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Chichibu 2: The Sequel

Great news for fans for Chichibu whisky: Chichibu’s second distillery is now producing more Chichibu for the world! Recently, Daniel, a friend of mine, visited Chichibu in January of 2020 and spoke with Yumi about Chichibu 2!

The unique feature of Chichibu

Chichibu 2020 Washbacks. Photo Credit: Daniel Wen

Each washback contains 10kg of yeast which undergoes fermentation for 4 days, compared to an industry standard of 48 hours. This longer fermentation time allows for slower lactic acid bacteria fermentation that contributes to the character of Chichibu’s new-make spirit. The cut of the heart of the distillate is also not just determined by measurements, but a human nose to ensure that the new-make spirit smells clean!

 What about Chichibu 2?

In Chichibu 2, the washbacks are wooden as well but made of European oak instead of Mizunara oak. Unlike Chichibu 1, Chichibu 2 has directly heated stills which could possibly produce a new-make spirit that is more robust and complex. I mean, there has to be a reason why Glenfarclas stuck with direct heating even after trying steam coil distillation. Chichibu 2 will use the same yeast as the original distillery but the fermentation time in Chichibu 2 is slightly longer.

Unfortunately, at the time of this article (March 2019), Yumi cannot answer how different the two Chichibu new-make spirit tastes. Production and testing started in October 2019, so adjustments may still be ongoing, and data might need processing.

One thing is sure, Chichibu 2 will produce 5 times the capacity of Chichibu 1! Currently, Chichibu 1 stands at a capacity of 60 000 – 90 000L of Pure Alcohol annually. That will mean more Chichibu to go around… in about three or more years.

More about Chichibu 

Chichibu sources spring water from the nearby Arakawa (荒川) river. The water is clean and soft, suitable for fermentation and dilution.

Barley

Bags of malted barley in Chichibu distillery 2020. Photo Credits: Daniel Wen.

Chichibu distillery is currently using barley from various sources. 70% is from Crisp malts in the UK, 20% is from Europe, and 10% is local Japanese barley! The grist ratio is at an industry standard of 70% grist, 20% husks and 10% flour.

The peated expressions of Chichibu currently use peat that comes from northeastern Scotland, in between the Highlands and Speyside.

Casks in Chichibu

The team at Chichibu also creates a unique Chibidaru cask. The Chibidaru is comprised of Mizunara cask ends (the circle) with American white oak staves.

Chichibu

Mizunara cask at Chichibu distillery 2020. Photo Credits: Daniel Wen.

Mizunara (above) is somewhat porous and loses whisky quick. But this innovation minimises leakage and while still providing Mizunara flavours. Chibidaru casks are also smaller than the standard bourbon barrel. This small 130-litre cask offers a greater surface area to volume ratio than the standard barrel. Due to its smaller size, these Chibidaru casks rest atop of the casks in the warehouse. This position exposes the cask to a slightly higher internal temperature with more temperature fluctuation due to its smaller size. *flashbacks of heat transfer lectures* The combination of small cask size, higher average internal temperature and increased variation allows Chibidaru casks to mature whisky faster.

In most stacks of casks, the wee Chibidaru casks will be on top with 2 rows of 200L bourbon barrels below it, and the bigger 480L sherry butts at the bottom. Chichibu is also very experimental with the casks they use.

Rum Cask, 2020. Photo Credits: Daniel Wen

On the left are some Chichibu whisky sitting in Barbados rum barrels. Click here for more information on rum!

There was even an ex-tequila cask spotted in the warehouse! Unfortunately, that cask that I spotted 3 years ago is still maturing.

 

The near future of Chichibu

As mentioned earlier, Chichibu is using local barley, and Chichibu local barley might take a while to reach markets. Although the distillery intends to use more local barley, it is improbable that the distillery can move to use 100% local Japanese barley, especially with their plans of increased production.

Talks are underway to use local peat sourced from a company that is approximately 1km away from Chichibu distillery. Imported peat will still be the primary source for the foreseeable future.

The team at Chichibu hopes that the new distillery will push increase production. This would alleviate pressure off the first distillery, which can start doing unique experimental craft whisky. But look out, there may be a plan to do direct retail in the future if production allows!

Kilchoman Distillery – The Farmhouse

Kilchoman Distillery

Two team members from WhiskyGeeks went on an Islay-centric Scotland tour in September 2019 and we had a whale of a time! Coming back from Scotland was torturous, but such is life! It took us many months to get our bum to settle down in front of our computers to start writing, but here we are, finally!

Let’s start our journey with Kilchoman, the second newest distillery on Islay. The distillery started distillation in 2005 and have since expanded their production to 220 thousand litres of pure alcohol a year! New washbacks and stills will be installed soon, and we can expect increased production after that.

Going on a Distillery Tour

It was fun going on a distillery tour, mainly because you get to see all the machines and get behind the storefront to see the actual production hall. On Islay, the distilleries normally consist of different buildings on the distillery grounds, and Kilchoman is not any different. We started the tour at the shop, where our lovely tour guide met us. She distributed our tour souvenir, a mini Glencairn glass and a lanyard, as we will be using them along the way. After the usual safety briefing, we were off!

First stop – The Malt Floor

Entrance to the Malt Room

Kilchoman does some of their maltings onsite using Islay grown barley from the nearby Rock Side farm. Roughly 30% of the distilled spirit comes from Islay grown barley, while the rest comes from Port Ellen Maltings. Each malting is carried out in the traditional way of spreading the barley on the floor for germination to take place.

Traditional Malting Floor

Workers malt around 40 tons of barley at a time, by steeping them in water and allowing for 5-7 days of germination and drying.

Barley germination in progress

During the germination, the plant shoot, or acrospire, will start growing. The malting is complete once the acrospire grows to around three quarters or more of the length of barley. Once the maltsters see that the barley is ready, they will start the kilning process.

Second Stop – The Kiln

The Kiln

The kilning begins by igniting dry peat to get the fire going before adding wet peat to create peat smoke. The workers will smoke the barley for 10 hours and leave it to dry until the malt reaches 5% moisture content. This malting onsite leads to a 20ppm phenol content in the Islay malt. To follow the traditional way of malting, Kilchoman lets the barley rest for four days after kilning and before milling them for mashing and fermentation.

Third Stop – The Still House

The Still House

Kilchoman is a farmhouse distillery, which means that space is limited. To make work effective, the mash tun, washbacks and stills are placed in the same location.

After milling, 1.2 tonnes of grist goes into the mash tun. To extract the sugars, the workers add three streams of hot water at 56degC, 85degC and 95 degC. 6000L of sugary liquid, or wort, goes into the washbacks, along with 20kg of dry yeast. This wort is then left to ferment for approximately 84 hours to become wash, a strong beer at 6-8% abv.

Our tour guide asked if we would like to try the “Kilchoman beer” and proceed to pour us some when she got a resounding “YES!”

The Kilchoman Beer

The wash tasted sweet, with a yeasty, lightly fizzed note at the back. It was good! So good that we asked for a second helping. Personally, I think that Kilchoman should consider making their own beer. I would buy them if they make it!

The Distillation

The Stills

Since the stills are pretty small, only 3000L of wash goes into the wash still at a time. After the first distillation, 1000L of low wines at approximately 19% abv goes into the spirit still for the second distillation. The remaining 2000L became pot ale, which is used to fertilise the crops at Rock Side Farm. Pot ale is useless for making whisky, but its organic compounds made them perfect as fertilisers.

The low wines from the wash still, and the heads and tails from previous distillations are then added into the spirit still at approximately 26% for the second distillation. Kilchoman takes the cut of the heart between 76% and 65%; this means any distillate above 76% are foreshots, and any distillate below 65% are feints. These foreshots and feints are added to the low wines in the next distillation. After 3.5 hours of distillation, the spirit still produces 3.5 litres of spirit, which will be watered down to a filling strength of 63.5%.

Fourth Stop – Not the Warehouse

Sample Casks

Unfortunately, Kilchoman distillery has a policy that does not allow visitors to see their warehouse. It is due to safety reasons though; they have nothing to hide! Instead, we got to see some sample casks which the tour guide explained their way of storage before she led us to the next exciting part of the distillery tour.

Fifth and Final Stop – The Bottling Plant

The machine that helps to bottle Kilchoman Single Malt

The bottling process is a combination of manual and machine work. The bottling team needs to ensure the cleanliness of the bottles before feeding them to the machine, which will do the bottling. In the above picture, you can see the process of filling the bottle. The filled bottles then passed through the glass portion of the machine where the cork gets fixed onto the bottle. The final process gets the bottles sealed and labelled! The bottling team then completes the process by putting the bottles into their boxes and packed them into cases of six.

End of the Tour – Back at the Distillery Shop

Our tour guide led us back to the distillery shop and ended the tour. You must be surprised to see that we did not appear to taste any Kilchoman whisky. We did! It just did not flow nicely in the narratives earlier. We had a Sanaig in the malting room and it was surprisingly good! We got to admit that we are not big Kilchoman fans largely because we find it spicy, but the Sanaig was really awesome.

Sanaig and peat 

Back at the shop, we considered having a meal at Kilchoman because we heard that the food was awesome! Alas, we cannot, as we needed to move on to the next distillery. Nonetheless, we had enough time to explore the little farmhouse at the back of the distillery and the below pictures were what we found!

The Kilchoman Cat and Hen

There were some other hens running around but they ran away when they saw us. Hahaha…

It was a fantastic visit to Kilchoman, and we look forward to seeing more of them after their expansion.

 

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    Lagavulin – The Runaway Success

    Lagavulin Distillery is one of the three distilleries on Islay that made up the Kildalton trio together with Ardbeg and Laphroaig. It is a picturesque distillery situated at Lagavulin Bay enjoyed by many who visited. Saddled with a relatively dull history, Lagavulin produced one of the most widely-enjoyed whiskies on Islay.

    Brief History of Lagavulin

    Legal distilling started at Lagavulin in 1816 when founder John Johnston built the distillery. A second distillery, named Ardmore, originally shared the same site but the Johnston family bought it in 1825. However, by 1835, Johnston ceased production at Ardmore.

    In 1836, Johnston passed away, and the family sold the distilleries to Glasgow spirit merchant, Alexander Graham. He absorbed the production of Ardmore into Lagavulin in 1837. In 1852, John Crawford Graham took over the Lagavulin distillery, but his era lasted only a brief ten years.

    By 1862, James Logan Mackie & Co. bought the distillery and refurbished it. With blender James helming the distillery, the public awareness of the distillery grew. However, it was his nephew, Peter J. Mackie who took Lagavulin to greater heights.

    The Story behind Peter J. Mackie

    Peter J Mackie first learned his art of whisky blending at Lagavulin at a tender age of 23. It was 1878 and his first trip to Islay to learn whisky at Lagavulin gave his invaluable experience of the production of whisky. His success with learning the secrets of distilling eventually led to his taking over of the distillery after his uncle, James Logan Mackie, died in 1889.

    Peter J Mackie (later becoming Sir Peter Mackie) was an important figure in whisky history. The Mackies started to blend whisky in the mid-1880s, with Lagavulin at the core, and Peter Mackie registered the “White Horse” brand in 1891, one year after the company changed its name to Mackie & Co. Peter Mackie also co-founded Craigellachie distillery and recognised as a great innovator of his time.

    The “Fight” for Laphroaig

    Peter Mackie leased Laphroaig distillery in the 19th century and tried to copy its style. Several legal battles ensured between the two distilleries and in 1908, Peter Mackie officially lost the battle. In his irritation, he built a second distillery on the site of Lagavulin, named Malt Hill. It tried to reproduce the same characters of Laphroaig, but it failed. It closed in 1962.

    The Beginning of the Modern Era

    Sir Peter Mackie passed away in 1924, and the company changed its name to White Horse Distillers Limited. During this period, they produced various expressions that are vastly different from the modern bottlings that we enjoyed now. One of them was a Lagavulin 16 Years. Bottled in the same style as the contemporary version, it had only one difference – the label held the name “White Horse Distillers”.

     

    Sadly, White Horse Distillers Limited did not hold on to Lagavulin for very long. In 1927, the distillery went into the hands of DCL (present-day Diageo). When the war started, Lagavulin closed and only reopen after the war. However, tragedy struck again when a fire destroyed much of the distillery in 1951. Diageo rebuilt it.

    The distillery floor malting closed in 1974 and turned into a visitor’s centre and admin offices.

    The Modern Era

    As Lagavulin heads into the modern era, the Lagavulin 16 Years becomes one of the six Classic Malts. Selected in 1988, it becomes Lagavulin’s pride. Today, Lagavulin holds the fort by operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week to keep up with the ever-growing demand. The core range is the 16 Years Old and the distillery also released a limited edition cask strength 12 Years Old every year. One of the most popular at the moment is the 12 Years Old released in 2016 for the 200th anniversary of the distillery.

     

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      Does Terroir Influences Scottish Peat?

      Peatheads around the world would tell you that peated malts are one of the best things that happened to them. Geek Choc, for one, claims that peated whisky smells heavenly. I am somewhat more reserved on peat, but some of those peated whiskies are fantastic! What is peat? Encyclopedia Britannica defined peat as a spongy material that formed by the partial decomposition of organic matters in wetlands. Depending on the location or terroir, peat can take on different chemical compounds and produce differentiating quality.

      Where is Scotland’s Peat?

      As you can see from the above map, Scotland has various locations of peat bogs. Three of them are in Islay, one in Campbeltown, one in Orkney and the remaining two in the Northern Highlands. As we have tasted different characteristics of peaty whiskies, we wonder if the peat from the various locations contributes to the subtle difference in peaty whiskies.

      History of Peat

      Let’s start with the historical usage of peat in Scotland. Peat was a conventional fuel used in kilning to dry malts in the past. The islands, Campbeltown and the Northern Highlands, used peat regularly as coal was not readily available. Back in the 1940s, it was typical for the Islay and Campbeltown malts to use 100% peat fire, while the Highlands utilised 50-75% peat. The Lowlands used 25-50% peat. By the 20th century, the advances in technology made coal, gas and oil more affordable, and the reliance on peat reduced significantly. Nonetheless, Islay, Campbeltown and Northern Highlands still produce peated whisky today.

      How is Peat Formed?

      Peat formed in waterlogged lands through the partial decomposition of organic matter. It appears that there are differences between peat composition based on the different climate, vegetation, bog type and also the cutting depth during the harvest. We can divide peatlands into bogs, fens, marshes and swamps.

      Bogs form through heavy rainfalls and contain more sphagnum moss than the other types of peatlands. Bogs also have lesser woody vegetation as compared to the rest. Fens (better known as basin bogs) have more sedges and grass. Marshes, in general, are treeless waterlogged areas and peat formed very slowly. Swamps, on the other hand, are very minerotrophic and the peat has high wood and nutrients contents.

      The Contents of Peat

      To delve deeper into the contents of peat from the different peatlands, we need to venture deep into a chemical discussion. To ensure that we do not delve too deep into the scientific names (and lost myself along the way), we will stick to layman terms. In general, peat is 90% water and 10% dry matter. The 10% is sub-divided into 92% organic matter and 8% inorganic. Peat formed from bogs are usually more aromatic due to the higher percentage of phenols and aromatic materials found in them. Peat from fens is less aromatic.

      Cutting Depth

      The cutting depth during a peat harvest is as vital as the type of peatland. The surface layers are usually not aromatic enough to create the smokey effects in the whisky that we love, but cutting too deep into the layers can capture too much harmful nitrogen and sulphur compounds in the peat. Therefore, every distillery that makes peated whisky has their own calculated cutting depth to ensure that the peat they use will produce the effects that they want.

      Peat Terroir

      Does terroir influence peat? Our research appears to point to the peatland location and cutting depth of the peat as the “influencer”. While the type of peatland and vegetation influence the peat subtly, they are not crucial for the flavours in the whisky. For example, the peat used in Laphroaig and Bowmore are similar to each other as both are fens found on Islay. Yet, the peat found in Laphroaig and Bowmore whiskies are very different. It points to the different cutting depths that both distilleries use, and of course, the interaction between the malts and the casks used. The only difference in the peatlands found in Islay is interestingly from Port Ellen. The contents of the peat using in Port Ellen maltings are woodier in natural and has different microbiology from the rest of Islay.

      Interestingly, the peat from Orkney Island is relatively similar to the peat found in the fens of Islay even though it is a bog and not a fen peatland. The peat from the Northern Highlands in Tomintoul is also different from those in Islay, even though it is a fen. The difference in contents across the peatlands in Scotland suggests that peat forms differently due to the climate, microbiology and also the variety of sphagnum moss.

      Conclusion

      In conclusion, the research points to peat terroir. The contents of the peatland differ across Scotland with local variation found. The cutting depth during the peat harvest also plays a significant role in the flavours of the whiskies as is evident from the different peaty flavours found in whiskies harvesting similar peat.

       

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