Chichibu Ichiro’s Malt Port Pipe 2009/2013

I have found another trinity combination that I love; peat, port and cask strength! This was from a Japanese tasting presented by Bruce (@thedramdog) at the WhiskyBrother store. We had bottle #2665 of 4200 bottles produced.

Chichibu Ichiros Malt Port Pipe 2009_2013Whisky: Chichibu Ichiro’s Malt Port Pipe 2009/2013, 54.5% ABV

Region: Japan

Style: Single Malt

Age: 4 years

 In 2007 Ichiro Akuto, the grandson of the founder of the Hanyu distillery, decided to build a new whisky distillery in the city of Chichibu. They began distilling in the spring of 2008. It is said that the weather of the region, tough winters with hot and humid summers, helps to provide a maturity to the whiskies at a younger age.

The distillery equipment was made in and imported from Scotland, with the exception of the mash tun that was purchased from a local brewery. The long-term plan is to eventually grow, malt and peat their own barley but at present the barley is imported from England as well as from Germany, and the peat is brought in from Scotland.

This Chichibu Port Pipe was distilled in 2009. It was aged then for 3 years in quarter casks (50L) before being “finished” for a further year in port pipes (650L barrels that previously matured Port). It is this second maturation in the port pipe that it would suck in some of the port characteristics, this include the colour. It was then bottled, at cask strength, as a 4 year old in 2013 with a total production of 4,200 bottles.


Colour: Tawny tending to a lovely mahogany\rose copper with extremely slow and thick legs.

Nose: Young and lively with a fresh grape sweetness to it. There is also some yeastiness, red fruits (strawberry, cranberries and cherries), earthiness and grain/cereal round the nose out. Overall the nose is a pretty sweet one. Even the spiciness on the nose is to the sweeter side – winter and wood spices. There is also the faintest hint of Turkish delight covered in dark chocolate for me.

Palate: Very hot upfront (tip of tongue burn, due to the cask strength of the bottle no doubt) but that burns off very quickly to reveal dark fruit, burnt sweetness, tobacco leaves, strawberry and a slight smokiness. With some time more citrus fruits and Xmas cake mix emerge. There is a floral herbaceouness on the back palate.

Finish: Medium to long with hot sweet spiciness, citrus fruits and Xmas cake mix. There is a slight bitterness at the very end.

Overall: A fairly complex and intriguing whisky for one so young and the freshness does show on this whisky. The influence of the Port Pipe can definitely be felt in my opinion. I was very fortunate to experience this whisky, thanks Bruce!

My Score: 86

Hibiki 21yo

Another decade jump in age, this time backwards, for my next review; the exquisite 21yo Hibiki from Suntory. The first time I got to taste this was at the World Whisky Awards workshop at the South African Whisky Live (presented by Rob Allanson) in 2013.

Hibiki-21yo_The Smoky DramWhisky: Hibiki 21yo, 43% ABV (Suntory)

Region: Japan

Style: Blended Whisky

Age: 21 years

Suntory was started by Torii Shinjiro, who first opened his store Torii Shoten in Osaka on February 1, 1899, to sell imported wines. In 1923, Torii Shinjiro built Japan’s first malt whisky distillery Yamazaki Distillery. Production began in December 1924 and five years later Suntory Whisky Shirofuda (White Label), the first single malt whisky made in Japan, was sold. In January 2014, Suntory announced an agreement to buy the largest U.S. bourbon producer, Beam Inc. This deal would make Suntory the world’s third largest spirits maker.

Hibiki means resonance in Japanese. Hibiki resonates from nature and all the subtleties found from the twenty-four seasons of the old Japanese lunar calendar. The Hibiki 21 year old is a blend of rare and meticulously selected mature grain malts aged over 21 years. The key Yamazaki sherry cask malt is vatted with other carefully chosen mellow unblended grain malts over 21 years old.

Colour: Deep to burnished gold with long, slow and medium legs.

Nose: Sweet with plum, Christmas cake, dried fruit and nuts and some light sweet spicy notes. There is a slight minty character hanging around the edges with some sandalwood and patchouli thrown in as well. Nose is clean and balanced.

Palate: Incredible upfront wood, with a nice mix of sweet and spicy flavours. Nice touch of chocolate on the mid palate and a very subtle nuance of light sweet smoke in the background. A really full and chewy mouthfeel to this one. Palate is stunning. It is in balance, smooth and drying.

Finish: Very long and smooth with sweet spiciness throughout and a nice drying end

Overall: My first whisky from Suntory and Hibiki range and what a fantastic whisky. Loved the full and chewy palate as well as the lovely interplay between the sweet and spicy notes. One other thing I really liked was the bottle, it had a nice heft to it and looks stunning. Can easily see why this won world’s best blended whisky 3 times already at the WWA.

My Score: 87

Nikka Gold & Gold

Nikka Gold & Gold, my second review of a Japanese whisky, was launched in 1968 and for quite some time it was one of the core whiskies of the Nikka blended range. These days though it is a little harder to find.

Nikka_Gold & Gold_The Smoky DramWhisky: Gold & Gold, 40% ABV (Cost around R500)

Region: Japan

Style: Blended Whisky

Age: NAS

Previously on The Smoky Dram’s Japanese whisky tasting adventure we mentioned the story of Masataka Taketsuru, father of Japanese whisky, and his journey to establish Nikka.

Masataka established Nikka because he was determined to introduce his fellow Japanese to the joys of authentic whisky. His vision of whisky was formed by his experience in Scotland, and he knew that the right environment was essential. In Yoichi, he saw numerous reminders of Scotland, and this convinced him that this should be the home of Japanese Whisky. The location was selected because of its clean air, just the right humidity for storage, and abundant underground water filtered through a layer of peat. Yoichi produces a rich, peaty and masculine malt.

The Miyagikyo Distillery is also in northern Japan, in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, northern Honshu. Travelling in the area one day, Masataka came upon this site completely enclosed by mountains and sandwiched between two rivers. He immediately knew that this was the perfect site for whisky distilling. Sendai’s fresh water, suitable humidity and crisp air produce soft and mild malt.

Colour: Bright amber to burnished with long and slow medium to thick legs.

Nose: Fairly dry and malty start before the emergence of the sweet flavours; toffee, vanilla and soft sweet spices (ginger). Towards the get some Christmas notes; warm spices, brandied dried fruit, brandy tart and some very light Christmas cake.

Palate: Smooth, round and warming, especially with some time, with a subtle hint of peat. Sweet spiciness (cinnamon and ginger) again, some pepper notes, maltiness and a wood spice warm tingle at back of one’s mouth. A pleasant enough palate.

Finish: Medium to long finish that is warm with sweet soft spiciness (pepper and ginger) and slightly drying.

Overall: While a good quality blend, where I enjoyed the subtle play between the malt, sweet and spicy flavours, there are other blends from Nikka that are more readily available that I enjoyed more and preferred.

My Score: 80

Nikka Whisky from the Barrel

For my first review of a Japanese whisky I decided not on the first one I tasted, but rather the first one I bought for myself – the Nikka Whisky from the Barrel. Coincidently this is also my first review of a blended whisky. Simply put, a blended whisky is a mixture of both malt and grain whisky. 

Nikka_Whisky from the Barrel_The Smoky DramWhisky: Nikka Whisky from the Barrel, 51.4% ABV (Cost around R450)

Region: Japan

Style: Blended Whisky

Age: NAS

In 1918 Masataka Taketsuru travelled to Scotland, originally to study chemistry in preparation to carry on the family’s’ trade of making sake. However, Scotch whisky captured the young man’s imagination so he decided to dedicate his life to whisky and became the first Japanese ever to study the art of whisky making. He apprenticed at distilleries, learning first-hand from the craftsmen and receiving training as a blender. He would eventually become known as a master blender.

Masataka’s vision of whisky was formed by his experience in Scotland, and he knew that the right environment was essential. It became apparent that in order to produce whisky as he felt it had to be, he would have to become independent. So in 1934 Masataka established Nikka Whisky and built its first distillery in Yoichi, Hokkaido. Even though it was inconveniently located, he had always considered it to be the most ideal site in Japan for whisky-making. It was similar in many ways to the Scottish town where he had studied.

The Nikka Whisky from the Barrel is made from matured malt whisky and grain whisky that are then blended together and then re-casked to create a rich harmony of distinctly different whiskies. It is bottled directly from the re-casked barrels of whisky and features almost the same alcohol percentage, a gorgeous 51.4% ABV.

Colour: Tawny to mahogany with many slow medium to thick legs.

Nose: Starts off with dried apricots, citrus fruits (mostly oranges and orange peel), and leading to a charming florallyness and sweetness (sweet pecan nut slice). Furthermore there is also Christmas cake mix, sultanas and boiled sweets on the nose with a porty and almost brandied date loaf character. There is also a dabble of oaky spice to tease you.

Palate: Medium to full-bodied with good balance. Despite the high ABV it is very easy drinking and has a smooth palate that delivers a divine spicy burn at the back of your mouth. The spiciness is of the warm winter and Christmas spice variety with some wood spice also thrown in. There is also a sweetness on the palate, caramel toffee, as well as hints of fruit (a mix of citrus and apricots).

Finish: Fairly long with sweet fruitiness, toffee and a long spicy (winter and oak spice) tingle on front of tongue. The finish also has a very warm heart.

Overall: A delightful and powerful whisky from Nikka and Japan. The very pleasant nose draws you in, while the balance of spice and sweetness of the palate keeps you taking sip after sip (as it did me). Lastly the price point on this makes it one of the greatest value for money whiskies in the world (in my opinion – and more so if you are a fan of cask strength whisky).

My Score: 86