The new Chichibu Martial Arts Trilogy is bottled exclusively for The Whisky Exchange. Each of the new releases (bourbon cask, beer cask and Chibidaru cask) will be made available by ballot – one in August, September and October. The price? Expect to pay £250, which is a lot of money, but actually reasonable compared to many single casks bottled for other retailers/importers.
The labels of the Chichibu Martial Arts Trilogy are printed on lenticular sheets to give a three-dimensional effect, much like was done for The Future of Whisky series for Whisky Show 2018. The labels show martial artists breaking through the background to reveal hidden casks, although the 3D effect is hard to capture in photograph.
These Chichibu “celebrate the discipline and learning behind traditional Japanese martial arts and the parallels with the building of skill and knowledge required to be a master distiller.” All three whiskies will also be available to taste at Whisky Show 2022, but if you actually like to buy a bottle, you’ll have to try your luck with one of the three ballots below.
Chichibu 2015 Bourbon Cask (59.5%, Martial Arts Trilogy, C#5262)
The most straight-forward of the Chichibu Martial Arts Trilogy, this has matured in a bourbon cask and produced 233 bottles.
Nose: Just a perfect interplay between vanilla pods, warming custard, allspice and very active citrus influences like yuzu, lemon grass and pickled lemon. Then there’s mush bananas, mille-feuille, ripe mangoes and chalk, but also a surprisingly enjoyable touch of sweet, fruity bubble gum. Taste: A creamy mouthfeel and arrival with white pepper, chocolate and ginger, but mostly just a brilliant fruitiness. The citrus is back with a vengeance, highlighted by lemons and bitter pink grapefruit, but there are also fresh walnuts, underripe bananas, sweet apples and menthol. Water brings out some wood spices like cloves and nutmeg, but also some fresh berries. Finish: Lingering spices, a mellow sweetness. Long.
What’s left to say? Chichibu in an ex-bourbon cask rarely disappoints, but this is one of the better example I’ve tried so far. I’m a sucker for that initial hit of overt fruitiness. All the rest is just a bonus.
Chichibu 2014 Beer Cask (59.5%, Martial Arts Trilogy, C#11049)
Matured in a beer cask that was used to age Shiga-Kogen (志賀高原) brewery’s The Far East, a cask-matured Triple IPA. This monstrous beer is made in batches varying from 13-16% abv. The outturn is 261 bottles.
Nose: The IPA cask influence is undeniable. Dominant but without crossing the line. A hoppy, yet mellow fruitiness best described as a combination of ripe mango, papaya, pineapple and freshly squeezed lemon juice, but there’s also caramel, lychee, Demerara sugar and poached pears. Taste: A creamy mouthfeel immediately followed by an outsized hit of IPA. Maybe even more omnipresent than on the nose. And it really is a continuation. Some sweetness (almost like mead) but mostly hoppy fruits. Think passion fruit, mango and grapefruit. Remarkable. Also sweet shortbread and light floral touches. Finish: A lingering bitterness, but also some sweet fruits and hops. Long.
The fruitiness of the IPA cask just seems made for the fruity, zesty character of Chichibu. Such an intriguing whisky that I never even thought to add water. But how to evaluate this? I’ve never tasted anything like it, so I guess I’ll just go off my own enjoyment.
A very high score, I know. I will say that I expect this to be a somewhat divisive whisky. The cask influence is immense and I usually tend to penalise for that. But in this case it just totally works for me, because it seemingly fits well with Chichibu’s characteristics.
Chichibu 2014 Chibidaru Cask (59.5%, Martial Arts Trilogy, C#3508)
This matured in a small chibidaru ‘cute cask’ (125 litre quarer cask) and was distilled from peated barley. Only 119 bottles are available.
Nose: Subtle smoked wood, soot, decaying leaves, damp earth and a pronounced farminess, but there’s some olive brine and whole grain bread as well, supported by a gentle fruitiness. Think zesty lemons and charred oranges (enhanced after adding water), accompanied by dark caramel. Taste: There’s an underlying fruitiness highlighted by lemons and apricots, while the peat is playing first fiddle. Nothing too extreme though. Quite earthy at times, with just a little brine, some vanilla, but mostly licorice root, mint and some fresh kelp. Add water to put more of a spotlight on Chichibu’s fruity spirit. Finish: Hemp ropes, chocolate, wood smoke and lingering orchard fruits. Long.
Pure, impressive peated single malt from one of the most revered modern whisky distilleries in the world. The balance between peat influence and distillery character is admirable, even if the oak is a little more present than in the other releases. It displays a maturity beyond its years, but that's actually true for the other two releases as well.
Quite the session this was. Three very different Chichibu, but the shared DNA is evident. That (zesty) fruitiness is something I would strive for if I’d own a distillery. It just enhances your spirit and takes it to a new level. And it has the ability to shine through no matter the cask you use, or even if you use peated barley.
There’s been a lot of superlatives used to describe Chichibu in the past, and I don’t think I need to add any. And it’s not like they only lay golden eggs, but they often do. I hope most of the Chichibu Martial Art Trilogy bottles will be opened in due time, because they sure are worth it.