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Whisky Reviews

Chichibu Whisky x Katsumi Komagata Set, LMDW 2024 New Vibrations – Sherry Cask, Heavily Peated, Wine Cask, Bourbon Barrel

 

For this year’s Whisky Live Paris and Whisky Live Singapore, Chichibu Distillery unveiled a very pretty series of single cask whiskies in collaboration with a Japanese designer, Katsumi Komagata, that became part of LMDW's 2024 "New Vibrations" catalogue.

The bottle labels are characterised by soft abstract shapes with vibrant, bold and cheerful tones that mirror the colours of children’s books, two of them with wavy shapes that might evoke the feeling of a dynamic, flowing substance.

Katsumi Komagata is best known for his vibrant paper crafts. For this special collection, Katsumi-san illustrated a quartet of nature-inspired images titled “Bird, Forest, Sky, Wave” that would resonate with the world of Chichibu whisky.

 

 

According to the artist, the images were inspired by his former studio in Ichinoseki, in Iwate prefecture. It is a place surrounded by bountiful nature, with a gorgeous sky, clouds, mountains, and colours that change with the seasons. A great many kinds of wildlife can be observed there.

 

See some resemblance to Katsumi Komagata's work, maybe? (Source: Visit Japan)

 

When asked what relationship is there between his work and the whisky bottled, Katsumi-san said that he believes the aesthetics of the bottle could make a whisky taste even better because our sense of sight has a great influence and bias on our perception when we eat or drink. This is something he realised after working with visually impaired people.

Some of Katsumi-san’s most famous works several award-winning picture books made since the 1990s’. The birth of his daughter inspired him to create picture books that were different from traditional ones. He created picture books for children filled with beautiful paper crafts which garnered attention across Japan and in many parts of Europe. Outside of art, he has also been a designer for Comme des Garçons and Hermès.

 

(Source: The Vangi Sculpture Garden Museum)

 

Turning to the whisky. The set is a quartet of single cask bottlings aged from 6 years to 9 years, and have been made with various barley varieties and different cask types and the variety mirror’s last year’s Chichibu x Aki Kuroda collection. Last year’s collection featured a Virgin Oak, a Heavily Peated, a Wine Cask and Ex-Peated Cask. This year, they preserved the Heavily Peated and the Wine Cask expressions, and introduced a Sherry Cask as well as a Bourbon Barrel Chichibu expression. Two of the most memorable expressions from last year were the Wine Cask and Heavily Peated.

Let’s see what this new set brings!

Chichibu x Katsumi Komagata, 8 Years Old 2015, Chichibu Wine Cask, 62.8% ABV

Single Cask #12508 - Japanese Koshu Grape Wine Cask, Odyssey barley

 

 

Colour: Amber

Nose: Fresh and lively with a fruit-forward character, with an array of orchard fruits – apples and pears intertwined with toasted walnuts. There’s a notable depth that leads into a rich, caramel-like sweetness reminding me of Lotus Biscoff cookies. Spicy undertones meld with mint, long with a slightly prickly, peppery sensation.

Palate: Very sweet and very vibrant with a syrupy texture to it. Bursts forth with flavours of cherries and red apples, complemented by subtle, light tea nuances that avoid veering into the dry territory. Barley candy and raspberry notes emerge, bringing a layered richness. What makes this interesting is also an undercurrent of rustic barnyard notes that is quite faint yet distinctive, evocative of the gaminess of lamb or the funky notes found in Belgian Flanders' ale.

Finish: Relatively short yet delightful, marked by the sweetness of maltose candy and fading Cognac notes. Spices make a reappearance, felt prominently at the back, yet they remain pleasant and far from overwhelming.

 

 

My Thoughts:

The influence of the Koshu wine casks is evident, and it imparts a beautiful Cognac-like sweetness that makes this stand out from the set.

This year's wine cask Chichibu expression is a delightful evolution from the previous year's expression . While last year's variant showcased a more austere profile, brimming with Mediterranean herbs and spices, this year's release leans towards a sweeter and fresher spectrum. The fruitiness is more pronounced, and the sweet and fruity notes are more vivid compared to the predecessor. The classic Chichibu spice is present but subtle, very harmoniously integrated, and creates a well-rounded and thoroughly enjoyable dram.

This makes it refreshingly novel but really tasty, deserving a 9/10 for this successful cask experimentation.

My Rating: 9/10

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.

Chichibu x Katsumi Komagata, 6 Years Old 2016, Sherry Cask, 63.1% ABV

Single Cask #6959, Second Fill ex-Oloroso Sherry Hogshead, Propino barley

 

 

Colour: Amber.

Nose: Sweet and rich, with a distinctive Kyoho grape-like sweetness, enveloped in a fresh and floral bouquet - though it doesn't quite reach the depth of the earlier Chichibu wine cask expression. It has a prominent quality of strawberry jam, intertwined with a light vanilla oakiness and refined sandalwood adding to the complexity.

Palate: A little more robust than the Chichibu wine casks. Very syrupy and oily, immediately noticeable upon the first sip, with stewed red fruits and raisins, turning towards a more pronounced dry oak influence and generic toasted nuts balancing the syrupy sweetness.

Finish: A caramel and toffee-like sweetness define the finish, joined by coffee grounds. The spiciness grows to become quite substantial, with notes of anise and cloves accompanied by a strong spearmint note. Dry oak, tobacco and wood polish rounds out the finish, lending it a mature and slightly earthy character.

 

 

My Thoughts:

This expression is undeniably robust in flavour, presenting a bold and adventurous profile. The Oloroso Sherry influence is evident, imparting rich, sweet, and spicy characteristics. However, the intensity of spiciness is a little too much for my preference. It doesn’t overshadow the other complex elements, but it’s just a little too intense and painful for my liking.

It's a nice expression overall, demonstrating Chichibu's characteristic flair in the form of a sherried whisky. A solid 7/10 for its boldness and richness, though the pronounced spiciness might not be to everyone's taste.

My Rating: 7/10

Chichibu x Katsumi Komagata, 7 Years Old 2015, Heavily Peated (Bourbon Cask), 63.3% ABV

Single Cask #4701, First Fill Bourbon Barrel, Heavily peated Concerto barley.

 

 

Colour: Pale gold.

Nose: Opens with a slightly vegetal character with a subtle herbal rootiness, with a just-as-present aroma of clarified apple juice, lemon zest bringing out a fresh, citric quality. Even on the nose it seems quite powerful with its price profile, reminiscent of pepper and chili flakes, though overall impression is that this is quite elegant in the manner the flavours gently unfold.

Palate: Initially rather mellow, with flavours evolving gracefully. Opens with vanilla and coconut flakes, while sweet yuzu and honey add sweetness and freshness. There’s a prevailing accent of aromatic, temple incense-like smokiness woven through the tasting experience, light touch of iodine, seaweed (reminiscent of certain Islay malts), and a very mild hint of soy sauce saltiness.

Finish: Quite long and dry, with dry oak and a mild chalkiness setting the stage, and a bitterness best described as grapefruit pith. Balanced by the floral note of dried lavender and sage alongside sweet ash and temple incense.

 

 

My Thoughts:

This is a decently complex Chichibu. We see some traditional Islay-style peat notes here with but more delicate nuances like temple incense and a gradual unveiling of flavours.

This is about as well-executed as the Heavily Peated expression of last year, although last year’s expression seems a tad bit sweeter and more appley. I’m not sure if it’s the presence of peat or the extra year of oak aging that overshadows some of the sweetness (this year is a 7YO while last year’s peated expression was a 6YO).

All in all, it’s still a commendable effort in creating an expression with elegant peat nuances, and a slightly different take on the typical peated profile. A solid 7/10.

My Rating: 7/10

Chichibu x Katsumi Komagata, 9 Years Old 2014, Bourbon Barrel, 61.9% ABV

Single Cask #3094, Second Fill Bourbon Barrel, Heavily peated Propino barley.

 

 

Colour: Pale gold.

Nose: Bright, fresh and fruity. It's filled with the sweet scents of canned peaches and grapefruits, complemented by depths of vanilla and cream that adding a rich, almost dessert-like quality. A touch of coconut cream adds a tropical twist, before the profile subtly shifts to a slightly woody character, reminiscent of a cinnamon chai latte.

Palate: Sweet, lively, yet carries an austere elegance. Opens with honey, but juxtaposed with mineral and slightly briny notes, and as the palate develops I get vanilla cream and cereal maltiness, with an interesting hint of barnyard funkiness or perhaps lactic acid notes that I find in certain Chichibu expressions.

Finish: Long and evolves beautifully. It’s spicy, featuring anise and pepper, with just-as-present notes of honey and vanilla, with a sweetness of baked apples that transition gradually into darker notes of cocoa and a slight umami reminiscent of soy sauce.

 

 

My Thoughts:

This is a lovely, classic Chichibu expression that showcases the distillery's signature spiciness and slight bucolic funkiness, but also has a slightly more indulgent profile, being a bit more pronounced in its sweetness, which is a delightful surprise. I’m guessing that’s the result of its slightly longer aging.

It's a great representation of how a bit more time in the very ordinary bourbon cask can bring out richer notes in a whisky that's already known for its depth and spice. As a compelling classic dram this earns a solid 8/10.

My Rating: 8/10

Afterword

These four single cask Chichibu bottlings have rather distinct temperaments but they’re bound by a thread of commonality that is unmistakably Chichibu. A recurring theme is the clean sweetness, a signature spice profile and a slight funkiness or bucolic (of lactic acid) note most prominently showcased in the Bourbon Cask expression.

The Bourbon Cask and Wine Cask expressions stand out as my personal favourites. The Bourbon Cask expression for its satisfying complexity and well-executed classic Chichibu character. The Wine cask expression, deviates a bit more from the typical Chichibu style but it’s an absolute delight with its grape-like fruitiness and sweetness that reminds us that we haven’t seen the best of Chichibu – it still has a couple of tricks up its sleeve.

@CharsiuCharlie