Review of our February 2017 Japan Whisky Experience

Special release from Ichiro’s Malt for the Festival. A new release from Minagawa-san’s Highlander Inn, Benrinnes 19. Crowds at the Festival, including Shirai-san of Milwaukee’s Club, Kawaguchi.

“An incredible experience” was the unanimous verdict on our February 2017 Japan Whisky Tour. The centerpiece was the 2017 Chichibu Whisky Festival, held on Sunday 19th February. The massive crowds that showed up dead on the 11 am start time demonstrate the enthusiasm of the whisky-loving public. Throughout the afternoon, whisky fans knocked back samples from Scotland, the US, Australia, New Zealand and of course Japan.

Lots of heavy-hitters of the Japanese whisky scene were present, including Tsuchiya-san of Whisky Kentei, and Yamaoka-san, the leading Japanese whisky collector. Along with the top distillers from the majors and the well-established smaller distillers, staff from the new distilleries that have been established over the past year (Akkeshi, Nagahama, Sasanokawa, Gaia Flow Shizuoka) offered their new make. See my forthcoming article New Distilleries of Japan.

Leading bars presented a selection of their old bottles too, including Bar Kitchen, The Mash Tun, Bar Kreis, and others.

Speaking of bars, we enjoyed a few epic nights out in Fukuoka, Kumamoto, Kobe, Kyoto, Chichibu, Yokohama, Ginza, and Kawaguchi.


These scotches will do nicely

We also paid visits to Yamazaki, Fuji-Gotemba, and Miyagikyo distilleries, where we took the opportunity to buy a bunch of distillery exclusive bottles.

The Top 5 whiskies tasted on this trip were, in no particular order,
Yoichi 15-year Single Cask 59% (cask no. 412189)
Yamazaki Hogshead Owner’s Cask Kumamoto Bartenders Choice
Komagatake 1988 Takehira’s Choice (cask no. 555)
Hibiki 17 Non-chillfiltered 50.5% from 2005-ish
Nikka 34-year released 1999 for the aroma alone (because the bottle had been open too long and oxidized)


In other news, Amano-san, the owner of Bar Waiter Waiter in Nagoya, has written an excellent book Whisky and Sixpence on the distilleries Chichibu, Mars Shinshu, and White Oak Akashi. Worth seeking out, even if you don’t read Japanese, not least for the comprehensive run-down on the Ichiro’s Malt Card Series.

I enjoyed reading it over a taste of new pot from Mars’ distillery in Tsunuki, Kagoshima, in the far south of Japan. On our next Japan Whisky Experience in Summer 2017, we will be touring the distillery, along with lots of incredible whisky bars throughout Kyushu.

Email me at for info on our next tour this summer and if you’d like a personal bespoke tour.
Excellent selection of scotch, bourbon and Japanese whiskies at Milwaukee’s Club, Kawaguchi


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