Just when we thought the Chichibu distillery had rocked the whisky world enough, Ichiro Akuto brings us a new single malt, aged in an India Pale Ale cask.
This exciting new whisky comes just weeks after the new Japan Warrior single cask release, as whisky fans the world over are probably shaking with excitement as they rush to get a bottle of their own.
But fear not, as this isn’t a single cask release, the usual extremely limited number of bottles isn’t an issue. Although knowing how quickly the Chichibu fan base is growing, we’d recommend you order a bottle sooner rather than later.
The whisky is sublime, and tasting notes will follow, but first, let’s talk about the people and process that made this whisky a reality. Despite its fame and popularity, Chichibu is still a rather small distillery, with only a dozen full-time employees. They work closely with local farmers, other producers, and whisky industry figures in order to create the very best products, and get them into their loyal customers’ hands.
This time Chichibu has teamed up with two of the most popular craft beer breweries in Japan. The distillery team worked with several different breweries for the IPA release, as quite a few casks were needed for the large number of bottles released.
In this piece, we’ll be focusing on the collaboration between the distillery and one of the two craft breweries, Shigakogen. We’re sure that more than a few of our readers are also fans of craft brews, so this one’s for you!
Located close to the wonderful hot springs and ski slopes of Yamanouchi, Nagano prefecture, Tamamura Honten has been brewing sake for over 200 years.
However, in the early 2000s, the number of skiers visiting the surrounding hot springs and resorts started to dwindle. The team at Tamamura Honten started brainstorming and, led by director Sato Eigo, the company ventured into craft beer production, under the name of the surrounding Shigakogen area.
To a nation used to cheap, tasteless lager, the new, high-quality Shigakogen beer quickly became a hit across the country, and the visiting skiers from all around the world. Quality and passion were at the forefront of Shigakogen’s vision, and through smart marketing and branding the brewery quickly became one of the most successful in Japan.
“We wanted to make beer that we personally wanted to drink,” says Sato, who, alongside his role as director, became the head brewer at Shigakogen. “I was raised in Shigakogen, our family business was established here, I skied here from the time I was a kid, and the water that bubbles up is used in brewing. Furthermore, just as this is a ski resort worthy of the world, I want to make a beer here of equal stature.”
Shigakogen beer always aimed big, and the brewery has achieved a great deal during its mere 13 years in production. They are the main sponsor for the Snow Monkey Beer Live, one of the largest craft beer festivals in Japan, and their beer can be found all over the country, from Tokyo to Fukuoka.
Chichibu x Shigakogen – The Process
Sure, the new release sounds delightful, born through a collaboration between Japan’s most popular ji-whisky distillery and craft brewery. But many of you might be wondering just how this whisky came to be; we’ve all heard of barrel-aged beer, but beer-aged whisky? Not as much.
Here’s the process. Shigakogen borrowed a few used oak casks from Chichibu in order to create a whisky barrel-aged IPA release. The brewery team filled the whisky casks with the fresh India Pale Ale, and allowed the oak to work its magic on the brew for several months.
Finally, when the beer had been bottled, the casks were returned to the Chichibu distillery, and whisky was placed in them for a short finish, which would provide that fruity, hoppy IPA character beer fans know and love.
So this new release is really a whisky cask aged IPA finished single malt whisky, but the labels on the bottles aren’t that large.
Chichibu IPA Cask Finished Single Malt 2017
What a gorgeous creation this turned out to be.
At 57%, the dram is defined by the intense and deep Chichibu character. The IPA influence mellows out the whole experience as a barrage of citrus fruits bursts out onto the nose and palate and follows through right up to the bitter, hoppy finish.
The depth of the whisky balances wonderfully with the refreshing hop character of the beer, bringing forth a unique, exciting drinking experience, the likes of which we are used to receiving from Ichiro.