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Whisky Reviews

Chichibu, The First Ten, 10 Year Old, 50.5% ABV

In the world of business, there’s often a sort of dichotomy of personalities – you’re either a product person or a people’s person. That is to say, you’re either typically the mad scientist cooking up the product in the lab or you’re the person who handles front of house, dealing with customers, marketing, and everything that goes into running the business. You could have a great product, but without the right platform, it’d fall on its face, vice versa, you could be great at speaking to the world about your business, but with no product to show for it, you’d lose interest pretty fast.

Then you have Ichiro Akuto.

 

Ichiro Akuto Archives - PUNCH

Ichiro Akuto - bonafide marketing champ. (Image Source: PUNCH)

 

I’ve talked at length about the man and how he got Chichibu Distillery onto the world’s map, and just simply teaching the world why Japanese craft whiskies matter again. And now, that isn’t a small feat, getting everyone to care. You ever tried telling a story at family dinner? You know how hard it is.

He not only figured how to make a great bottle of whisky, maybe not at today’s prices but that’s of no fault of his, but he also figured out not just how to grab everyone’s attention, but perhaps more understatedly, how to keep the distillery alive. While not much is discussed about that aspect, it is one of the great hurdles whisky producers face – having to wait at least 3 years to not just comply with whisky regulations but to simply put out a veritable product worth the market’s attention.

Of course, as of late, things have gotten so out of hand that even new makes (alcohol fresh out of the distillation stills) or sometimes affectionately named newborns are going for the same price of a full bottle of whisky itself. Yet, distilleries do what they have to do to tide over those 3-4 years before they have something to show for it – they sell new makes/newborns, make gin or vodka at the same time. It’s a tough business, they’ll tell you.

 

Chichibu 2011 Malt Dream Cask #1535 / TMC | Whisky Auctioneer

A simple yet highly effective tactic, Chichibu used private casks to help keep things running in its early days, getting paid in advance for yet-to-be-ready whiskies. (Image Source: Whisky Auctioneer)

  

Chichibu Distillery never really did any of that, for the most part because Ichiro had wanted to focus squarely on making great whisky. While that means a lot to us, unfortunately it carries little suasion with the utilities companies that supplies electricity and water to the set up.

So how’d he finesse that? He popularized the selling of private casks, which were casks sold to private buyers who could redeem them and bottle them for their own consumption or sale when they matured, in a way it was sort of like an advance on the payment. Chichibu named some of these Malt Dream Casks, or MDCs for short. Of course, convincing folks back then to pay for something they wouldn’t see or taste for the next 5-7 years was itself a feat, brilliant no less.

This ironically turned out to be great marketing as well. Amongst many of the buyers of the private casks were esteemed bars, established shopping malls, major airport duty free retailers, all of which served to help Chichibu gain much needed exposure. I’m not certain if this was intentional but it certainly paid off in spades.

And yet, as a result, Chichibu never really had the chance to bottle many of its own whiskies for sale under its own banner. The good stuff, because production was small given how small the distillery was, was basically all sold off to keep the lights running. Again, I’m not certain what Ichiro made of this, but I imagine a tinge of bittersweetness that the fruits of his labor were always going off to someone else.

 

  

Hence, when the Chichibu First Ten expression was announced in late 2020, it was truly something worth celebrating about. Not simply that the little engine that could had reached such a milestone, but perhaps more importantly, that it would triumphantly be bottled under its own banner – Ichiro’s Malt Chichibu Single Malt Japanese Whisky.

So there we have it, let’s get to tasting.

 

Chichibu, The First Ten, 10 Year Old, 50.5% ABV – Review

 

Color: Deep Amber-Gold

 

Crisp spring time notes - pine cones and green apples. Zesty lemon skins and a more coastal salinity and chalkiness, with a wisp of incense.

 

On the nose: There’s an immediate freshness of pine cones, crisp spring air, green apple skins, all very brisk. This gets more citrusy with lemon zest and also slight minerality, almost lightly coastal. The characteristic sandalwood and incense notes show up as well, before it gets richer with notes of butter, sunflower oil, pound cake, with light white florals. There’s also gentle but slightly malty note of barley grist.

 

Gets oilier and buttery - pound cake, fragrant white florals and a maltier barley grist.

 

On the palate: Full bodied, oily, buttery, also very spicy – think bird’s eye chilli or freshly chopped ginger. This really packs in the heat. It takes awhile to acclimatize but as it happens, red apples show up, white florals, cardamom, very fresh and vibrant. There’s light touches of sea salt, black pepper, pine, and black tea.

 

Ooh the spicy chillis and ginger! More red apples, cardamom spice and white florals, then crisper sea salt and more tannic black tea.

  

The finish: Long, the heat gives an almost spearmint-induced refreshing sensation, light flecks of apples and butter, with more sea salt, black pepper and pine.

  

Refreshing spearmint takes it away, light bits of apples, cracked black pepper and more pine.

 

My Take

It’s always been a conflicting process putting together what Chichibu’s house style is, not only are they highly dispersed, without a core line, but the distillery has played with quite the variety of cask styles – IPA, Imperial Stout, Port Pipes, and the like, making it quite difficult to pin down. Yet at the same time, if you’ve tried one, you can quite quickly point out the spiciness, the apples, the sandalwood, as somewhat atypical. The heat Chichibu’s pack is truly quite striking. That leaves me to conclude that each iteration has just been varying intensities of different classic notes – some more spicy that the next, some with more pronounced apples, others heavier on the sandalwood.

 

My Rating

🏗

Getting there! This was textbook Chichibu - getting all the flavors right to a T, demonstrating great balance. But it's still very much on its way. 

 

I’d say that this expression deliver the characteristic notes in perhaps the most balanced version I’ve tasted so far. A real benchmark Chichibu. That said, I’ve come to enjoy those matured in its other cask styles more, giving the classic Chichibu profile an added boost of sweetness that is I’ve always found quite missing from Chichibu’s whiskies. Nonetheless this is highly befitting of its First Ten. Congratulations! I look forward to the day Chichibu has its own core lineup!

 

 

Kanpai!

 

@111hotpot