Breaking New Ground With a Classic Touch: Ichiro Akuto (Part I)

The craft distillery movement has been gathering a lot of steam lately.  It has definitely hit here in the Northern California, with the likes of St. George,  Charbay, Old World Spirits and Low Gap.  Although larger, one can make an argument that Kilchoman on Islay falls into this category as well.

Craft distillers are appreciated for their keen attention to detail and hands on approach.  There is also some personality and a sense of connectedness with the distiller as you can identify the specific person who is actually distilling the whisky.  The craft distillery movement is not limited to the United States (or Scotland if one throws Kilchoman into the mix) though.  One of my favorite distilleries, for many of the same reasons people like craft distilleries, is Chichibu located in the prefecture of Saitama, Japan.

Chichibu was only recently established in 2008 by Ichiro Akuto (officially Venutre Whisky).  Akuto San set up the distillery with the meticulousness and attention to detail that you would expect from a distiller/owner.  The passion that he has is clearly discernible in his approach and methods of making whisky and it all culminates in the expressions that he releases.  Simply put, Akuto San is doing some very cool things at Chichibu.  You can follow the details of his work on his twitter feed.  Although he tweets in Japanese he often includes pictures, which recently included his trip to some of the US distilleries and their cooperages.  For some additional pictures of the distillery and equipment check out this site.

We have been fortunate enough to drink some of the spirit from Chichibu and found them both promising as well as tasty.  We have also been intrigued with Akuto San’s history of distilling whisky as well as the details of his new venture at Chichibu so we set out to ask him a couple of questions.  This is the first series of questions and responses, the second series will be posted shortly.

WhiskyWall:  Your family has a long history of brewing sake, what got you started in distilling whisky?

ご家族は永年造り酒屋を営まれていたということですが、あなたがウイスキーの蒸留を始めたきっかけは何ですか?

Akuto San:  祖父が1941年に羽生に本社工場を設立し、1946年にウイスキー免許も取得しました。1980年台にはスコットランド式のポットスチル2基を使い本格的なウイスキー造りを始めました。しかし、2000年になるころには経営が悪化し、父は2004年には会社を手放すことを決めました。しかし、新オーナーはウイスキーに興味がなく、期限を設定し、引き取り手がなければ、設備もウイスキー原酒も廃棄することを決定しました。この原酒を引き取ることを決め、将来ウイスキー造りを再開することを決意いたしました。

My grandfather opened the sake business/main factory in Hanyu in 1941 and got a license for whisky distilling in 1946.  In the 1980s we bought 2 Scottish pot stills and started to invest for making whiskies.  However, in 2000, our business started to go downhill and my father decided to sell our company.  The new owner was not interested in whisky distilling and decided to discard all the equipment and whisky if no one claimed it within a limited time.  I decided to take the whisky and was determined to resume whisky making in the future.

WhiskyWall:  Who are some of the biggest influences in your career of distilling whisky?

あなたのウイスキー蒸留のキャリアの中で、多大な影響を与えた人物は、どのような方々ですか?

Akuto San:  歴史上の人物として竹鶴正孝や鳥井信治郎があげられます。また、新しい蒸溜所としていろいろな方からアドバイスをいただきました。とりわけ、現在の状況に至った背景として祖父や父の存在は大きかったと思います。

Masataka Taketsuru and Shinjiro Torii.  Also, many people have given precious advice to us as a new whisky distiller.  But the biggest influence is my father and grandfather who led me to this career.

WhiskyWall:  How would you describe your philosophy for making whisky?

あなたのウイスキー作りの哲学とは?

Akuto San:  ウイスキー造りにトリックはありません。当たり前のことを積み重ねていくということです。

There’s no trick to making whiskey.  Just do what I have to do one day at a time.

WhiskyWall:  Chichibu is a new distillery, do you see this as a continuation of what you were doing at Hanyu or a completely new and different beginning?

秩父は新しい蒸留所ですが、あなたの中では、ここで羽生で培ってきたことを継続して行うところですか、それともなにか別の、新しいことを行うところですか?

Akuto San:  造り方の基本は同じです。しかし、環境、設備、人が異なりますから異なるシングルモルトが生まれています。羽生の経験を生かし、さらに細かいところに注意を払っています。また、羽生では使用していなかった樽も使用しています。

The basics are the same for making whisky, but environment, equipment and people involved make  a difference for single malt.  Based on what I learned through my Hanyu experience, I’m trying to be more cautious in the details.  I also use casks I never used at Hanyu.

WhiskyWall:  The expressions that have been release from Chichibu are very diverse from heavily peated to Mizunara – how would you describe Chichibu’s style of whisky?

秩父からリリースされているボトルは、へヴィリー・ピーテッドからミズナラまで様々なものがありますが、あなたは秩父スタイルのウィスキーをどう表現しますか?

Akuto San:  現在、さまざまな取り組みを行っています。目的は秩父スタイルの探求です。最初にスタイルを決めてしまうのではなく、回り道のように感じるかもしれませんが、5年、10年と歳月を重ねることにより、秩父に適した樽やスピリッツが出来上がっていきます。徐々に秩父のスタイルが完成してゆくのだと考えています。

Currently, I am variously engaged with this. The goal is to pursue a Chichibu style.  There was not an initial settling upon a style.  Not taking any short-cuts as I make whiskies for the next 5, 10, or more years, I will create suitable casks and spirits for Chichibu.  Gradually, the Chichibu style will be perfected, I think.

WhiskyWall:  Both the Newborn Heavily Peated and Newborn Double Matured are very young whiskies but they have so much flavor already, how are you able to get that amount of flavor in such a short period of time?

ニューボーン・へヴィリー・ピーテッドとニューボーン・ダブル・マチュアードともに、短い熟成期間のウイスキーにもかかわらずすでに濃厚なフレーバーがありますが、短時間でウィスキーにあのようなフレーバーを持たせる秘訣は何ですか?

Akuto San:  なにも特別なことをしているつもりはありません。スピリッツの品質を日々吟味し、良質な樽を選ぶ努力を繰り返しをしているだけです。あとは秩父の環境が熟成を育むんでくれているのだと思います。

We don’t do anything special.  I check the quality of spirit everyday and try to find the best cask each time.  The rest of the flavor is nurtured to maturity by Chichibu’s environment, I imagine.

WhiskyWall:  What are some of your goals for Chichibu’s whisky?

秩父ウィスキーで成し遂げたいことは何ですか?

Akuto San:  個人的な目標ですが、30年ものの秩父シングルモルトを楽しむことです。

It’s my personal goal, but I want to enjoy a 30 yr old Chichibu Single Malt.

2 Comments

Filed under Chichibu

2 responses to “Breaking New Ground With a Classic Touch: Ichiro Akuto (Part I)

  1. Nice one guys, enjoying whiskywall a lot.

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