The History of Ichiro’s Malt whisky, and the Chichibu Distillery Tour

The History of Ichiro’s Malt whisky, and the Chichibu Distillery Tour

Ichiro’s Malt, popular not only in Japan but also overseas, was awarded “world’s best whisky” at the World Whiskies Awards.

Mr. Ichiro AKUTO, the creator of Ichiro’s Malt, produces the whisky in his own distillery, the Chichibu Distillery located in Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture, Japan.

This article will introduce a detailed history of Ichiro’s Malt and the Chichibu Distillery Tour’s Open Day.

What is Ichiro’s Malt?

5 Ichiro’s Malt
Ichiro’s Malt is a whisky produced by Venture Whisky Company located in Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture.

The whisky is named after its creator, Mr. Ichiro AKUTO.

Let’s take a look at Ichiro’s Malt whisky in detail.

Mr. Ichiro AKUTO, the creator of Ichiro’s Malt

Mr. Ichiro AKUTO
Mr. Ichiro AKUTO was born in Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture in 1965. After graduating from brewery studies at an university, he worked at Suntory Holdings Limited.

Later he joined Toa Shuzo Company, a business founded by his grandfather and managed by his father. However, the company was sold due to financial difficulties.

As the buying company decided to withdraw from whisky production, Mr. Ichiro AKUTO took over the unblended whisky of Toa Shuzo produced in Hanyu Distillery and entrusted the care of the unblended whisky to Sasanokawa Shuzo located in Fukushima Prefecture.

In 2004, he established Venture Whisky Co. in Chichibu City, in which 3 years later the Chichibu Distillery was built.

Mr. Ichiro AKUTO worked at Sasanokawa Shuzo as a technical leader, and in 2005 he released a whisky from Sasanokawa Shuzo as the first Ichiro’s Malt.

In 2006, Ichiro’s Malt “King of Diamonds” from Hanyu Distillery was awarded the Gold Medal (after achieving the highest score) in the Japanese Whisky category by Whisky Magazine, a whisky magazine based in the UK.

In addition, Ichiro’s Malt achieved the World’s Best award in the Japanese category of “World Whisky Award (WWA)” for five consecutive years from 2007.

Being in the spotlight, the number of fans of Ichiro’s Malt has been increasing all around the world.

Meanwhile, while learning how to make whisky by visiting Scotland, Mr. Ichiro AKUTO was preparing to open Chichibu Distillery.

Chichibu Distillery, by Venture Whisky Co.

Chichibu Distillery
In 2007, the Chichibu Distillery was completed and he began producing whisky in the distillery after acquiring a whisky production license in February 2008.

fermenterpotstill

In 2012, the Chichibu Distillery Single Malt Whisky was awarded “Japanese Whisky of the Year” at the WHISKY ADVOCATE AWARD 2012.

The Ichiro’s Malt CHICHIBU WHISK(E)Y MATSURI 2017 from Chichibu Distillery was awarded “World’s Best Whisky” in the “ Single Cask Single Malt” category at the World Whiskies Awards 2017.

Chichibu Distillery
Founder Ichiro AKUTO
Established 2004
Distillery Completion 2007
Start of Distillery Operation February 2008 (Acquired license to produce whisky)
Number of Pot Stills 2 (made of copper, produced by Forsyths, Scotland)
Number of Wash Backs 8 Mizunara(Mongolian oak)
Address 49 Midorigaoka, Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture, 369-0067
Notes The tour is limited to professionals only. An open day is held once a year for the public.
Official Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ChichibuDistillery/

Ichiro’s Malt Award History

■2006 The Japanese Malt Article by Whisky Magazine , UK
Ichiro’s Malt CARD series “King of Diamonds” was awarded gold medal with the highest score in the Japanese Whisky category.

■2007-2013 World Whisky Award (WWA)
Japanese Category: The World’s Best Award

■2012 WHISKY ADVOCATE, US-based whisky magazine
“Chichibu The First”, the first Ichiro’s Malt produced at the Chichibu Distillery was awarded “Japanese Whisky of the Year”

■2017 World Whiskies Awards
“Ichiro’s Malt CHICHIBU WHISK(E)Y MATSURI 2017” awarded “World’s Best Whisky” in the “Single Cask Single Malt” category

■2018 World Whiskies Awards
“Ichiro’s Malt & Grain Limited Edition World Blended Whisky” awarded “World’s Best Whisky” in the “World Best Blended Whisky Limited Release” category

Distillery Tour Chichibu Distillery Open Day

秩父蒸留所
Once a year, the day before of CHICHIBU WHISK(E)Y MATSURI, an Ichiro’s Malt Chichibu Distillery open day is held. It is possible to visit the parts of the Chichibu Distillery which are usually closed to the public.

However, it’s very difficult to get a ticket as the number is limited to 120 persons (20 person ×6 times).

Tickets were sold online but all were gone 5 minutes after they were released this year.

If you would like to participate, I recommend to check the ticket release date on the official website and apply to purchase them at the time of release.

Tour participants met at Chichibu Shrine to ride a bus, it then took about 20 minutes to arrive Chichibu Distillery.
bus

Our guide was Ms. Yumi YOSHIKAWA, an ambassador for Ichiro’s Malt.
Ms. Yumi YOSHIKAWA

She has worked at a Scottish distillery, has experience as a bartender and she loves visiting distilleries. She answered questions one-by-one in a manner that was polite and very easy to understand.

We observed, in order, the distillery’s process to making whisky. Firstly, it was an explanation about barley as an ingredient.
barley

I tasted some barley.
barleybarley

This red machine is the mill that grinds barley malt.
grinder

Next, visiting inside the distillery to look at the saccharification tank, the fermentation tank of Mizunara(Mongolian oak), the distiller etc.

This is the saccharification tank for making wort
saccharification tank

I could look inside of the fermentation tank(Mizunara).
fermentation tank

Makers add 10 kg of yeast to the fermentation tank together with the wort for 4 days. It is for fermentation by lactobacillus, not for scenting. The lactic acid bacteria that present in oak trees produces a unique scent.

The Chichibu Distillery is the only one to use Mongolian oak for fermentation tanks, although recently Scottish distillery has started using Portuguese oak.

There are only two distilleries in the world using oak – and that is one of the features of Chichibu Distillery.

This is the inside of the fermentation tank and it smells good.
inside of the fermentation tank

The pot stills are made of copper. The left one is used for the first distillation and right one is used for second distillation.
pot stillspot stillspot stills

The scent of the distilled spirits was compared.
spirits

Finally, we got into the aging room. It looks bright in the photograph, but it is actually dim and cool. In addition to this room, there are five additional storage areas.
storagestorage

storagestorage

After exiting the aging room, we met Mr.Ichiro AKUTO and could taste Ichiro’s Malt. He was a very gentle-mannered person and talked to each participant as well as taking photos with them.
Mr.Ichiro AKUTO

These are the 5 types of whisky I tasted and their sample bottles.
5 types of whiskysample bottles

The guides attended to us until our departure. The Chichibu Distillery tour was very enjoyable, and the approximate one hour tour went very quickly.
The Chichibu Distillery tour

The Chichibu Distillery is not open for tours or for selling to the public so please try to visit on the once a year open day.
The Chichibu Distillery

Price and how to buy Ichiro’s Malt

Ichiro’s Malt can be purchased at major liquor stores in Chichibu, however, it is often sold out. For that reason, purchasing the whisky via online shops is recommended.

Moreover, please be aware that limited products are sold at premium prices.

Furthermore, there are many restaurants in Chichibu where you can drink Ichiro’s Malt. Please try them when visiting Chichibu.

Existing Ichiro’s Malt Products

Ichiro’s Malt

Ichiro’s Malt & Grain White Label

Ichiro’s Malt & Grain White Label
Well-balanced vatted (blended) with various individuality malt and grain whisky brewed (distilled) in Chichibu.

An all-round whisky you can enjoy on the rocks, with water or with soda.

Ichiro’s Malt Double Distilleries

Ichiro’s Malt Double Distilleries
The Double Distillery series which is vatted (blended) from unblended whiskies produced by the Hanyu and Chichibu Distilleries, combining the flavor of the two distilleries for maximum effect.

Awarded the “Best Japanese Blended Malt Award” at World Whisky Award in 2009.

Ichiro’s Malt MWR

Ichiro’s Malt MWR
MWR, Mizunara · Wood · Reserve, produced by blending various unblended malt whiskys mainly produced in the Hanyu Distillery and aged in Mizunara(Mongolian oak) casks.

Awarded “Best Japanese Blended Malt” at the World Whisky Awards in 2010.

Ichiro’s Malt Wine Wood Reserve

Ichiro’s Malt Wine Wood Reserve
Wine Wood Reserve, produced by blending various unblended malt whiskys mainly produced in the Chichibu distillery, and finished off in barrel used for ageing red wine.

Awarded “Best Japanese Blended Malt” at the World Whisky Awards in 2011.

Ichiro’s Malt & Grain Limited Edition World Blended Whisky

Ichiro’s Malt & Grain Limited Edition World Blended Whisky
The latest Ichiro’s Malt, released in February 2018.

Awarded “World’s Best Whisky” in the “World Best Blended Whisky Limited Release” category at the World Whisky Awards in 2018.

Popular Ichiro’s Malt Products (including limited editions that are difficult to purchase)

Popular Ichiro’s Malt Products
In total, including those from Hanyu distillery, there are about 100 varieties of Ichiro’s Malt.

Their early products and limited products have a high-value, and a lot of them are sold out and difficult to purchase.

Cake, Gelato made with Ichiro’s Malt

Cake
Cake made with Ichiro’s Malt are sold in Chichibu.

This cake made with Ichiro’s Malt are sold at the Chichibu Souvenir Shop in Matsuri-no-Yu near Chichibu Station on Seibu line. You can enjoy mouth-coating whisky flavor.
cake of Ichiro’s Malt

This is a cup of gelato made with Ichiro’s Malt produced by Sun Dolce, a specialty gelato shop located next to Chichibu Shrine. You can enjoy the flagrance of the whisky even though the alcohol has been burned off.
gelato

In Summary

This article introduced the history of Ichiro’s Malt and the Chichibu Distillery Tour’s Open Day.

Mr. AKUTO is currently working on producing Ichiro’s Malt made with Chichibu barley and Mizunara (Mongolian oak), which he explained at his seminar at the CHICHIBU WHISK(E)Y MATSURI.

I expect a bright future for Ichiro’s Malt, which is trying various new approaches.

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