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Whisky Reviews

Chichibu-LMDW Antipodes Collection Quartet (4 Faces of Aki Kuroda) - Virgin Oak, Heavily Peated, Wine Cask, Ex-Peated Cask


It seems that Japanese artists have a habit of making France their home and contributing to the country's rich artistic heritage. Some notable examples include musician Yoko Ono (who happend to be the Beatles’ John Lennon’s partner) and painter Tsuguharu Foujita who was associated with the Art School of Paris


Autoportrait V, Autoportrait VI, Autoportrait VII, Autoportrait VIII by Aki Kuroda 


Therefore, it’s little surprise that the biggest French distributor of whisky, La Maison, felt it would be appropriate to select works of a Japanese-Parisian painter, Aki Kuroda, to adorn the bottles of craft distiller extraordinaire Chichibu in LMDW’s 2022 Antipodes Collection.

Kuroda gained recognition in the 2000s for his use of silhouettes and figures with brushstrokes that resemble a journey through a maze. Kuroda is obsessed with depicting various aspects of a single identity (or various “faces” of a same person). Combining elements of Japanese tradition (such as masks) with modern, expressive elements that approach abstraction, he produced a series of self-portraits in the 2000s painted with powerful and bright eye-catching colours. In these portraits, he sought to reflect a contemporary identity rooted in tradition.


(Image Source: Adagp, Paris)


Just as a single persona could have multiple facets, Chichibu’s 2022 submission to the LMDW Antipodes Collection features a set of 4 cask strength, single cask Chichibu single malt that had been aged in four different cask styles. Kuroda’s art depicting different “faces” of himself was selected by LMDW to adorn each of the bottles in this series.

The Chichibu Antipodes Collection bottlings demonstrate how Chichibu's knowhow and four unique cask styles can produce very different temperaments of the same distillate – with the use of virgin oak, ex-bourbon barrel, Japanese wine cask, and an ex-peated bourbon barrel.

We had a taste of this entire set at Whisky Live Singapore. Let’s get to the review!


Chichibu 8 YO 2013 Virgin Oak (unpeated malt) – 61% ABV

Single Cask #2856 - Virgin Oak Barrel – produced with Concerto barley



Colour: Burnished gold.

Nose: Rich and gradually unfolds. First nose opens with polished oak lacquer, fresh and oily roasted coffee beans and caramel fudge. Left to breathe for a minute, and we get aromatic notes of toasted coconut – the sort we often find in virgin oak whisky – vanilla, and sandalwood, with a just-as-present soft nuttiness of pine nuts. Unsurprisingly, there’s also a bit of sharpness of dried ginger and cloves (as seen in many cask strength bourbon aged Chichibus). Not much fruit present at this moment.



Palate: Bold, powerful and aromatic. Leads on from the nose of caramel and vanilla with more generous notes of toasted coconuts coupled with a minty, woodsy note of rosemary, and a light generic aroma of the florist’s. A decent amount of warmth that builds gently. There’s some bit of orange oil and lemon zest in the background, but not much fruitiness on the whole. The citrus is layered over by dry impressions of aromatic sandalwood, roasted cashews and brazil nuts and dried rose buds and lavender tea.



Finish: long, dry, earthy and aromatic. Some teeth-drying chalkiness. There’s also a scattering of more roasted nuts: now almonds and walnuts and a touch of instant coffee powder, and then a fading warmth of candied ginger.



My thoughts


A mouth-watering whisky that is lively, bold and powerful all at once, with wood spice and vanillin in the forefront. Scotch makers often say that virgin oak (as opposed to ex-bourbon or ex-sherry) must be used judiciously because the onslaught of flavours from new toasted oak can get a little overwhelming. This is why this single cask virgin oak Chichibu might feel a bit hot and astringent at the start. This bottle demonstrates the stunning potential of ripe, toasty notes created by a virgin oak matured Chichibu, but I reckon that skilful blending with other batches of ex-bourbon whisky might give us a more multidimensional whisky.


Chichibu 6 YO 2015 Heavily Peated (peated malt) – 63.9% ABV

Single Cask #4660 - Second Fill Bourbon Barrel – produced with heavily peated Concerto barley



Colour: Golden yellow.

Nose: Smoky, keenly herbaceous and aromatic. The first nose offers a plunge into smoky depths of burnt sage, smoked salmon and peppermint, layered with floral fragrances tinged with IPA-hoppy bitterness, aniseed and musky honeyed facets, and a savoury, herbal note of Chinese salted plum. A bed of dried straw with more aromatic ashiness.



Palate: Fresh and very well integrated with lots of smoke, fruits and citrus. First sip opens with fresh orchard fruits – we’re talking about Golden Delicious apples and crispy white peaches – airing develops this into tart and citrusy yuzu, coupled with a restrained dry ashiness that leads the palate down a path of mild brininess and a slight chalkiness. A touch of grassiness and some minty eucalyptus drops.



Finish: Long and surprisingly complex. Trails off with a brilliant combination of subtle brine, seaspray, sweet Fine de Claire oysters and barbecue ashiness. Some dry cereal maltiness and a fading note of yeasty sourdough bread.



My thoughts


This is sublime and perfectly layered with very pleasant notes of smoke, salt and tart fruitiness. “Heavily Peated” doesn’t feel quite right a label. At least, the smoke here is much more subtle than Port Charlotte’s “Heavily Peated” expressions. This is very refined and aromatic smokiness that is well balanced and rather enhances all the other facets of the whisky. Really convinces me that Chichibu makes some of the best peated whiskies.


Chichibu 8 YO 2013 Chichibu Wine Cask (unpeated malt) – 61% ABV

Single Cask #9664 – Japanese Wine Cask (Koshu grape white wine) – produced with Braemar, Concerto, Tipple and Propino barley



Colour: Calvados.

Nose: Quite delicate, exotic and unusual. First nose opens with a woodsy, piney dryness that reminds me of drinking gin, before turning towards an unusual yeasty note of fresh dough, almonds and Mediterranean herbs. Left to rest for half a minute, this really opens up to reveal yet more (tart) fruitiness – a mellow peachy sweetness, passion fruits and light notes of grape fruit. There aren’t very obvious vinous notes, but it’s good to note that Koshu grape white wines tend to be very fresh and mellow in flavour.



Palate: Bold, exotic and surprisingly forthcoming with a satisfying oily texture.

A two-pronged attack on the palate of fresh fruits and depths of earthiness. There’re notes of fresh white grapes, Asian pear and pomelo, complimented by a just-as-present note of vanilla, roasted hazelnuts and milk coffee. The palate feels refreshed with a restrained sweetness from mellow fruits, while a silky, oily texture gives the impression of drinking aloe vera juice. Somewhat spiced with a hint of cinnamon and spicy cloves that abate around mid-palate. Left to rest for a while longer, and we get some notes of lemon sponge cake.



Finish: Long, rather complex and unusual too. Creamy and lightly sour notes of mascarpone cheese layered with generous heap of cocoa powder (I’m describing tiramisu of course). Some fragrant vanilla woodiness begin to show up, before fading into the darkness with light malty notes of Horlicks.



My thoughts


My God is this fantastic too – like watching James Cameron’s Avatar for the first time. There’s a whole array of unusual flavours – green grapes, yeastiness, Mediterranean herbs – that makes this the most unforgettable expression of this quartet. As mentioned, the barrel used previously stored Japanese Koshu grape white wine – a variety that resembles Pinot Gris or Muscat white wines but often has a saké-like yeastiness to the taste – an element of which we definitely tasted in this unique expression. Hope to see more Chichibu Wine Cask expressions being released in future!


Chichibu 7 YO 2014 Ex-Peated Cask (unpeated malt) – 64.3% ABV

Single Cask #3812 – Second Fill Bourbon Barrel which once stored the Chichibu Heavily Peated – produced with unpeated Concerto barley



Colour: Burnished gold. 

Nose: Fresh, tea-like and herbaceous. Opens with sweet and grassy wheatgrass drink (小麦草), with a core fruity sweetness and bright candied fruit notes - fresh pineapples, tangerines and assorted soft fruit jellies. A bit of prickliness from spearmint, and a gradual build-up to a thick layer of dried florals - lavender and aromatic burnt heather. This is very lightly smoked, like a mild smoked salmon.



Palate: Lively, fruity, herbal and spicy. First sip opens with bright, tangy notes of plums, nectarines and fizzy apple cider, before turning towards citrusy notes of lemon and orange peels, mint leaves and mildly bitter and herbal chrysanthemum tea. Heat and spice gradually build from the mid-palate onwards, leading to some cardamom and ground black pepper.



Finish: Long, spiced and complex. Generous heaps of black pepper lead on from the palate, developing into menthol, chalk, marzipan, mildly savoury nuts and vanilla. Just a wisp of temple incense hinting at the ex-peated cask.



My thoughts


This is so elemental and well-balanced. There’re ripe tropical fruits, tangy citrus, touch of smoke, substantial heat and the briny minerality of spring water, all integrated together in a well-structured way. The substantial spice does take some getting used to, but if left to rest, the heat subsides to a mild warmth. A very solid dram well-balanced dram especially if you can handle the heat.



This set from Chichibu really does demonstrate different styles from a single distillery. Chichibu never goes wrong when peated – the Heavily Peated expression is my favourite of the set with its very refined and aromatic smokiness. But if there’s one thing you ought to try from this quartet, go for the Wine Cask expression which offers distinctively different notes from what we’ve seen from typical Japanese or Scotch distilleries, what with its saké-like yeastiness and interesting touch of Mediterranean herbs. The use of local Japanese wine cask is also a nice touch that offers some perspective to what we can look forward to from distillers at the forefront of the Japanese Ji-whisky revolution – and with this tasting, we’re really excited to see what’ll come next.