Chichibu Whisky Town — what a fantastic setting for a whisky festival! Whisky maniacs galore, superb whisky bars, and the world’s hottest distillery, Ichiro’s Malt. Over three thousand people attended, all tickets sold out in advance. Compared to last year’s crowds things were pretty similar this year. As expected at opening time, there were huge lines for all three buildings used, with a 40-minute line for the Ichiro’s Malt stand.
And at the Chichibu Shrine, people lined up for half an hour for the Big Tombola: win the right to buy this year’s Ichiro’s Malt Cream Sherry Hogshead for 15,000 Yen ($140). A few bar owners already have the bottle so contact me if you’d like to know where to taste it.
Speaking of Ichiro’s Malt, the consummate gentleman Oka-san of Fukuoka’s Bar Kitchen brought ten Card Series Hanyu bottles and charged a mere 1,000 Yen ($10) per taste. Opportunities to try these are getting fewer and fewer – they are running out fast. Sure, you could try snapping one up at auction, but you could also buy a classic Lotus Europa for the price.
If you missed out on the Card Series, there were still so many amazing bottles at the independent stands, to name just a few, Acorn, Whisky Kentei, Whisk-E, Ogikubo Malt Club, Highlander Inn Craigellachie, Liquors Hasegawa, Club Qing of Hong Kong, Whisky Lovers Nagoya, and many more
The leading whisky collector in Japan, Hideo Yamaoka, showed an impressive range of whiskies at his Yamaoka Bar booth, including Chichibu and Eigashima selections.
A really impressive highlight of the festival was Yamaoka’s Sherry cask scotch masterclass.
He gave us the history of sherry cask seasoning, and the difference between casks used for sherry and for whisky. He quizzed us on six glasses. Wow, if school had been like this, we all might just have studied harder. But then again, maybe we wouldn’t have got much done … By the way, check out the two pics above and see if you can match the words to the whiskies. Answers at the bottom.*
Other seminars included Shinanoya’s fascinating event, The Past 40 Years of Speyside, where they presented a few of their independent bottles, with Miltonduff 34-year, Glenfarclas 36-year, Mosstowie 37-year, Glen Elgin 37-year, and a teaspooned Speyside 44-year. For those who don’t know, Shinanoya is a leading whisky store with a handful of branches in Tokyo, and their independent bottles usually sell out within a day.
Of course, all the major liquor companies had a presence, from Suntory and Asahi to Bacardi and Remy Cointreau. Mars offered tastings of two superb forthcoming whiskies: a 27-year old blend of four casks, plus the third Papillon. Smaller Japanese distillers Nagahama, Sasanokawa and Akkeshi all had interested offerings too.
Overall, the festival was a wonderful event, with so many terrific characters from the laidback but incredibly knowledgeable whisky community.
The festival ended with a bang as a bunch of whisky characters delivered a rock performance of that Irish classic, Whiskey in the Jar, led by Yumi Yoshikawa, Ichiro’s Malt brand ambassador and music graduate. So, which version did you prefer — the Chichibu Rockers, Thin Lizzy or Metallica?
The next major festival in the Japan whisky calendar is the Tokyo International Bar Show on May 12th to 13th. Last year’s was excellent so contact us for info on our upcoming tours:
*Answers to the Yamaoka-san quiz: 1B 2A 3D 4C 5F 6E
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