It's been a hot minute since Chichibu last released a new OB from the distillery - the folks have been hard at work getting Chichibu Distillery 2 well underway! Thus the lack of releases from the distillery is somewhat to be expected.
Now well past the 10 year milestone of the distillery's founding in 2008, with the new expanded distillery already beginning to reach that 3 year old threshold for viable whisky - it's all too easy to forget that every step of the journey while seemingly obvious today, has not always been foretold. Every milestone is a massive achievement for Japanese whiskies and the whisky world in broad - feats that truly cannot be overstated.
Yet, the reality is that there's been a little bit of a quiet but growing concern - what's new, eh? - for the uber popular Japanese distillery. What was once dismissed, cause for disbelief, and then widely lauded, is now seemingly on the cusp of hitting a ceiling of being boring.
The once exciting and unanimously thought of as brilliant marketing strategy of only ever doing a tiny handful of distillery bottlings, whilst almost simultaneously appearing everywhere all at once (in the form of private bottlings) in every imaginable form - well, that strategy is being put to the test today.
While not formally written, the informal consensus is that for the drinkers, fans and collectors (often a person is said to be all three) who've gone on a multi-year Chichibu-mania, it seems like the unbelievable is being said - that the distillery has gotten mundane. For the drinkers, almost every form of Chichibu has been tried (some even believe that Chichibu's might not age too well when they hit double digit ages - quite a shocking statement for a whisky world chastised for being far too age conscious).
The fans might find themselves disgruntled at the sheer dearth of distillery bottlings - 5 expressions in 5 years might seem like breadcrumbing, but 5 expressions in 10 years is certain to weigh on the limits of one's interest (it's hard to stay excited for that long).
More private label Chichibu's than you could possibly imagine. (Image Source: Caskd.co)
And then finally for the battle worn collectors, the sheer growing number of private bottlings released each year has simply proven collecting Chichibu's to be a Sisyphean task - and a costly one at that. It seems like the willingness to camp out at Austrian retailers at 5 am, bash through the crowds in an American departmental store, or to collect a stamp from 21 bars across multiple prefectures across Japan, has grown weary.
Yet, Chichibu has most definitely made its mark and proven its point - the world's sold on Chichibu. And that's not just in benefit to the distillery, it's a phenomenon that has set ablaze a deep inspiration in distillers all around the world that it is indeed possible to create great whiskies today. And for that, the world owes Japan's OG craft distiller an immense debt of gratitude.
Ichiro Akuto, founder of Chichibu Distillery. (Image Source: PUNCH)
But if you thought this was it for the Japanese craft distiller - well, I wouldn't bet against them - they've seen tougher odds before.
Instead I believe that this is an opportunity for Chichibu to show the world how great it is, and as they say greatness is not doing it once, but showing that it can do it again.
And look, the facts are on Chichibu's side. With Chichibu 2's enlarged matured whisky stock on the horizon, a clear low hanging fruit strategy that could reinvigorate the passion for the distillery is right there - begin releasing more distillery bottlings.
It's what Chichibu has been missing all along, hasn't it?
For the drinkers, a wider variety of Chichibu's own bottlings means more unique expressions to try. For the fans, it's a chance to taste more of Chichibu's self-directed work; to be guided by the distillery itself on defining and redefining what the Chichibu signature is. For the collectors, nothing is more prized than the distillery's own signed off work - official merch is always the best, no?
With Chichibu Distillery #2 well underway, big things must lay on the horizon. (Image Source: Whisky Magazine)
While it may not seem apparent at the moment, the reality is that Chichibu now has the ability to take back control of its work and fly its expressions proudly under its own banner, rather than that of a private buyer. The Chichibu of 2023 is not the Chichibu of 2008. The lack of reputation, funding, and now capacity, are all figments of now bygone yesteryears.
After all, didn't Suntory do the same? Perhaps the OG Japanese craft distiller just might take a page out of the playbook written by the OG Japanese distiller.
While some might cry of a mundane state of affairs, I for one think that some very exciting things just might be in the works.
But for now, we have a very exciting Chichibu Red Wine Cask 2023 expression - for all the self-proclaimed weary blase fans, the reception to this certainly indicated that the passion for the distillery clearly still remains.
Not much else aside from what's conspicuous on the label is told to us about the expression, so we'll just have to give it a try.
Chichibu Red Wine Cask 2023 - Review
Color: Deep Gold
Aroma: Deep honeyed sweetness with a touch of mulled wine, as well as some light tannins of grape skins. There’s a farm-y quality that emerges with time, lightly lactic. It comes through rather Sherry-like at times.
Taste: Punchy! Honey, bird’s eye chillies, and then more on mulled wine, grape gummies, grape skins - it’s a denser, darker sweetness that’s somewhere between big red wines and port. Over time that funky farmhouse lactic quality comes through again, lightly sour.
Finish: It gets alittle more chewy here with some bits of grape skin. There’s a light drying quality here, as well as some notes of tobacco leaves and chocolate sauce. More oaky grains towards the end as well.
Here the wine notes are not overpowering, yet at the same time is distinct and obvious, and perhaps more importantly, this wasn’t overly zingy, sharp or dry. Instead I found this to be very well-rounded, and a good balance between cask and distillate, wherein I could clearly get a sense of the signature qualities of both. On the palate there was a good depth that led to a particularly wonderful finish where I felt the full expression of the whisky, flavour and texture!
Also more interestingly there was a sort of funky farmhouse lactic cheesy quality that I found on both the aroma and taste, reminiscent of older Bruichladdich’s for me. This might take some getting used to, but as we’ve seen with older Scotches expressing the same quality, it’s rather highly prized.
This is a dialled down version of red wine cask Chichibu single casks - it was highly reminiscent of the Chichibu single cask for London’s Sexy Fish bar that was also aged in a red wine cask.
All in - solid showing, and a thoroughly enjoyable (and more accessible) whisky!
My Rating: 7/10
Score/Rating Scale :
- 9-10 : Exceptional, highly memorable, 10/10 would buy if I could.
- 7-8 : Excellent, well above most in its category, worth considering buy-zone.
- 4-6 : Good, okay, alright; a few flaws, but acceptable; not bad, but not my personal preference; still worth trying, could be a buy if the price is right.
- 1-3 : Not good; really did not enjoy; wouldn't even recommend trying.
- 0 : Un-scored, might be damaged, new make, or very unusual.