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Guide To Chichibu Japanese Whisky

Updated: Mar 2


Chichibu single malt whiskies

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


The Chichibu distillery in the Saitama prefecture of Japan is known for its high-quality and highly sought-after whiskies. Owned by Venture Whisky, the distillery does not have an official website, making it somewhat of a mystery. This guide provides insight into the world of Chichibu whiskies, including the history and story of the distillery and details of 473 bottlings of Chichibu and Ichiro's Malt - some of the most coveted Japanese whiskies.


Let's start digging!



 

The Birth of Chichibu Distillery & Ichiro Akuto


Ichiro Akuto is the master distiller and blender behind the Chichibu distillery and its owner company, Venture Whisky. Due to his ability to create high-quality whiskies and modernise the Japanese whisky industry norms, he is often called 'the whisky wizard'.


Ichiro Akuto Chichibu distillery

Image by Pinterest Japan / Dekanta


Ichiro's family has a tradition of making sake that goes back 21 generations to 1621, but his grandfather, Isouji Akuto, started importing and blending whiskies under a company called Toa Shuzo in 1948. In 1980, Isouji founded the Hanyu distillery, which operated for 30 years before closing due to bankruptcy in 2000. (The distillery was revived in 2021).


After graduating from the Tokyo University of Agriculture, Ichiro initially worked as a salesman for Suntory but joined his family business in 1995 at the age of 28. When the Hanyu distillery closed, Ichiro bought the last remaining casks in 2004 and formed his company, Venture Whisky Ltd. He later released the famous 58-expression Hanyu Card Series, which gained worldwide recognition.


Hanyu Card series

Image by Robb Report Hong Kong



The Chichibu#1 distillery foundations were laid in 2007, and the first whisky was distilled in 2008. With a relatively small distilling set-up including five Mizunara oak washbacks (later increased to eight) and two 2000-litre Forsyths stills, Ichiro produced highly sought-after, great-quality whisky that soon gathered a following.


In 2011, when the first Chichibu whiskies hit the market, Ichiro also acquired all the remaining stock from the Kawasaki grain whisky distillery, located next to the famous Karuizawa distillery. Furthermore, before Karuizawa distillery closed the same year, Ichiro was allowed to use the stills for a couple of more last runs, which were laid in casks he still owns.


The Chichibu distillery site also includes six dunnage warehouses, a fully operational cooperage that produces four to five heavily charred Mizunara oak casks per week, and, from 2019, the second Chichibu distillery with rumours of building a third distillery in the near future.


Unlike many other distillery owners, Ichiro Akuto decided to build his second distillery only a few minutes down the road from his first one in his hometown of Chichibu. Chichibu #2 is five times larger than Chichibu #1 and mainly uses imported barley from England and Germany. Chichibu #2's washbacks are made of French oak, producing a more robust style of whisky to meet the high demand for Japanese whisky worldwide.


The two distilleries are two sisters, with Chichibu #1 being the older but smaller sister specialising in traditional Japanese values. In comparison, the Western world influences the larger and younger sister, Chichibu #2. It's traditional versus worldly.


Chichibu No.1 Japanese whisky distillery

Images by Dekanta/ Whizzky / Whiskysaga - Chichibu #1


Details about Chichibu #1 Distillery

Distillery Capacity: 60 000 litres per annum

Water Source: Arakawa River

Peated Grain: Scotland

Unpeated Grain: Germany and England

Locally Grown Grains: 10% of Production (Unpeated)

Mashtun Capacity: 2400 litres - Hand Stirred

Washbacks: 8 Mizunara Oak washbacks - Each 3,177 litres

Yeast: Japanese Distillers Yeast

Heating of Stills: Indirect

Stills: One 2,000-litre Wash Still, One 2,000-litre Spirit Still - Forsyths

Distillation Run: ~200 litres of 70% ABV new make spirit

Entering Casks: At 63.5% ABV

Warehouses: Six Dunnage Warehouses

Casks: ~80-90% Bourbon Barrels

Angel's Share: 3-5% per year


Details about Chichibu #2 Distillery - That Differ From #1

Distillery Capacity: 300 000 litres per annum

Washbacks: 5 French Oak washbacks (in 2019)

Heating of Stills: Direct

Stills: One 10,000-litre Wash Still, One 7,000-litre Spirit Still - Forsyths



 

What Makes Chichibu Whisky Different?


Since the 1920s, when single malt whiskies were first produced in Japan, and the subsequent separation of Shinjiro Torii (Suntory) and Masataka Taketsuru (Nikka), there has been an 'everyone for themselves' mentality. Ichiro Akuto, however, set out to revolutionise the industry and bring Japanese whisky producers together, opening the door for future Scottish-style blended whisky culture.


Right from the beginning, Ichiro Akuto established the Chichibu distillery to stand out from the crowd. As the first new distillery founded in Japan in 35 years, Chichibu's unusually small production capacity introduced a small-batch distillation to the industry dominated by big names.


One of Chichibu's secret weapons is its on-site cooperage, which enables the construction of unique barrels. From hogshead barrels with Mizunara oak heads and sherry hogsheads to an array of beer casks and wine barrels, only the sky (and regulations) limit Ichiro's imagination.


Chichibu venture whisky cooperage

Images by Whiskysaga


The Chichibu distillery bottles most of its whiskies as single casks at high ABV, following a formula more often used by independent bottlers. Although occasional small-batch general releases have been made available since 2011 - more widely available and more likely to be encountered in the wild - the distillery focuses on bottling single-cask expressions.


By no means is it the easier way to go. Ichiro is known for doing the legwork to get his whisky to different markets and creating long-lasting relationships. Unlike many companies where the owner is an elusive mythical figure, Ichiro can be seen attending events and sharing his knowledge around the globe.



 

Chichibu Whisky Releases


One can argue that the reason behind the appeal of Chichibu whiskies is their exclusivity. On average, only a few hundred bottles are produced per cask or bottling, making it highly unlikely to find the same bottling again. Moreover, Chichibu specialises in bottling single malt expressions for independent companies and markets, using mainly vintages instead of age statements.


Chichibu stands out among other whisky producers as they do not offer any exclusive bottlings with fancy decanters. All of their whiskies are bottled and labelled in Japan under the careful supervision of Venture Whisky, which also holds the final say on the label designs. The same bottle shape is used for all the bottlings, regardless of the market in which it is produced. Ichiro believes that his whisky is meant to be enjoyed rather than collected. While some expressions may be considered more special due to the casks and the age of the whisky, some whisky enthusiasts prefer to buy bottles with beautiful labels from different visual designers, which are sometimes part of a series.


In this article, we have compiled a collection of 473 single bottlings of Chichibu and Ichiro's Malt for you to enjoy. Please note that we have not included the cask numbers due to the already exclusive nature of the bottlings. We may have missed some bottlings due to the limited information available, so please forgive us. If you would like us to add a specific bottling to this article, please don't hesitate to contact us.


If you want information on a specific bottling or are interested in bottlings done for certain markets, refer to the easy-access sections below for quick access.



All the following images have been compiled by The Whisky Ardvark.



 

Chichbu Spirit Releases


In 2008, the Japanese market was treated with limited releases of Chichibu spirit new-makes to show off what Ichiro was working on. Released under the label 'Newborn' at different ages, these 'calling cards' were between 4 months and 2.5 years old.


Ichiro's Malt newborn releases

 

Ichiro's Malt - General Releases


The Ichiro's Malt is a range of blended whiskies named after Ichiro Akuto himself. Some of the whiskies come from the Chichibu distillery, while others are sourced from different distilleries. As a result, we have chosen only to mention some of the more commonly available expressions in this article to provide an overview of the range of blends.


Ichiro's malt general releases
Ichiro's malt general releases


 

General Chichibu Releases


Chichibu has been releasing general batches of single malt whisky since 2011 when they first introduced 'The First' and 'The First 3-year-old' bottlings. These more widely available batches usually comprise about 7,500 bottles per release, a relatively small amount in the whisky industry.


Other expressions from the general batches include 'The Floor Malted', made using imported barley malted to Ichiro's preference, and 'The Peated', made with peated Scottish malt. To showcase the distillery's cask diversity, they have offered limited bottlings of 125-litre Chibidaru quarter cask (also known as 'cute cask'), Port pipe, IPA beer barrel and red wine cask matured expressions.


The distillery released its first 10-year-old Chichibu whisky in 2020, which is exclusively available in the French market.

Chichibu single malt general releases
Chichibu single malt general releases
Chichibu single malt general releases

 

Travel Retail Japan


These small-batch releases have an average batch size of 639 bottles and have been created for the Japanese duty-free and travel retail markets. They are primarily available at airports in Japan.

Chichibu Japanese Travel Retail single malt releases


 

European & Country-Specific Chichibu Releases


France - La Maison du Whisky


La Maison du Whisky is one of Europe's largest independent retailers of fine spirits. It was founded in Paris in 1956 and offers a wide variety of Chichibu whiskies, some of which have unique labels designed by the bottler. These labels are considered among the most attractive in the market, and there are also limited edition series that collectors are eager to own. La Maison du Whisky is a prominent French bottler of Chichibu and has created special bottlings of Chichibu for independent French companies. Since 2018, the retailer and bottler have also released the annual Paris Edition, which is exclusively available in the French market.


La Maison du Whisky opened a shop in Singapore in 2006 to meet the growing demand and interest for whiskies in Asia.


Chichibu single malt releases La Maison du Whisky
Chichibu single malt releases La Maison du Whisky
Chichibu single malt releases La Maison du Whisky
Chichibu single malt releases La Maison du Whisky
Chichibu single malt releases La Maison du Whisky
Chichibu single malt releases La Maison du Whisky


 

The UK Market - The Whisky Exchange


The Whisky Exchange, one of the largest online retailers in Europe, was founded in London in 1999 by Sukhinder and Rajbir Singh. In addition to its impressive online selection, the company also operates three physical shops in London. The Whisky Exchange is part of a group of parallel companies founded by the Singh brothers, including The Whisky Show and Speciality Drinks. However, in 2021, the company and its sister companies (except for Elixir Distillers) were sold to Pernod Ricard.


Raj Chavda, responsible for designing the Chichibu labels bottled for the UK market, left The Whisky Exchange to join the Singhs and Elixir Distillers. However, his designs will continue to adorn the exclusive bottlings. Chavda has produced several notable creations, including three-dimensional-labelled The Martial Arts Trilogy and Chichibu 2011 bottled for the London-based bar Sexy Fish.


Speciality Drinks, the premier bottler of Chichibu single malts in the UK, is responsible for the annual London Edition and bottles exclusive expressions for various retailers, including Milroy's and Selfridges. Starting from April 2024, Chichibu's UK distributor was named Speciality Brands, a sister company to Speciality Drinks.


Chichibu single malt releases The Whisky Exchange
Chichibu single malt releases The Whisky Exchange
Chichibu single malt releases The Whisky Exchange
Chichibu single malt releases The Whisky Exchange
Chichibu single malt releases The Whisky Exchange


 

The Netherlands - Salud Holdings Group


Salud Distribution, now named Salud Holdings Group, is based in The Netherlands. It acts as Chichibu's bottling, importing, and distributing partner not only in its home country but also in Austria. In addition, the company operates Dutch duty-free shops. Salud Holdings Group is co-owned by Lieke van Cuijk and Maurice van Vliet, and they have already bottled two famous series of Chichibu whisky, Intergalactic and 7even Gods of Fortune, which have been highly sought-after by whisky enthusiasts.


Chichibu single malt releases Salud Holdings
Chichibu single malt releases Salud Holdings

 

The US Market - Tokiwa Imports


Tokiwa Imports is the bottler and importer of Chichibu in the US, with wholesale partners across 12 states. They specialise in importing all types of Japanese spirits to the US market. Their impressive Chichibu portfolio includes series such as the annual 'The US Edition' and the 'Asian Zodiac' expressions.


Chichibu single malt releases Tokiwa Imports US market
Chichibu single malt releases Tokiwa Imports US market
Chichibu single malt releases Tokiwa Imports US market


 

Singapore - DFS Singapore


The Whisky House, situated in the Singapore Changi airport, is a two-story destination for single malt whisky lovers. Since its opening in 2016, Chichibu has been bottling single cask releases for the shop. These include whiskies aged in Pinot Noir wine casks and an expression finished in a port pipe.


Chichibu single malt releases DFS Singapore
Chichibu single malt releases DFS Singapore

 

Taiwan


Spirits Shop Selection is an e-commerce website and independent bottler based in Taiwan. It was founded by Dong Fang Ming in 2014. Since 2016, the store has offered a selection of Chichibu whiskies with labels featuring Asian-inspired designs.


Moreover, Chichibu has bottled other single malts exclusively for the Taiwanese market. This includes expressions created for the Taipei Whisky Festival. Starting in 2019, they have also introduced the Taiwan Edition, following a trend of country-specific editions that have already been released in some European countries.


Chichibu single malt releases Taiwanese market
Chichibu single malt releases Taiwanese market
Chichibu single malt releases Taiwanese market


 

Other Country Exclusives


Chichibu has produced single-cask bottlings for markets worldwide. Here are some examples.


Chichibu single malt releases other countries market
Chichibu single malt releases other countries market
Chichibu single malt releases other countries market
Chichibu single malt releases other countries market


 

Japan


Most whisky from Chichibu is destined for the Japanese market and bottled for independent companies and outlets. In this section, you will find a wide range of releases, including those explicitly bottled for whisky festivals in different cities and Chichibu's business partners across Japan. Don't forget to check out the last section of this article for Private Labels and Malt Dream Cask releases, which offer more variety for Japanese customers.

 

Chichibu City


The Chichibu Whisky Festival is an annual event held in the city of Chichibu, which has a population of 70,000. The festival has been taking place since 2012 and is held in honour of Ichiro Akuto and his distillery located in the city. The event features several special bottlings, including the yearly 'Chichibu Edition' and Ichiro's Blended whiskies. Additionally, the distillery is open for tours for one day of the year during the festival.


Chichibu single malt releases Chichibu town exclusives
Chichibu single malt releases Chichibu town exclusives
Chichibu single malt releases Chichibu town exclusives


 

Tokyo


The Tokyo Whisky Festival, formally known as Whisky Live Tokyo, celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2017. The city has also been home to the yearly BarShow, adjacent to the whisky festival since 2012.


Chichibu single malt releases Tokyo whisky festival
Chichibu single malt releases Tokyo whisky festival
Chichibu single malt releases Tokyo whisky festival


 

Osaka


Since 2009, Sanyo-Busan has hosted the annual Modern Whisky Market in Osaka. Some interesting bottlings created for the market include expressions matured in Pedro Ximenez and Fino sherry casks.


Chichibu single malt releases Modern whisky market Osaka
Chichibu single malt releases Modern whisky market Osaka
Chichibu single malt releases Modern whisky market Osaka

 

Isetan - Company


The Isetan Mitsukoshi is one of Japan's largest department store groups based in Tokyo. Some exclusive Chichibu bottlings include expressions with age statements, an unusual way of labelling Chichibu.


Chichibu single malt releases Isetan
Chichibu single malt releases Isetan
Chichibu single malt releases Isetan


 

Takashimaya - Company


Takashimaya is a Japanese department store chain based in Kyoto. The company has expanded its operations internationally and now has stores in Singapore, China, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Since 2011, Takashimaya has enjoyed a smooth collaboration with the Chichibu distillery and is one of the few companies to have a specially designed Chichibu 2-year-old spirit release. Some of Takashimaya's exclusive bottlings include the Asian Zodiac series and 'the Cigar labels'.


Chichibu single malt releases Takashimaya
Chichibu single malt releases Takashimaya
Chichibu single malt releases Takashimaya
Chichibu single malt releases Takashimaya

 

Shinanoya - Company


Shinanoya is a spirits shop owner and supermarket chain based in Tokyo with multiple outlets around the city. One of their unique releases is a 2011 vintage Chichibu expression aged in a hogshead that previously held Madeira.


Chichibu single malt releases Shinanoya


 

Acorn - Company


Acorn Ltd is an independent bottler of spirits founded in Sadako City, Saitama, by Seishi Tsuta in the late 1990s. They have a specialised retail store in Tokyo called Whisky Plus, established in 2014. While they primarily cater to the Japanese market, their bottlings can also be found in Germany, The Netherlands, Australia, and Taiwan.


Chichibu single malt releases Acorn

 

Seibu Department Store


Seibu is a big department store chain in Japan with eight multilevel stores throughout the country and even one in Malaysia. They release multiple single-cask Chichibu whiskies yearly, all with the same label.


Chichibu single malt releases Seibu department store

 

Whisky Talk - Fukuoka


Whisky Talk Fukuoka is the largest whisky event in Kyushu. Since 2011, it has been an annual gathering for whisky enthusiasts who have the opportunity to purchase exclusive bottlings of whisky, including one monochrome-labelled bottling by Venture Whisky.


Chichibu single malt releases Fukuoka whisky talk
Chichibu single malt releases Fukuoka whisky talk


 

Fifty-Two Seats of Happiness


Fifty-Two Seats of Happiness is a Japanese restaurant train that operates around 100 trips per year, running between Seibu Shinjuku and Ikebukuro in Tokyo and Seibu Chichibu and Hon-Kawagoe in Saitama Prefecture. The train has seats for 52 diners who are treated to beautiful meals, drinks, and scenery. Chichibu has been involved in the venture since the train started operating in 2016 by bottling exclusive expressions for the ride.


Chichibu single malt releases fifty-two seats of happiness

 

Hotel Barmen's Association


The Hotel Barmen's Association was established in the 1960s by nine head bartenders working in Tokyo hotels. It is a training platform that combines cocktail and spirits knowledge with hospitality. The HBA is based in Tokyo and has been treated to a handful of exclusive Chichibu bottlings.


Chichibu single malt releases HBA

 

The Whisky Crew


The Whisky Crew is a Tokyo-based members-only club that specialises in bottling exclusive expressions of Japanese whiskies for its members, including single Chichibu cask expressions.

Chichibu single malt releases The Whisky Crew


 

Unspecified Japanese Releases


Chichibu single malt releases other Japanese
Chichibu single malt releases other Japanese

 

Other Releases


Please see below for a visual list of Chichibu whiskies primarily bottled for the Japanese market and designed with independent companies in mind.


Blended Releases


Chichibu single malt releases Ichiro's malt blends
Chichibu single malt releases Ichiro's malt blends


 

Chichibu Dream Malt Cask Releases


Chichibu single malt releases Malt Dream Cask
Chichibu single malt releases Malt Dream Cask
Chichibu single malt releases Malt Dream Cask
Chichibu single malt releases Malt Dream Cask
Chichibu single malt releases Malt Dream Cask
Chichibu single malt releases Malt Dream Cask


 

Private Chichibu Releases


Chichibu single malt releases Private releases
Chichibu single malt releases Private releases
Chichibu single malt releases Private releases
Chichibu single malt releases Private releases
Chichibu single malt releases Private releases
Chichibu single malt releases Private releases

 

Thank you for reading The Whisky Ardvark! Be sure to check out some of our other informative articles below.



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