It's safe to say that there is nobody in Hong Kong as passionate and knowledgeable about Japanese whisky as Aaron Chan. He owns the multi-award winning Club Qing, where - among other things - he holds regular whisky tastings spotlighting Japanese whiskies. He is also the go-to man in Hong Kong for magazine editors and journalists writing about Japanese whisky. He often visits Japan and, on a recent visit, made the trek out to Chichibu for the first time. This is his account of that visit to Chichibu distillery.
Post by Aaron Chan, Hong Kong
It all began in April 2013 when I attended WhiskyLive in Tokyo and met Akuto-san and Monma-san. Being a Japanese whisky enthusiast, I couldn’t resist expressing my interest in a distillery visit. After a couple of emails back and forth and some logistics planning, a date had been fixed for my dream-come-true tour in January 2014.
Those who have joined a distillery tour at one of Suntory or Nikka’s mammoth distilleries will probably agree that, even though pleasant as a day-out, it can be a bit too touristy. From sightseeing to tasting, everything is quite expected.
The Chichibu experience, however, is very different. Probably one of the smallest distilleries in the world, Chichibu is not designed to take visitors regularly. We had to watch our steps carefully when climbing the stairs and moved slowly among the equipment, but that made the whole tour far more adventurous and real. We had the opportunity to see the wash backs from close by, smelling the sweet fragrance aroma that filled the air, and to feel the heat that the workers at the distillery experience every day. Once inside the production facility, we were all deeply impressed by the dedication of the distillery crew.
[Ed. A new bottling line was installed in early March; more about that in a forthcoming post on Nonjatta.]
[Ed. That would be the remaining Karuizawa stock…]
The overall experience was both informative and sensational. Not only did we get to see every step of crafting an exquisite whisky, but also to feel the passion and dedication of Akuto-san and his team. Building a distillery from scratch is not an easy thing to do, managing it and making good whiskies is an even bigger challenge. Akuto-san continues to inspire whisky fans around the world with his whiskies… and all of this is accomplished with a small team of only 10 people. While the domestic whisky market is still dominated by the two big players, we are thrilled to see an independent distillery is thriving in the hills of Saitama. Ganbatte, Akuto-san!