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Hanyu Japanese Whisky Distillery History
The Akuto family who were originally sake-makers in the town of Chichibu established this family business in 1626.
Isouji Akuto, the 19th generation of the Akuto family, built a factory in Hanyu city, northwest of Tokyo, in 1941 to produce alcohol and obtained an alcohol licence in 1946.
In 1980, serious attempts to produce a Scotch Whisky-type product began and two pot stills were obtained. At the time, consumer demand was for blended whisky rather than single malt.
Since then there has been a worldwide shift towards single malts and in 1990 Chichibu whisky was launched, named after the place where the sake was originally produced. However, single malts require such a long maturation period that conditions were tough commercially.
Ownership changed hands and the new management decided to dispose of the stocks of maturing malts and the distillation facilities. Fortunately, a sake maker from northern Japan, Sasanokawa Shuzo, came to the rescue of Hanyu Distillery and agreed to take over the stocks and production facilities at this critical time.
Subsequently Ichiro Akuto, the grandson of the founder of the Hanyu Distillery, established a new company called Venture Whisky to once again produce single malt whisky.
Ichiro Akuto is in the middle of preparations to establish a new distillery and has also starting re-racking and bottling some of the stock held at Sasanokawa Shuzo. The venture has been well supported leading to the launch of “Ichiro’s Malt” in April 2005.
Akuto-san has started to gather together the pot stills, a mill and washbacks needed to start production again. He has travelled to Jerez in Spain to choose casks and visit cooperages and Bodegas. In Japan he has asked one of the most experienced coopers, Mr. Mitsuo Saito, to make Japanese Oak and American Oak casks for him.
The new distillery will emphasise traditional skills and craftsmanship and operate on a small scale in terms of production.
Hankyu Japanese Whisky Bottlings
Ichiro’s Malt Card Series, Ace of Spades 1985, 55% abv
Nose: Rich and quite fat. Chocolate-covered raisin with a hint of creosote and treacle. Yet still very pure with some complexity. Shows maturity.
Palate: Thick and very chewy. Like melting toffee in the mouth, balanced by an intense savoury edge, which then shifts into prunes macerated in brandy. Huge impact.
Finish: Dusty and lightly tannic.
Comments: If you like your whisky in yer face then this is for you.
Ichiro’s Malt Card Series, King of Diamonds 1988, 56% abv
Nose: Immediate complexity. Cheddar cheese, cream, but also a firm, nutty quality. A touch of burlap, smoke and then with water it shifts into sandalwood, citrus, pineapple, pine.
Palate: Dances in the mouth, moving from spice into flowers then to smoke which builds subtly.
Finish: Long, mixing spice and sweetness.
Comments: This has classic Japanese finesse. Great whisky has balance and this has it. In diamonds… not spades
Ichiro’s Malt Card Series, Queen of Hearts 1990, 54% abv
Nose: Round, tangy and slightly fat. Plaster, raspberry, tablet and vanilla. A touch of smoke mingling with estery perfume.
Palate: Lighter than the nose suggests and slightly drier. An interesting battle between deep sweetness in the mid-palate and fizzing spiciness. Good balance.
Finish: Zesty soft fruits. Pecan.
Comments: Fine balance and an intriguing palate. An impressive series
Ichiro’s Malt Card Series, King of Spades 1986, 57% abv
Ichiro’s Malt Card Series, Jack of Clubs 1991, 56% abv
Ichiro’s Malt Card Series, Two of Clubs 2000, 54% abv
Dave Broom’s tasting notes reproduced by kind permission of Whisky Magazine
Hanyu Distillery Equipment
Wash still: 4000 litres
Spirit still: 2000 litres
Wash backs: 4 x 6000 litres
1st distillation: 800kg barley
Phenol level: light-medium (approx. 5-20ppm)