Hanyu

Hanyu was a Japanese single malt brand and distillery that closed down at the turn of the century. With only 17 years of production between 1983 and 2000. This has made Hanyu one of the rarest, most coveted and collectible Japanese whiskies across international spirits auctions. Now over twenty years later one of Japan's most fabled distilleries is being reborn and will soon be back on the world whisky map.

Four bright pink cherry blossoms blooming among other buds during spring
Cherry blossoms (sakura). Japan's national flower.

style

The aim at Hanyu was to produce a similar style to Speyside whisky from Scotland. Hanyu whiskies are said to have multifaceted and cask driven flavours. Releases are rare but have been described as soft, sweet and gentle with subtle green apple and a slight waxy and oily feel.

A green apple
Small bowl of olive oil surrounded by olive
Honey running down honeycomb
A bright oak cask

production

Very little information exists about the production at Hanyu as there were less than two decades of single malt distillation. There were two copper pot stills - one wash still and one spirit still.


history

Hanyu distillery was founded in the year of 1941 by the Tao Shuzo company. It was located in the city of Hanyu to the northwest of Tokyo. Tao Shuzo was headed by Isouji Akuto, the 19th generation from the Akuto family to be involved in distillation. The family had produced sake since the 1600s in the town of Chichibu.

A spring running through a little town surrounded by trees turning yellow in Japan
Picturesque scenery of Japan in autumn

However, the distillery did not produce single malt whisky until 1980. This decision was made due to the popularity of Scotch whisky in Japan at the time. The first release, named as Chichibu to honour the tradition of the family business, appeared in 1990. Production stopped in 2000 due to difficult commercial conditions. Hanyu was finally closed and dismantled in 2004.

Upon the closure Ichiro Akuto, Isouji's grandson, purchased much of the maturing stock that remained of Hanyu whisky, believed to be around 400 casks. He has bottled a series of these as Ichiro's Malt or Hanyu. These have gained a cult following and have become highly sought after, collectible and expensive. The most well-known is the Cards Series. This has seen 54 vintage bottlings in total with each named after a different playing card. All were released between 2005 and 2014.

Ichiro planned a new distillery in 2004 to continue his family's distilling legacy back in the original location of Chichibu. This was built in 2007 and was funded by initial sales of the Cards Series. Production began in 2008.  However, the small scale production struggled to keep up with demand. Therefore, the distillery was joined by the larger Chichibu #2 in 2019. This is located close to Chichibu #1.

Now, Tao Shuzo is rebuilding the Hanyu distillery close to the old site. The stills are being constructed as exact replicas of the originals with the aim to produce a similar style as before. The new Hanyu is scheduled to open in late 2021.