The background

Visiting Chichibu Distillery - image 1Here at Whisky Saga we have long been fans of the (still young) whisky being distilled at Chichibu Distillery. The heart and soul of Chichibu is Ichiro Akuto. He is the owner, Distillery Manager and Master Distiller. He is also well-known for having acquired the Kawasaki and Hanyu stock, and releasing the lovely Hanyu Playing Card Series, and a number of fine blends and vatted blends under the brand Ichiro’s Malt.

Chichibu does not have regular opening hours for visitors. You have to arrange the visit with them before you go. This should not be a problem, however, as they are very accommodating and friendly.

The trip

You have several options to reach Chichibu Distillery. Your starting point will probably be Tokyo, and you are then looking at about two hours travel each way. I will here list the main train options:

  • Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Kumagaya Station, then the Chichibu Line from Kumagaya Station to Chichibu Station
  • Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line from Tokyo Station to Ikebukuro Station + Seibu Line “Chichibu Limited Express” from Ikebukuro Station to Seibu-Chichibu Station

Please note that the two options given above use two different train stations in Chichibu. Make sure you get back to the correct station when you go back to Tokyo, as there is no connection between the two. The walk between the stations is just a few minutes though.

Once you have reached Chichibu, you need to locate a taxi and get to the actual distillery. The drive is about 25 minutes. Getting the driver to understand where you want to go might be a challenge though. So here are a couple of tips:

  • Try name dropping first, mentioning Chichibu Whisky and Ichiro Akuto. If that fails,
  • Try giving the address which is: 49 Midorigaoka, Chichibu-shi, Saitama-ken, Japan. If this also fails,
  • Try giving the phone number to the taxi driver: 494 62 4601. In some of the taxi GPS systems they can find addresses based on phone number. If this also fails,
  • Try calling the phone number yourself and ask for Yumi Yoshikawa. She can help explain the address to the taxi driver.

We ended up with option four above, and that worked a charm!

Visiting Chichibu Distillery - map
On this map you can see the position of the distillery highlighted. In the lower part of the map you see the local train stations.

The distillery

Chichibu in summer is hot, almost as hot as Tokyo. Which means it was a solid 33 degrees Celsius when we arrived! Also note that the month of August is maintenance season at Chichibu, which means there is no ongoing production.

Visiting Chichibu Distillery - image 2
Here we see the eight Mizunara oak wash backs, and the stills.

A few facts about the distillery:

  • Production is currently at about 60 000 liters pure alcohol per year
  • About 70 % of their sales is domestic, and 30 % is export
  • The angel’s share varies throughout the year, due to cold winters and very hot summers, but average 3-5 % per year
  • They use mainly bourbon casks, but also have sherry casks, and new oak (American, French and Mizunara)
  • There are currently two warehouses in use, but they are close to full (approximately 1500 casks in each). A third warehouse will be in place later this year
  • They are currently running at 10 production batches per week, with one batch resulting in about 200 liters new make at about 70 % alcohol
  • They have two pot stills, about 2000 liters capacity, which have indirect heating from gas
  • At first they had 5 wash backs, but they are now up to 8
  • The wash backs are made from Mizunara oak! I believe this is rather unique (and expensive).
  • Fermentation time varies between 60-80 hours

Most of the production is unpeated spirit, but for one month per year they produce peated new make. They use malt peated to 50 ppm for the last month before maintenance season.

Visiting Chichibu Distillery - image 3
The stills were under maintenance during our visit.

The tour

We were met at the distillery by both their brand ambassador, Yumi Yoshikawa, and Ichiro Akuto himself. Yumi would then lead us through the distillery on a tour. We got to see everything we wanted, and we could take pictures everywhere.

It was quite impressive to see the whole distillery up close. It is still a relatively small distillery, with about 10 employees.

They have an approach much like that of Kilchoman on Islay, and Box Whisky in Sweden. They want to have control over everything themselves. You could possibly argue that Ichiro-san goes a few steps further than anyone else though. He is obviously a real whisky nerd. Just listen to this.

Earlier this year they started their own floor maltings. They have malted about 1 ton of malt so far, to get the process right, but the short term plan is to malt all the locally produced barley they buy. This amounts to about 15 tons per year.

They have also started setting up their own cooperage! They have been trained by an old local cooper, that is about to retire. Until now they have used this local cooperage for repairs and re-charring, but as he is closing down they wanted to do this themselves. One of the first projects they have is to make their own style of quarter casks from bourbon barrels, at 120-130 liters capacity.

In the production hall they have their own bottling facility, where they employ about five people doing all their bottling.

We also spotted a beautiful new marriage tank in the production hall. A wonderful ‘egg’ made from French oak, by Taransaud.

Visiting Chichibu Distillery - image 4
The lovely marriage tank. I want one of these in my living room!
Visiting Chichibu Distillery - image 5
The special style quarter casks, slightly different shape than the ones used in Scotland.

The tasting

Visiting Chichibu Distillery - image 6
The good looking member of Whisky Saga enjoying great whisky.

After the tour we went back to the small and cozy Visitors Center, where we got to try a lot of different expressions and samples. Here is a short summary of what we tried:

  • Chichibu new make – unpeated, 63,5 %
  • Ichiro’s Malt & Grain – Chichibu Blended Whisky (worldwide blend), 46 %
  • Ichiro’s Malt & Grain – Premium Chichibu Blended Whisky (worldwide blend), 50 %
  • Kawasaki Grain 1982 / 2011 – cask sample, sherry butt, 65%
  • Ichiro’s Malt Chichibu 2011/2014 – cask sample, Sherry Butt Cask #1284, bottle 3/12, 60,7%
  • Ichiro’s Malt Pure Malt Whisky – Wine Wood Reserve, 46 %
  • Ichiro’s Malt Chichibu On the Way, 58,5 %

Expect more in depth reviews of many of these over the next few weeks.

The return

Visiting Chichibu Distillery - image 7
Time to say goodbye (from left): Yumi Yoshikawa, Tone Øhrbom, Thomas Øhrbom, and Ichiro Akuto.

It was an absolute delight visiting Chichibu Distillery. Both Ichiro-san and Yumi-san are very knowledgeable, approachable and lovely people. Their English is also very good, and we really felt welcome there. We hope to go back to the distillery next time we are in Japan (in a few years). We will certainly keep up to date on any new releases from Ichiro’s Malt, whether it is Chichibu whisky, great blends or old stock from Hanyu or Kawasaki.

Visiting Chichibu Distillery - image 8
The distillery, with the Visitors Center and office building to the left, production hall behind that. Warehouse in the middle, and floor malting to the right.

Sláinte!
– Thomas

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62 COMMENTS

  1. Dear Thomas,

    Thank you for a very interesting article.

    Do you have an e-mail address for either Ichiro Ikuta or Yumi Yoshioka?

    Kind regards,
    Mungo Gilchrist

  2. Slainthe mhath!
    Planerar en resa t Japan och då ffa Yoichi….men Chichibu borde ingå ser jag…!? Har du några praktiska tips ang resan totalt så vore jag tacksam! / MVH Putte

  3. Really enjoyed your article on your visit to Chichibu Distillery. I am a frequent traveler to Japan and have visited Yamazaki Distillery, Hakushu Distillery, Fuji Gotembo (Kirin) Distillery, and Miyagkyo Distillery. I’m headed up to the Yoichi Distillery this weekend. I am anxious to visit Chichibu as it’s one of the last Japanese distilleries on my list to visit. Could you provide Yumi Yoshikawa’s email address to me?

    Thanks,

    Jim Manley
    Brand Ambassador
    Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co.
    Fort Worth, Texas, USA

  4. Hello,

    I’m currently on a foreign exchange trip to Tokyo and was planning on visiting the Chichibu distillery sometime within the next week or two. Could I please have the relevant contact information in order to set up a distillery tour?

    Thanks,

    Mike

  5. Hello!

    Great article! I am planning a whiksy pilgrimage to Japan later this year and would love to visit the Chichibu Distillery. Could you kindly provide me with the contact details of the distillery so that I can set up a tour if possible.

    Thanks for your help!

    Pavan

  6. Hi Thomas,
    great article!
    I am planning to visit Chichibu in August, could you please send me the email address for the distillery?

    Thanks!
    Fangkai

  7. I know you are getting flooded with requests about contact info of Ichiro or Yumi.
    Can you please mail me their mail id ?

  8. Hi Thomas

    Big fan of the site, this writeup just made me absolutely dying to visit, would it be possible for you to give me Yumi or Ichiro’s email as well?

    Thanks!
    Josh

  9. Hi Thomas

    i will be in the area in April next year and would like to visit it as well, would it be possible for you to give me Yumi or Ichiro’s email?

    Many thanks in advance

    Kind regards

    Régis

  10. Hi Thomas,
    Thanks for the information on the website, I am from Canada and planning to go visit Chichibu and Yamazaki Distillery this December, can you email me their email please? Thanks much.

  11. Dear Thomas,

    This is a fantastic article. I’m planning to go to japan next month and visit chichibu .
    Could i request for the email address please so that i could contact them?

  12. Hi Thomas, thank you for your very informative write-up. I would very much like to visit chichibu distillery in my next trip to Tokyo. Would it still be possible to arrange by email?

    Thank you,

    Richard from Manila

  13. Hi Thomas,

    A really interesting write-up about Chichibu distillery. We are traveling to Tokyo next month and would like to visit the distillery. could you share with me their email details to arrange for a visit please.

    Thank you.

  14. Hi Thomas, thanks for this great review.

    Is the distillery tour open to the general public? I have heard that you need to be in the business (brand ambassador, exporter, bar owner, etc.) to be invited for a tour. Is this true?

    Could you please send me the contact details so that I can try to arrange a visit?

    Thanks, Josh

  15. Dear Thomas,

    A fantastic write-up and one that confirms I need to visit Chichibu while I am in Japan in May!

    Please could you give me the email address of either Ichiro Akuta or Yumi Yoshioka?

    It would be much appreciated.

    Happy new year!
    James

  16. Wonderful article, Thomas.
    I hope to visit as well, during my stay in Japan.
    Could you kindly give me email contact of Yumi-san or Ichiro-san?
    Many thanks,
    Nicholas

  17. Hi Thomas,

    I will be in the area in the next two weeks. Would you please share the email address of either Ichiro Akuta or Yumi Yoshioka so I could try to plan a visit? Thank you so much!

    Best regards,

    Logan

  18. Hi Thomas, like everyone else above, I loved reading your article, and would love an email address so I could introduce and arrange a visit myself! I am a beverage alcohol professional in the US and am planning a trip to Japan in May. Looking forward to it and to hearing from you!

    Cheers,
    Dave

  19. Hi Thomas,

    My hubby is a big Ichiro fan and I mean BIG! We will be going to Tokyo in May and would love to visit the Chichibu distillery. Would you be so kind to give me the email addresses for me to contact them?

    Thanks very much.

    Cheers,
    Mei Ee

  20. I’m a Japan food anthropologist and of course whisky figures. I’d also like to visit. Might you send me the relevant details – email etc. or are they now flooded with such requests?
    Best
    Merry White

  21. Dear Thomas,

    I plan to visit Chichibu Distillery this coming April. Could you please kindly provide me with contact of Yumi ? Your kindness will be very much appreciated. Thanks in advance.

    ES Lim

  22. Hi Thomas, great article on your visit to Chichibu’s distillery. Would love to visit them in April if possible. Could I get their email please? Thank you.

  23. Hi Thomas,

    I am travelling to Japan in the next few months, any chance I could have the email contact details for the distillery?

    Kind regards,

    Alex

  24. Dear Thomas
    Thank you so much for sharing. Very insightful. Any chance you could share their email with me please. Would love to visit them after my work trip to Japan on 28 May – 31 May 2016. Thanks !!

  25. Hi, Wonderful article. Could you share the contact information for the distillery with me. Would love to book a tour when I’m out in Japan in October. Are the whiskies available for purchase at the distillery?

  26. Hi there – I’ve been to Japan a couple of times and on my next trip I intend to take a day out to Chichibu and being a huge fan of Ichiro’s whiskys I’d like to get in touch to ensure availability later this year. Would you mind passing on the email address please?
    Thanks, in advance.

  27. Thanks for the article, I was hoping you could send me the email address so I could set up a visit to the distillery.

    Thanks

  28. Hi Thomas,
    Thank you for this article.

    I am travelling to Japan in October, Could you kindly send me the email contact details for the distillery?

    Best regards,
    Geraud

  29. Hey,

    I just come back from Whisky Live Paris 2016. I tasted 2 chichibu, Peated 2011 for “La maison du Whisky” 60th anniversary was really amazing (but obviously also a little bit overated : http://www.whisky.fr/chichibu-2011-peated-60-ans-lmdw.html) but not released on the french market yet… Next time I go to Japan, I will visit them for sure !
    Can I also have the email address of Ichiro Akuta or Yumi Yoshioka for an easier planning ?
    Thanks for the article, this japanese distillery sounds very promising anyways !

  30. Hi Thomas,
    I read your great article a few years ago and stored this valuable information in my head until my next oppurtunity to get to Japan and visit Chichibu. My wife is Japanese but has no interest in Whisky at all, so every visit we have had to Japan has so far, has not involved a distillery tour! We are going to Japan on 26th of December 2016 and I would love to finally get to Chichibu. Please could you forward me Yumi San or Ichiro San’s email addresses? Thank you in advance and keep up the good work! Avid reader and enthusiast from London, UK here.

  31. Hi Thomas,

    I’ve been an observer for a while, always enjoying your articles even if they do result in me buying more and more whisky.

    I’m going to be travelling in Japan next month and wanted to visit a few distilleries, do you have an e-mail address for either Ichiro Ikuta or Yumi Yoshioka at the distillery?

  32. Hi Thomas,

    Could you have any suggestions how to contact with Chichibu destillery for business proposal? Can’t really find any contact options.
    Best,
    Armin

  33. Hi Thomas,

    This article is very informative and helpful for Chichibu fans!

    We are planning a visit to the distillery in coming November. Would you kindly provide the address of their website or email contact?

    Many many thanks

    Rus

  34. Hello Thomas, perfect article for planing my trip to the japanese Whisky distilleries in 2018. And as so many others before I would be very glad, if you would send me all the contact informations (e-mail, website and so) of the people of Chichibu.
    Thank you in advance and a lot more inspiring whisky travelling for you
    Dirk

    Hochheim am Main, Germany

  35. Hello, really appreciate the article. My colleagues and I live in Tokyo and are huge Ichiro (and Japanese whiskey) fans. Would love to get his contact to setup a group tour for us.
    Thanks!
    Matt

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