We’re the first of December! While December means cold, wet or snowy weather depending on where you live, it also has more festive connotations with Christmas or other end-of-year festive events, and for many people from the 1st to the 24th of December: advent calendars! As the few years before, I’m doing a whisky advent calendar. This year again I couldn’t get a Boutique-y Whisky Advent Calendar (I reviewed one with Ainulindale in 2019) or another one from Drinks by the Dram, but Benjamin, a member of a French Whisky Discord server I’m a member of, and who spends probably way more than me on whisky, offered to do for a few of us our very own ultra limited whisky advent calendar. Five of us members ordered him one, gladly paid 300€ for 25 samples (yep, we have an extra one for Christmas!), and all we know is that the bottles used for the samples go from 150€ to 800€ a bottle… All the samples are just labelled with a number, and each day Benjamin gives us a hint or two in order for us to guess what it is. But first, where do advent calendars come from?
The Origin of Advent Calendars
Advent calendars are a great way for people to wait patiently before Christmas. For 24 days, we open small windows and enjoy chocolates hidden behind. Kids know very well the principle of the advent calendar, and even adults enjoy them. But where does this tradition come from?
We have to get back to the 6th century to understand the religious festivities of Advent. This period, starting usually the fourth Sunday before Christmas, was instituted by the pope Grégoire the First. Advent, from latin advenus, means “arrival”, the Christ’s arrival. During that period, Christians prepare to celebrate the arrival of Jesus Christ. Though at that time, Advent was a period of fasting, and considered as a second Lent.
The Preparation of the Crèche
Whilst the advent calendar only appeared in the 20th century, the principle of counting down days before Christmas is way older. It may come from the tradition of preparing the crèche: each day children would add a decorative element to it.
The advent calendar as we know it was created in Germany. Whilst in the 19th century children were kept waiting for Christmas by giving them a pious picture during the 24 days before Christmas, the first advent calendar with small windows to open was commercialised in 1920, and the chocolates added in 1958.
The German tradition will expand progressively to the rest of Europe, and now the advent calendars became unavoidable. So unavoidable that they’re not limited to kids anymore, adults are also targeted, with thematic calendars. I’m sure I know which ones, dear reader, you’re interested in…
The Hint to Dram #1
Now, it’s time for me to open the first dram of my whisky advent calendar. The hint was “5, 5, 5, 5, 10” (yep, seriously, it was that), then a second hint came to say it contains age, ABV, and a mention. With the other Discord members having bought this calendar from Benjamin, we arrived at 55.5% ABV and 10yo… the age was wrong, and I finally found that it was…
Chichibu The Peated 2018 Review
Chichibu is a young and very coveted Japanese distillery that Ichiro Akuto created in 2007, and production started the year after. Ichiro is the grandson of the founder of another highly regarded Japanese distillery, Hanyu, which went unfortunately silent in 2000. It’s well known to Japanese whisky drinkers and whisky enthusiasts around the world. The quality of the production and the very small size of the distillery and its production capacity had unfortunately a negative impact: the prices start a bit high, and there’s a lot of speculation on Chichibu’s releases, many bottles released going immediately to auction to fetch very high prices.
The Peated was one of the three first pure Chichibu single malts launched in 2011, with The First and The Floor Malted, joined since by Chibidaru, matured in quarter casks. This peated whisky is really part of Chichibu’s DNA. Chichibu’s whisky can also be found in Ichiro’s Malt releases that are blends of Chichibu with either Hanyu malt or Kawasaki (another silent distillery Ichiro bought the remaining stock from) grain whisky, or even non-Japanese whisky.
The whisky we have here is The Peated 2013-2018, distilled in 2013 and bottled in 2018 for the 10th anniversary of Chichibu distillery (the 10 from the hint). This 5-year-old whisky (the first 5 from the hint) was matured in ex-bourbon casks, giving 11500 bottles at 55.5% (the 3 other 5s from the hint), natural-coloured and obviously unchill filtered. Released initially as far as I can tell at about 200€, it’s now sold at least 300€ in some Italian shops not shipping outside Italy (I guess that’s why they still have stock), and way more on the secondary market.
Bright gold but medium colour intensity.
Neat, the nose is quite floral at first, with an earthy peat making me think of a bourbon cask matured Ardmore. Hay bales, a few drops of lemon juice, bandages, some vanilla pods and some minerality, like flint maybe. And some petrichor. The alcohol is not really noticeable, you wouldn’t guess the high ABV. Blind, I would have gone for a peated Highland whisky.
Reduction brings mentholated chocolate, a bit more vanilla and it gets more mineral.
There’s a thick and mouth-coating mouthfeel. Neat, you taste immediately the earthy peat and the bonfire smoke, with citrus and spices: pepper, chilli and paprika. Mid palate the citrus notes gain some strength, with some popping candy, salted butter and the meatiness of cured ham. The oak is noticeable but not overpowering, but its spices come and go throughout the palate, and play hide-and-seek with chocolate and orchard fruits.
A few drops of water bring some sweetness and delay the arrival of the spices whilst also toning them down a little bit. Some nutty notes appear as well, roasted almond flakes, and coffee mixed with a bit of milk.
Hot at first, then the heat fades, leaving oak, chocolate and a bit of pepper on the back of the tongue and palate for a long moment.
This Chichibu is quite impressive for its young age. It is quite fiery, but you cannot be but impressed by how good it already is. The nose made me think of an older Ardmore, which is a compliment in my book, while the palate delivers on the promises from the nose and then more. If I had bought a bottle when it was released, it probably would have gone already, as this is very tasty and playful. Now the problem was that it was quite expensive already when it was released, but that’s understandable as Chichibu only produced 53.000 litres of alcohol last year, so this is a very small distillery that cannot dilute its running cost over a gigantic production. And if you missed it at release, then you’re condemned to pay a huge premium now, as the reputation, the rarity, the Japanese origin and speculation made its price skyrocket. So was it worth RRP? Yes. At its current value? Not for me, but not because of its quality. Because of the stupid price it is at now.