Hanyu, Ichiro’s Malt: The Game

Ichiro's Malt: The Game
I know almost nothing about Hanyu, the closed Japanese distillery. My understanding is that this is in a series of malts released by Ichiro Akuto, the scion of the family that owned Hanyu, after the closure of the distillery. Akuto is now the proprietor of the young distillery Chichibu, of which I have heard good reports. There have been a number of releases in the “The Game” series; this is, I believe, the first. The labels in the Ichiro’s Malts series have striking designs, mostly based on playing cards (though none are quite as striking as some of the other labels I’ve seen on Hanyu bottles, one of which may make an appearance in the weeks ahead).

Hanyu, 9, 2000, “Ichiro’s Malt: The Game” (61.2%; from a sample received in a swap)

As per the excellent Japanese Whisky Review, this was bottled for Shinanoya in Japan and is a vatting of whisky matured in American white oak and refill bourbon casks.

Nose: Somewhat (and unsurprisingly) closed at first nosing. After some airing there’s a lot of polished, perfumed oak, some salt and a rich biscuity note. With even more airing this whisky really begins to sing: a lot of fruit now (plums, apricots, oranges); some sandalwood and dark, roasted malt. This is lovely stuff. Water opens it up some more and now there’s a very nice nuttiness as well (roasted cashews or pine-nuts).

Palate: Remarkably drinkable despite the high strength. Roasted malt sweetness, dried ginger and leathery oak, some chocolate. With more time, here are the plums and apricots from the nose. Okay, let’s add some water. With water this is a festival of oak, but all in a good way: there’s sweet, polished wood and some rich spice (cumin, rye) and a touch of nutmeg; not tannic at all. Gets fruitier as it goes.

Finish: Long. Mostly spicy wood at first but with time and water the fruit begins to hang around as well.

Comments: On the palate it was oddly reminiscent of Amrut’s Fusion at first but it really blows that out of the water in every way. People are generally nervous about whisky with too strong of an oak influence (and for good reason), but this is a masterclass in wood: you are aware of the oak with every sniff and sip but it never grates. A little scary to think how good this would have gotten with another decade or two in the cask. It’s only missing some “tertiary” elements, to use Serge V.’s term, and that keeps it out of the 90s.

Rating: 89 points.

Thanks again to Sku for the sample!

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