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Chichibu distillery is located in the town of Chichibu, close to the city of Saitama and about 120 kilometres to the northwest of Tokyo. Ichiro Akuto, the distillery’s charismatic founder, started construction planning in 2007, and after completing the distillery, a bottling plant and a warehouse he began distilling in the spring of 2008. The distillery equipment was made in and imported from Scotland, with the exception of the mash tun that was purchased from a local brewery. Ichiro Akuto’s long-term plan is to eventually grow, malt and peat his own barley but at present the barley is imported from England as well as from Germany, and the peat is brought in from Scotland. This particular expression was distilled in 2009 and bottled in 2013 from first-fill Bourbon cask #422 for Tokyo International Bar Show (TIBS)/Whisky Live Tokyo 2013.
The nose starts with a big, initial alcohol burn – you can tell that this one will take time and water to open up; without either of the two I did not get much else on the nose. After letting it breathe and adding water the alcohol is greatly subdued, and now flavours such as fudge, lemon pie and mint come to the fore. Still, there remains an austere element to this nose, reminiscent of cardboard and sawdust, only to be punctuated from time to time by a rich maltiness.
The palate is fiercely hot, spicy and dry, probably one of the hottest palates in my whisky tasting experience. Phew! Even adding water does not bring down the spiciness to a manageable level, and the overall experience remains hot and spicy. However, with water new flavours do develop, and I detected lemon, sawdust (as on the nose), as well as hints of nutmeg.
The finish is of medium length and very dry. Flavours of white pepper, lemon and – again – cardboard round this off.
This was a challenging example of Chichibu that I was able to take on thanks to a sample provided by my whisky mate Clint A. While I do concede that by letting it breathe and adding water this single malt did develop a character of its own, overall this was too much on the hot and cardboardy side for me to be able to really enjoy it. I have had more easily accessible and more enjoyable Chichibu’s in the past. This one was a bit too extreme for my taste.