Founded in 2004 by Ichiro Akuto, and operational from 2008, just 4 years after his family's famous distillery, Hanyu*, was dismantled.
Located in Chichibu It was the first new Japanese distillery since 1973.
The bank and investors took a lot of convincing that there was a future in Chichibu Distillery, because at that time, interest in Japanese whiskey had been in free fall for 25 years. Fortunately, whiskey lovers around the world succeeded. Before Chichibu opened, Ichiro had excelled at distilleries such as Benromach, Kilchoman, BenRiach and Karuizawa, and the quality was top notch from the start. Today, he is considered the most influential (living) person in Japanese whiskey.
The malt comes mainly from the UK (and a little bit from Germany), but Ichiro has also started using local barley. Japanese varieties, grown as little as 5 minutes from the distillery. As local barley is about 5 times more expensive than malt from the UK, it accounts for only about 15% of annual production. Every summer, before the distillery is shut down for maintenance, a little heavily peated (50+ ppm) malt is distilled. Chichibu is also particularly known for experimenting with different types of casks; tequila casks, calvados casks, cognac casks, beer casks and casks built from the special Japanese oak, mizunara have been used. The Chichibu distillery is Japan’s most famous and beloved small distillery, goes further with its use. All of the site’s washbacks are made from Japanese oak. It’s said to give Chichibu whisky its character.
One of Ichiro Akuto's characteristics is that he always thinks of the next generation - a great quality to have as a whiskey maker. Outside the distillery, he has planted Japanese oak trees, mizunara, ready to be made into barrels in about 200 years.
* Hanyu Distillery was located in a valley-like area near the River Torne, which is now an industrial area. Hanyu Distillery was founded in 1941 by Isouji Akuto, the 19th generation of the Akuto family, in the city of Hanyu.
They acquired a license in 1946, starting with steel continuous stills, then changing to copper ones. Their first product was their Golden Horse blended Whisky, made with their own grain Whisky and imported Scotch Whisky.
From 1980 to 2000, single malt production continued in Hanyu with two pot stills. In 2000 the company stopped Whisky production, and in 2004 the equipment was dismantled and sold to Ichiro Akuto. Whisky production failed to resume, but Akuto managed to save around 400 casks of single malt.
Hanyu used continuous stills for 40 years when producing their grain Whisky. In the 1980's, game changing pot stills were introduced, increasing the number of malt Whisky barrels.