Chichibu Distillery is Japan’s newest distillery established in Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture, around 100km north-west of Tokyo. Opened in 2008 by Ichiro Akuto, Chichibu Distillery produces the Ichiro’s Malt range and its acclaimed ‘card’ series of whiskies. The environment in the area is hot and humid in the summer but extremely cold in the winter with the temperature dropping to below zero in the evenings and early morning. Such an extreme environment is said to have an enormous influence on the aging of whisky, and because of that, Chichibu Distillery’s whiskies are fruity and well-balanced despite their short aging periods.
The Akuto family has a long history of producing quality distillations, with a legacy of sake production dating back 21 generations to the 17th century. Ichiro’s grandfather founded the Hanyu Distillery near the border of Gunma Prefecture which operated from 1946 until its closure in 2000.
Determined to continue the family tradition, Ichiro Akuto purchased the last remaining 400 casks from the Hanyu distillery. While setting up operations at the new Chichibu Distillery, Akuto began bottling the salvaged Hanyu whisky in limited batches and labelling each new release with the name of a playing card. The 52-part Ichiro’s Malt ‘card series’ has become a highly collectable Japanese whisky range.
The remaining whisky from the Hanyu distillery also features in the Ichiro’s Malt range of blended whiskies. This product range includes blends featuring whisky from the Chichibu distillery matured in Japanese oak casks; Sherry matured whisky from the Hanyu Distillery; as well as “a worldwide blended whiskies.” Worldwide blends such as Ichiro’s Malt & Grain Whisky feature both malt and grain whisky from Japan as well as whiskies from distilleries in Scotland, England, Ireland, the United States and Canada.
As blending whisky from other sources is rare in Japanese whisky, the products produced at Chichibu Distillery may be regarded as is a great example of innovation is Japanese whisky at an affordable price point.