Ichiro’s Malt 1991 Five of Clubs
Country: Japanese Whisky
Bottler: Venture Whisky Ltd
Distillation Date: 1991
Style: Single Malt Whisky
Bottling Date: 2009
Price: Roughly $210.00 usd per bottle
Behind The Booze:
One thing that many people do not realize is that Japan is the fourth biggest producer of whisky in the world and the second largest producer of single malt whisky, winning a number of huge international praise and awards since 2001. Now I am personally new to whisky, especially the spirits from Japan but without giving away too much, I must say I have been nothing but impressed. Without further interruptions, on to the review!
The best and most comprehensive history I was able to locate on the Hanyu distillery, where the Ichiro’s Malt Five of Clubs was produced, was located at http://nonjatta.blogspot.com/2007/04/hanyu.html and instead of trying to pick out the highlights, I offer it to you in full.
The Hanyu distillery sat in a town of the same name in a plain of rice fields near the Tone river. Unfortunately, the Toa company which ran Hanyu went bankrupt and stopped distilling in 2000. The stills were dismantled in 2004 after a change of ownership. It seemed like the end of a long history of family brewing and distilling stretching back to the 17th century. The business had been founded by the Akuto family, sake-makers from the town of Chichibu, and an Akuto – Isouji Akuto – was still in charge when the Hanyu plant was built during the Second World War. In about 1980 they began Scotch style whisky making but were unable to survive the venture’s birth pangs in a contracting and increasingly competitive market.
And there the story of Hanyu would rest, another footnote in the corporatisation of Japan, if it were not for Isouji’s grandson Ichiro Akuto. He worked as a brand manager for the big conglomerate Suntory as a young man and then joined his family’s company as sales manager. He was president when the firm hit the rocks. However, with the help of a sake making company called Sasanokawa Shuzou, he was able to salvage something from the wreck of his family’s business: a large part of the stocks of malt whisky held at Hanyu, which were no longer wanted by the new owners of the site.
Ichiro has started a new company – Venture Whisky Ltd. – to market this whisky. He wants to set up a new distillery and is using all his marketing expertise to get people involved in the story of this phoenix-like rebirth and to establish “Ichiro’s Malt” as a strong brand. He is greatly helped in this endeavour by the fact that some of the old Hanyu whisky he is selling is of excellent quality. The branding is worthy of an old Suntory marketing hand, with a distinctive playing card theme being employed.
Ichiro Akuto has begun to assemble the distilling equipment he will need to start production again and has picked a new site. He says the new distillery will operate on a small scale, emphasising traditional crafts and skills. He has employed Mitsuo Saito, one of Japan’s most experienced coopers, to make Japanese oak and American oak casks for him.
Part of the cult Ichiro’s malt range of playing-card themed whiskies, distilled at the Hanyu distillery. This Five of Clubs was finished in a Japanese Mizunara oak Hogshead! Part of a release of just 372 bottles.
This whisky looks amazing, a dark golden hue with just the slightest bit of ‘glow’ around the edges when held next to light. When swirling the whisky around in my glass I noticed that a bit seemed to hang to the glass and slowly make its way back down with the rest a bit longer than I’ve seen with other spirits, giving it that sweet syrup type look. The smell is great as well – just the smallest bite from the alcohol, almost clearing the way for the fruity, sweet and oak scent to follow.
Right off the bat a light sweetness hits your lips, much lighter than I had expected. Fruity, floral notes just coat your taste buds but only for a second or two – this quickly gave way to the more spicy portion, a medium type of spice I really can’t describe other than delicious. Going well with the change in flavor I could feel a slight tingle on my lips and gums – not over powering in the least bit but rather an unexpected bonus. The finish was equally great, a heavy oak wood flavor that lingered, only improving the complexity and begging you to treat your taste buds a second time.
This is my first whisky review, and I am not sure if I just got a really good sample to start with or if the Ichiro’s Malt 1991 Five of Clubs is just a drink that hits my personal preference to a T. In comparison to a Glenlevit 12 year, this was a bit darker and heavier in body and taste but the flavors were much more intense and (in my limited experience) more balanced without the ‘bite’. Granted, this is still whisky and not tea, there is a bite but even when I slammed a bit more than I should have I never got the dreaded ‘whiskey face’ haha! I’d suggest a sample or try it when you are out if your unsure if this sounds like it would be up your alley – Hell, its only a $210.00 bottle!
Step back, relax, and enjoy.