Cubans

Published on May 14th, 2019 | by Ken Gargett

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Cohiba Genios Maduro 5 2007/Chichibu Ichiro’s Malt Wine Wood Reserve; Chichibu Ichiro’s Malt MWR

Some members may recall that I put up a thread about the Chichibu whiskies from Japan a little while ago, as I knew the proverbial bugger all about them. Thanks to those who responded – it was hugely appreciated. I had picked up a few bottles through a local importer, partly because the tiny bit I could find about them was very positive, partly because stocks of Japanese whisky are in dire short supply and it is a bit of the case of grab whatever is going if you want any, but mainly because in Dave Broom’s excellent book, ‘The Way of Whisky’, a fascinating and informative personal journey around the islands of that country, visiting the distilleries and sampling the whiskies, he is obviously utterly wowed by distiller Ichiro Akuto and his whiskies. I met Dave years ago when we were both judging in Sydney at their annual wine show and have always respected his thoughts on spirits. There are few more knowledgeable on the planet. But I digress. 

I have dived into these whiskies, finding out what I can, reading whatever is available and even doing a piece for Quill and Pad. I am blown away. And I consider myself very lucky to have found the few bottles I did. 

To match with a Genios, I pulled out two of them. 

Why Genios? Rob very kindly provides some cigars for Kenfessions – you can tell when I run out of them as we end up with three columns all on the PL Belicosos RR! The last of his previous batch was a Secretos which I enjoyed (yes, I have not written that up, as yet – it is coming). So I went back to the well and pulled out one of my remaining Cohiba Genios Maduro 5 from the box EMA AGO 07. I am rather certain that Genios was first released back in 2007 – Rob and I and a few friends were on a visit at the time and we attended the release event and I am pretty certain that I brought these back from that trip. They have been very good. 

This one had a dark, leathery, chocolate-coloured wrapper. A firm draw. It was immediately into stride with dark berry notes, forest floor characters. Quite a tight construction and this was a very slow smoke. It was complex, rich and mature and I thoroughly enjoyed it. for me, 94. 

The whiskies – to be honest, they were close enough that really it is all a bit navel-gazing to try to decide if one was a better choice. Personal preference stuff. Both worked. 

What is interesting is that this distillery only opened in 2008 (work began a little earlier but the licence arrived then). But this is not some bloke deciding wouldn’t it be fun to dabble. Owner, Ichiro Akuto, hails from the family which owned the renowned Hanyu Distillery. It began back in 1946 but sadly closed in 2000. But the family has been distilling since the seventeenth century (obviously not whisky – sake was their speciality). Ichiro had the extraordinarily good sense to purchase all the remaining stocks of maturing whisky from the Hanyu Distillery. It gave him a wonderful base to hit the ground running and is the reason he could offer numerous blends and also whiskies of age, even though those from Chichibu had only just started to mature. He also has extensive contacts both in Japan and offshore, enabling blends from around the world. 

It is clear that Ichiro walks to the beat of a different drum. He has released a great many different malts and offers all manner of whiskies which are closer to experiments than standards. Hanyu shut because less than two decades ago, Japanese whisky was in the doldrums. No wonder we do not have sufficient stocks today. Even when Ichiro kicked off, it was still tough. The frenzy for this spirit has only happened in the last few years. One of the early releases from Chichibu was what has become known as the Playing Card series. 54 different malts (52 cards and two jokers). And yet there are tales of bottles of these malts gathering dust on shelves for years. These days, if you are so fortunate as to have one, you’ve won the whisky lottery. They are worth the proverbial squillions. Many of his releases are only a few hundred bottles. One I found was just 26 bottles. 

Chichibu often uses Japanese/Mongolian Mizunara oak casks (Suntory first kicked this off back in the Second World War as other sources of oak became extremely difficult to source). Mizunara oak contributes a distinctive coconut character to the whiskies. Other barrels once housed local wines or New Zealand Pinot Noir, and so on.

The ‘Ichiro’s Malt’ MWR (MWR stands for Mizunara Wood Reserve) is a pure malt (please note that the terms ‘pure malt’ and ‘blended malt’ are common in Japan, even if they cause extreme discomfort for some of the purists), largely distilled at Hanyu, matured in Mizunara casks after vatting with several other unblended malts. For me, freshly baked bread notes and yes, a whiff of the coconut, with spices. This is a touch more elegant than some. A fabulous experience for whisky lovers. And if I did have to pick a preference for the best match, it was this one. 

But I have no doubt others will opt for ‘Ichiro’s Malt’ Wine Wood Reserve. This is another blended malt, including components from both the Hanyu and Chichibu distilleries. As time has passed, the percentages from Hanyu have diminished, not surprisingly. Some consider it the best of Ichiro’s whiskies. The Hanyu components were matured in French oak, egg-shaped casks from the Charentes region, previously used for Japanese red wine. For me, honey, cinnamon, that touch of coconut, red fruits and a hint of nougat. Bright, fresh and yet with complexity, there is excellent length here, decent power and yet well balanced. 

Two magic whiskies. Both excellent matches. 

KBG

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