Review #60: Ichiro Malt Chichibu

We wrote about Bar High Five during our last trip to Japan. It remains my favorite of the excellent Ginza bars. The proprietor, Hidetsugu Ueno, is legendary on the Tokyo bartending circuit and considered on many lists as one of the top mixologists in the world. Bar High Five specializes in Japanese takes on drinks – and has no menu. Instead, you chat with one of the affable bartenders on your likes and dislikes – and they craft a drink custom-tailored to your affinities. Nearly always, the cocktails comprise liqueurs, spirits, and fruits that are Japan-specific.

I asked for something with an Islay base and I ended up with a wonderful combination of Japanese-Islay whisky, China, and yuzu liqueur.
Just a portion of the well-stocked bar (my camera could not fit the entire bar into view).

The small basement floor bar is loaded with curious spirits and liqueurs and there is a wealth of eye-catching Japanese whiskies. So while enjoying our Japanese cocktails, we ended up asking for some drams of whisky.

I’m somewhat familiar with Ichiro’s whisky. We had a bottle at home that was okay, nothing too stellar, but they have a few legendary malts – and we did once try the old “On the Way” bottling in San Diego’s The Whiskey House – but we were fairly sauced by then and I cannot remember anything about it except that I liked it (but by then, I liked everything).

Under guidance by our bartender, we selected the Ichiro’s Chichibu 2011, which was exclusively bottled for the World Cocktail Championships 2016. Turns out the price ($30/pour) is excellent, given that it auctioned recently for 1,250 GBP.


Tasting Notes

Nose: gasoline and diesel. Leather motorcycle jacket. Nose singing vanilla after you smell through the smoke. Mandarin orange and liquid smoke

Palate: Vanilla spiced smoke but wow so surprising for a 61.6 pct. Straw malt. Smoked milky way bar. Deep fried Snickers.

Finish: Smoke that lasts and lasts. It is a very comforting smoke like cigars


Overall: 8/10. Excellent.

TDLR;: Leather-cloaked Snickers bar

Bought for: $30/pour (I think). Exclusively bottled for the World Cocktail Championships. Auctioned for 1,250 GBP.

Quick overview of our scoring system. Note that we try to give a “5” for an average whisky, which is lower than standard whisky scoring guides (typically around 80).

Additional Information

  • Cask Type: Hogshead
  • Barley: Peated Oxbridge
  • Distilled in August 2011, Bottled in September 2016
  • ABV: 61.6%
  • Number of bottles: 272 (this is #188)

About Ichiro’s Chichibu 2011

  • Ichiro Akuto operates only two tiny pot stills in the hills of Chichibu and it is considered Japan’s smallest distillery, with a small staff of around 10-14 employees
  • His grandfather is a sake maker and his family’s shut-down distillery Hanyu rivals Karuizawa as a legendary lost Japanese distillery
  • Ichiro tends to finish in Mizunara oak, which is his favorite oak to mature in, but the distillery is known to experiment with a wide variety of cask types
  • They also make their whisky in Mizunara oak washbacks and are the only distillery to do so. Ichiro believes this imparts a different type of lactic acid fermentation than using other (more conventional) wood types and that certain types of lactic acid and bacteria may thrive better with Mizunara.

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