The man, the myth, the legend… we have it, a bottle from Ichiro’s Malt.
As we’ve previously explored, we’ve dived a great deal into how Japanese whiskies have become a force to be reckoned with, which is incredible given how whiskies originated from Scotland, pretty much the other side of the world.
And what is even more interesting is that even within the sub-galaxy of Japanese whiskies, there’s even its own David and Goliath. On the right corner, you have the 900-pound gorilla, Suntory and Nikka, and on the left you have the brave upstart, Chichibu, led by its maverick founder Ichiro Akuto.
You can read all about his adventures here.
This bottle belongs to one of Ichiro's earlier releases, the Leaf Series, and is titled "Double Distilleries", the two distilleries being Hanyu and Chichibu. It is a blend of younger Chichibu malts and older Hanyu malts that were salvaged when Hanyu was shuttered in 2000.
Distillery: Chichibu and Hanyu
Brand: Ichiro's Malt
Region: Saitama, Japan
Status: Active (Chichibu) / Closed (Hanyu)
Distributor: Original Bottling (OB)
Classification: Malt Whisky
Style: Blended Malt
Cask: Sherry, Puncheon and Mizunara
Behind the Label
And we thought what better a way to learn about this shining star, than to go right to the heart of where it all started: Ichiro starting his very own distillery in order to save his grandfather’s mothballed distillery, Hanyu.
Chichibu is a city in the Saitama prefecture, that enjoys an enviable temperate four seasons, leaving it in beautiful autumn colours for the most of the year. Don't you just wanna move there? Maybe take up a job at the Chichibu Distillery! (Image Source: Live Japan)
As we learnt, in the early days, all Ichiro had was salvaged Hanyu whiskies from his grandfather, that were actually about to be poured away as they were deemed worthless during Japan’s economic recession. He soon learnt how to make his own whisky, which would later be named Chichibu, after the city it is located in.
This spurned one of the first series that his new label, “Ichiro’s Malt”, would distribute, the “Leaf Series”.
The Leaf series is so named after its distinctive leaf-shaped labels. (Image Source: Dekanta)
The Leaf Series contains 4 bottles, we have 1. Double Distilleries (made of Hanyu and Chichibu whiskies), 2. Mizunara Wood Reserve (Whiskies finished in Japanese Oak), 3. Wine Wood Reserve (Whiskies finished in a Wine barrels), and 4. World Blended Whisky (A blend of whiskies sourced globally).
We thought it’d be apt to start right at the source and so we’ll be sipping some of that Double Distilleries goodness today.
Colour is maple syrup gold if my eyes don’t deceive me.
On the nose. Very sweet! A floral, vanillic sweetness that is a mix of lavender, honey, honeysuckle and ixoras. There’s a maltiness to it as well, much like lavender early grey cookies. The aromas are very strong, almost like what you would expect with bourbon except without the spicy edges.
A really rich and delicately floral nose starts us off. We're not complaining! (Image Source: Alyse's Gut Cooking)
This takes several whiffs to fully appreciate, so I’d recommend nosing it several times, letting it air for a little and swirl before nosing again.
On second nosing, I get fruitier notes, though these are alittle deeper and more in the backdrop, apples, peaches, nectarines, still very sweet. And then some woody oak which blends into the distinctive sandalwood that Japanese Oak is famous for, that agarwood incense that you find at temples.
A rich woody aromatic agarwood scent wafts in and out, but definitely noticeable, giving the nose a great deal of complexity. (Image Source: Penn & Beech Candle Co)
Onto the palate. Fairly light bodied which is surprising given the nose, which would have led me to think it might have been syrupy. A nice surprise indeed! It’s definitely spicy and tingly upfront so you might have to make a conscious effort to let it cool down on the palate before finishing it.
It could be the crispness of freshly cut grass and the floral high notes that somehow reminds me of The Sound of Music. I'm definitely not drunk (yet) I assure you. (Image Source: Variety)
Similar to the nose, you can taste the corresponding honey sweetness and bright fruity notes, freshly cut apples, apricots, peaches. Very crisp and succulent. Somehow this takes me to that scene of The Sound of Music in the midst of the valleys. This feels very clean and bright like a day on Swiss Alps.
A harvest of sweet stone fruits buoy this malt in a sweet fruit cocktail. (Image Source: Produce Report)
There’s also a very gentle maltiness that is just noticeable. Butter biscuits. Would almost seem like this whisky would somehow go well with some Ceylon black tea. This maltiness should come from Chichibu I would imagine, since the Hanyu in it is likely much older. This is combined with the oakiness you also get on the nose. It also reminds me of Tim Tams or maybe Arnott’s cookies, the one with chocolate on just the top y’know?
Overall very consistent from nose to palate.
This cherished childhood memory is certainly brought to mind as well.
The finish. Interesting, there is that same honeyed sweetness that follows through (come to think of it, it reminds me of Honey Stars, the cereal), but there is a slight bitter note. Almost like an extension of the oakiness from the palate. It’s fairly faint, but I would think this is the result of the Mizunara used on the Chichibu component, which is something only age can mellow out. Given that the Chichibu component is fairly young, this is somewhat a reminder of the Chichibu’s presence.
There are some baking spices as well, light dusting of nutmeg, icing sugar, cinnamon, but very light. The finish does go on for awhile.
Some Tim Tams and Arnott's are in order as well.
I do like it, actually sometimes I find that it is incredible that this series has been available for so long. I do imagine the amount of Hanyu in it decreases with each batch. But still, there is a sense of reverence almost that this was amongst the first whiskies produced by Ichiro, a blend of his and his grandfather’s whiskies.
The man, the myth, the legend, Ichiro Akuto. (Image Source: Dekanta)
The honey sweetness is very comforting and accessible, it’s a great gateway into whiskies, it certainly isn’t harsh by any standards, and the floral and fruity notes are bright and almost cheerful. These are all notes that would almost seem to fit in with a hotel breakfast, brunch of just an afternoon set of tea and cakes.
Black tea and biscuits give us the right amount of maltiness and tannins that we find in this dram. (Image Source: The Independent)
The oakiness is maybe the harshest of the notes in this bottle, with a slight twang of bitterness that surfaces as the whisky recedes. But it is one that adds some contrast to the sweetness, which would otherwise become somewhat one dimensional.
This whisky is great for those starting out in their whisky journey, I think those who like pastries, chocolate croissants, freshly cut flowers, and tea and scones would vibe with this.
This was just lovely, I'm always appreciative we got our hands on these cos they won't be around for long, with Hanyu stocks running out. It gets a honey pot from me cos its sweet and that is also what I exclaimed when I got my hands on one.
And while you’re sipping it, spare a second to think about the history in this dram. It’s pretty incredible.