"Once encountered, never forgotten. "
- Dave Broom, whiskyadvocate.com.
Chichibu founder and craft distiller, Ichiro Akuto, has created a vatting of single malts and matured them in Japanese Mizunara oak casks (Quercus mongolica), commonly referred to as Japanese oak. Suntory set a precedent for experimenting with this indigenous species. It presented a logical alternative for distillers after the Second World War when supplies of foreign oak were difficult to source, but it turned out to be a far from ideal vessel. Mizunara's loose grains tended to cause leakage, and also created challenges in terms of timber selection and cooperage. Blenders at the time had few kind words to say about the wood. For consumers today, the obvious question is "Does Mizunara oak give a distinctive flavour to whisky?"
Nonjatta, (www.nonjatta.com), one of the better sources for information on Japanese whisky, writes that most agree that it does.
"This special taste/aroma has been variously described as evoking "sandalwood", a type of oriental incense called "kara" etc.. However, more recently, scientific research has focused on a distinctive coconut aroma associated with Mizunara barrels. A paper delivered by Yushi Noguchi at the Worldwide Distilled Spirits Conference 2008 in September tried to pin down this characteristic and makes fascinating reading.
The researchers, supported by Suntory, The International Centre for Brewing and Distilling and the Scotch Whisky Research Institute, asked a panel of testers to score how much coconut smell they detected in two types of whisky: one matured in Mizunara and the other matured in White Oak barrels."
The upshot was that Mizunara matured whisky tends to offer more definite coconut aroma. Other sources (see Dave Broom's review below) suggest it contributes attractive sandalwood notes. The whisky comes non chill filtered at 46%.
Other reviews... The Ichiro of the title is Ichiro Akuto, scion of the family which owned the now demolished Hanyu distillery, and proprietor of the brand new and incredibly cute (yes…distilleries can be cute) Chichibu distillery — even the name’s cute. This release is a vatting of different (un-named) single malts from more than one distillery which have been aged in Japanese oak (mizunara, or Q.Mongolica). Mizunara has a highly distinctive aromatic spectrum — the Japanese say that it smells of temples, specifically the incense which scents Zen temples, but while totally accurate, that’s not much help if you haven’t been to one. Think of a heavy, exotic aroma of allspice, sandalwood, even redwood, and you’re almost there. In fact, if you think of the perfumed aspects of rye, but turned up a notch, then you’re in the right ballpark. In this one there’s even a hint of trail bar — maybe it’s a hike in a California old-growth forest. The palate is soft and slow to start, then picks up mouthwatering acidity — there’s that rye parallel. Green plum and peach, balanced with spiciness on the end. Once encountered, never forgotten.
- whiskyadvocate.com, reviewed by: Dave Broom