Chichibu

Chichibu is a small whisky distillery in Japan. It was the first to be built in the country since the 1970s. Founder Ichiro Akuto came from a long family line of sake brewers dating back to the 17th century. His grandfather established Hanyu distillery in 1945. The first Chichibu whiskies were launched in 2011.

Chichibu distillery with mountains in the background covered in white snow in winter
Chichibu distillery

style

The distillery produces a sweet, fruity spirit that varies in character depending on the casks used to mature it. Ex-Bourbon casks give vanilla notes while sherry casks add a dried fruits character. Japanese Mizunara oak gives notes of sandalwood and coconut.

Around 25% of the distillery’s output is peated which gives certain expressions a smoky character.

Collection of various fruits
Grey smoke in front of a white background
Barley grains
Heads of wheat

production

Ichiro Akuto believes in creating as natural a product as possible. His whisky is bottled at natural colour and is non-chill filtered so as to leave all the natural oils intact.

The distillery has eight small washbacks made from Japanese oak. These are used to ferment the wash over four days. The oak helps to promote fruity flavours in the wash.

There are two pear-shaped pot stills. Each still has a downward-facing lyne pipe that allows weightier flavour compounds to be captured by the distiller

Chichibu has five dunnage warehouses on site. These stone buildings have an earthen floor and low, slated roofs. Casks are stored in rows three or four high. The warehouses keep an even temperature throughout the year, encouraging the slow but steady ageing of the spirit.

A diverse array of casks are used. Bourbon barrels and sherry casks are common alongside wine, port, Tequila and grappa casks. French oak and Japanese Mizunara oak are also used.

Every year Chichibu distillery staff travel to the UK to study the latest techniques in brewing and distilling. They return to Japan ready to use their new-found knowledge in the creation of their own whisky.


history

Ichiro Akuto’s family were brewing sake in the town of Chichibu as far back as 1625. In 1945 his grandfather founded Hanyu distillery and by the 1980s he had begun producing whisky.

In the 1990s Japan endured a dramatic economic collapse that became known as the “Lost Decade”. As a result, Hanyu distillery was forced to close in 2001.

After graduating from Tokyo University of Agriculture, Ichiro took a marketing job at Suntory. Not one to miss an opportunity however, he snapped up all 400 casks of remaining Hanyu whisky.

In 2004 Ichiro launched his own company Venture Whisky Ltd and began bottling from his old stocks of Hanyu. All the while he was gaining experience elsewhere with time spent at Karuizawa and a year working at Benriach distillery in Scotland.

Two onion-shaped copper pot stills in Chichibu still house
Chichibu still house

By 2007 he was ready to go one step further and founded Chichibu. Pot Stills and other equipment were imported from Scotland and distilling commenced in March of 2008.

Ichiro has released a diverse range of whiskies to date. Malt & Grain is a blend of malt and grain whiskies. The Mizunara Wood Reserve is a blended malt that includes spirit matured in a rare Mizunara oak cask. The Wine Wood Reserve was aged in French Oak and Double Distilleries features a unique blend of whiskies from both Chichibu and Hanyu. His On The Way series gave whisky drinkers an annual update on the progress of the Chichibu malt as it matured. The final edition was released in 2019 to be followed in November of 2020 by The First Ten.

Ichiro’s single malt has won countless awards over the years and become extremely popular with whisky drinkers all over the world. So much so, new releases often sell out within hours of becoming available.