Learn about the Chichibu Distillery
The Chichibu distillery is small, with only nine full-time employees. It is owned by Venture Whisky which was founded in 2004 in Chichibu, Saitama, just outside of Tokyo, hence its name. The distillery, which specializes in single malt whisky, was the first whisky distillery built in Japan since the 1970s and became operational in 2008. It stands on a small hill in the outskirts of Chichibu, a city of medium size with a population of about 70.000.
The climate of Chichibu is excellent for distilling whisky, with hot and humid summers but winters dropping below zero. The extremes in temperature greatly affect the whisky; the maturing period is relatively short while the taste is fruity and well balanced. The company uses water from the famous Arakawa River, an excellent water widely used for brewing. The distillery’s output is around 90.000 litres a year. The equipment used in the distillery was imported from Scotland, as is the peat, while the malt and barley are from England and Germany.
However, saying that the distillery was founded in 2004 isn’t entirely accurate. Ichiro Akuto, the owner, comes from a family that has been brewing in Chichibu since the 1700s. The distillery actually started producing whisky as early as 1946, but production was halted in the year 2000 due to worsening market conditions.
Ichiro had always planned to continue his family’s tradition; however he wanted to get some outside work experience first. Therefore, after graduating from the Tokyo University of Agriculture, he applied for a job at Suntory, hoping to get inside knowledge of their brewing techniques. What he got instead was a job in the marketing department, which proved to be more useful than he anticipated as he learned a trick or two about marketing himself and his company. His timing for opening up his own distillery also proved spot-on, as Japanese whiskies were starting to win international awards.
Ichiro is an ambitious man. He is not interested in being just another whisky maker; he wants to stand out. In order to do so the staff of the Chichibu distillery travels annually to the UK where they study the newest techniques for brewing. When they return they use this newly found knowledge to improve on the company’s whisky. They also constantly experiment, trying out new casks, materials and techniques in order to better their product. Many of the whiskies from the Chichibu distillery are fermented in Japanese oak (“Mizunara”) barrels, a rare and extremely delicate wood which imparts a peculiar taste and aroma.
Evidently this work has paid off: Ichiro’s Malt has won the Golden Award in the UK’s Whisky Magazine. Notable products from the distillery include the Double Distilleries, which is essentially a blend of malts from both the Hanyu and Chichibu distilleries. Then there is the Wine Wood Reserve which, as the name suggests, is fermented in wine wooden barrels and the Mizunara reserve. The distillery has also recently released limited edition single malts like Chichibu The First, Chichibu The Floor and Chichibu The Peated.
Ichiro’s whisky is popular among whisky lovers all around the world. Unlike whiskies from the larger distilleries, it has the look and feel of a small distiller who puts everything he has into each and every bottle.