Japanese niche whisky brand with remarkable origins and a uniquely alternative approach to whisky making and marketing.
The story of Ichiro's Malt began with the audacious and decisive efforts of their founder, Mr. Ichiro Akuto, in his attempt to rescue the remaining stocks of his father's and his grandfather's Hanyu distillery - way back in 2004. After 20 years of unprofitable whisky-making in Japan, Hanyu distillery stopped production just a few years before the unexpected global whisky boom. Mr. Akuto was working at Suntory at the time, but decided to leave the company in order to set up his own whisky company, called Venture Whisky.
Through his relentless efforts, the Hanyu casks were saved. The whisky would subsequently be released under the Ichiro's Malt label, to very favourable receptions around the world, thanks to Mr. Akuto’s unique flair for marketing his products from a niche position in a market dominated by Suntory and Nikka. The outstanding success of Mr. Akuto's efforts contributed greatly to the future opening of his own Chichibu distillery in 2008. In the following years, the fortunes of Ichiro's Malt were further aided by the unexpected explosion of interest in the Japanese whisky category as a whole. Even Mr. Akuto himself never anticipated the sudden rise in popularity of Japanese whisky, nor the high level of competitiveness of his whiskies on the global whisky market.
To echo his success with Hanyu, Mr. Akuto approached whisky-making at the new Chichibu distillery with a truly alternative, almost niche style. Unlike the prevalent traditional styles of the two major producers - Suntory and Nikka - Chichibu tries to make whisky that is not necessarily gentle, smooth, and "mainstream". Instead, to distinguish themselves from the established producers, they made good use of their particular terroir in the natural environment of Chichibu. In Chichibu, whisky maturation is greatly influenced by the nature of the place. The summers in Chichibu can be extremely hot, and the winters extremely cold. The acute temperature variations greatly accelerate and deepen the maturation effects of the wood. The whisky is able to attain and very rich, powerful and complex flavour within a space of typically 3 to 5 years.
The distilling operation at Chichibu is also more labour intensive and manual than at many other distilleries. Mr. Akuto and his small team of willing youngsters are involved at every stage and they do not rely on technology as much. The mash is stirred manually before the used grains are drained away. The spirit is tasted from every batch before any of it is saved for whisky making. Bottling and labelling are done in a corner of the distillery by hand instead of machinery. If you look at the capsule of a bottle of Chichibu whisky, you will notice the unusual wrinkly folds, which are a natural occurance from when everything is done by hand by a dedicated and passionate team of whisky makers. Chichibu is truly a small-batch craft distillery in every sense of the word.
As for the overall style, it would be safe to say that at the moment, Mr. Akuto does not have a definite house style in mind, preferring to stay open to trying new things and continuing to deliver the very best single malt whisky to Ichiro’s Malt fans in the future. We eagerly look forward to seeing what the future brings us from Mr. Akuto and team.