yumi Yoshikawa

Yumi Yoshikawa is one of the most recent workers to join the team at the Chichibu distillery in Saitama. Her role at the distillery, which began in June 2013, is quite demanding. Yoshikawa-san is tasked to help provide promotion and visibility to the Chichibu brand through various international and domestic trips developing Chichibu’s portfolio of malts and blends. Before joining Akuto-san and his team Yumi did a 2 year stint at The Highlander Inn (June 2011 to May 2013), an establishment in Speyside that virtually needs no introduction. Coming up to Yumi’s 7th month at the craft distillery, Whiskies R Us gets the opportunity to chat with the ex-Highlander Inn member and ask a few questions.

Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do at the Chichibu distillery?

Yumi: I’m now working as the brand ambassador for the distillery as well as a distillery guide for visitors - although we are not officially open to the public we have special guest visitors regularly. I’ve just started this job so I haven’t got used to it, but little by little I’m gaining unique experiences such as the involvement in “floor malting”, so I’m hoping these experiences allow me to be an ambassador with originality - like our whisky.

What’s your favourite thing about your position?

Yumi: I’ll have a lot of business trips coming up around the world and in Japan so I’ll be able to meet many people. I’m really looking forward to it; it’s quite a special thing for me.

What makes the Chichibu brand special and unique?

Yumi: We started making whisky from 2008 so we don’t have a long history yet, naturally we cannot release a standard 12-year old or 20-year old. However, being a young distillery people can follow our making history and enjoy the road to the future with us. I think that’s a very unique experience in the whisky industry.

What’s it like working at the distillery?

Yumi: Working at the distillery is like standing in the middle of the whisky industry’s stream. Everyday feels like opening a box of candy like I did when I was little, I mean, everyday is filled with excitement not knowing what will happen next.

What are your thoughts on the future of Japanese whisky in Japan?

Yumi: Now, the reputation of Japanese whisky is growing little by little, and it will continue to do so as with Japanese cuisine. Therefore, I think right now it’s very important to build our brand (not only Chichibu but all whisky brands in Japan) with reliable quality.

Many have heard that your goal is to one day open your own distillery in Japan. What influenced you to work in the industry and for this future goal?

Yumi: Actually, when I first visited the Chichibu distillery as a guest in 2008, Ichiro-san told me that he would like to make the Chichibu area have a similar feel to that of Speyside in Scotland. So, I said to Ichiro-san: “if I start making whisky in Chichibu in the future, that’s one step closer to realizing this dream”. Of course, having a distillery and making my own whisky would be great, but right now my goals are to promote our products and tell the world about the Chichibu distillery and its workers. Moreover, it would be great to educate people all over the world about Japanese whisky, which would be good for the Japanese whisky industry. I hope to be able to leave something good for the future generation who will work in the industry someday.

Has Akuto-san become your mentor, and were there any other mentors while living and working in Scotland?

Yumi: Yes, of course! Akuto-san is a very good mentor as a distiller and I respect him for what he does and who he is. His journey to chase his dreams and follow his passion always fascinates me. As for other mentors, I can say that would be Tatsuya who used to work at The Highlander Inn and who is now a brand ambassador for Suntory. He is a great barman and has a great amount of knowledge about whisky, but he’s not only that: his strong spirit and lovely character has opened up new fields in the whisky industry. Moreover, I think every single bar customer and friend I have met are my mentors. While living in Scotland, I witnessed many interesting stories of people’s lives from around the world everyday that fascinated me. These are living memories.

What would you consider being one of your most important learning experiences in the whisky industry, and what is your perfect whisky encounter now?

Yumi: Working at The Highlander Inn and meeting many people from around the world, and working as a team at the Chichibu distillery.

Let's get personal: what’s your favourite Japanese whisky in general, followed by your favourite Ichiro’s Malt expression?

Yumi: My favourite Japanese whisky…difficult question! I would like to say the Yamazaki 50yo but that’s not fair. I can say I’m very comfortable with Hakushu, even with or without age statements or vintages. From Ichiro’s Malt, I really like our single malt expressions from the Chichibu distillery such as ‘Chibidaru’ and ‘On The Way’ a lot. These expressions show the true potential of the distillery even though they were only matured for a few years. In addition, from Ichiro’s Choice, I like the Kawazaki grain vintages very much.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Ichiro's Malt The Game 5th Edition for Shinanoya: Hanyu 2000/2013 Mizunara Finish

Cask# 1302 - Bottle No. 252/299 - ABV: 59.5%

Nose: Lovely, full of complexity. Not necessarily in order but my nose was seduced with sandalwood shavings, rich pot-pourri, jasmine tea, and aromatic wood fragrances. Past the Mizunara influence things begin to change with gingerbread, spiced cinnamon rolls, musk candy, and lavender cookies. For me it didn’t stop here! Continuing on with hints of eucalyptus and perhaps rocky road (mellow marshmallow/raspberry), creaming soda, and at times a note similar to that of white wine? Then, grist, yeast, and sweet potato cake aromas. A few drops of water unexpectedly added a mellow banana liqueur and hints of star anise. Soft tree fruits.

Taste: Sandalwood, cinnamon bark, aromatic wood spice, wood varnish, leather, and fresh spicy ginger syrup. Charismatic malt with grilled ginkgo seeds sprinkled with Sansho pepper and soft tree fruits. Water truly expresses the Mizunara influence, well…what I consider to be associated with Mizunara: oriental spice and again aromatic wood, sandalwood chips, followed by fresh pickled ginger.

Finish: Certainly clings to your tongue in a rewarding way. Naturally aromatic wood is there: creamy sandalwood and spicy oak. Moderate to long with pickled ginger, ginkgo seeds, leather, and Sansho pepper still in play before ending in slight menthol/eucalyptus mocha.

Comment: Persevere and let this sit for a length of time and it becomes quite silky in a way. A truly exceptional Hanyu, which I adore though, if it must be said, regardless of it being from a closed distillery and the series having equally cult status, perhaps some may not agree with the premium RRP price that was set. If I’m not mistaken the 5th edition is the most expensive to date? Perhaps many would argue it is a small price to pay for liquid history? I think I will completely finish my bottle before I consider the former or the later. Right now I’m enjoying it too much to think anything else.

Note: Naturally, like you all do with your whiskies, I didn’t assess the first or even the second dram. Like all my reviews the above notes came from the 3rd and 4th review combined. Of course there were consistent components all the way, but for a true understanding of this malt really get behind it.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Dominic Roskrow Takes a Look at Japanese Whisky

Dominic Roskrow has written an interesting article about Japanese whisky for Drinks International. The 3 page feature written by the renowned whisky and spirits writer looks at the continuing popularity of Japanese whisky, and the enduring status it has gained globally. While the article delves into people's thirst for Karuizawa and Chichibu with commentary from Marcin Miller, it also presents some interesting figures and foresights into the future of Japanese whisky. For an enjoyable read take a look here.

Logo kindly borrowed from Drinks International