Whilst a hogshead is a hogshead and a butt is usually a butt, not all quarter casks are made to identical dimensions and therefore capacities. See, it depends exactly what you’re taking a quarter of as your baseline – if you’re looking at an American Standard Barrel (ASB) which has a capacity of around 190 -200 litres, then relative to this a quarter cask is going to be around 50 litres. But, if you’re looking at a hogshead with a capacity of 250 litres then your quarter point is closer to 62.5 litres. To further add more cloudiness, I’ve seen quite a number of distilleries that list the capacity of their QCs as 80 litres – which would be around a quarter of a puncheon (320 litres). Honestly, it’s all a bit confusing. More of a guideline than an actual code.
Regardless of a possible size variance between 50 and 80 litres, all QCs are much smaller and therefore have much higher liquid to wood ratio. And as we all know - that equates to faster maturation. However, there are not too many whiskies fully matured in QCs – they can be a bit of a blunt instrument. Even what is possibly the most well-known QC whisky – Laphroaig Quarter Cask is only aged in the smaller barrels for around 7 months (having previously slumbered in standard ex-bourbon). However, this is not the case at Chichibu distillery - Akuto-san likes to do things differently.
Chichibu Chibidaru is a name that rolls off the tongue – I just love it – especially when you learn the translation, which is near enough ‘cute cask’. The cute casks in question were previously hogsheads cut down in size to around 150 litres, so in actuality somewhere in between an 80 litre quarter cask and a standard barrel (200 litres) – again, why should all QCs be the same size?! It was distilled in 2010 and bottled in 2014 so is no more than four years old, and is delivered at cask strength 53.5% ABV. A somewhat limited release, this was a batch of 6,200 bottles and unusually, rather than being finished in quarter casks, this whisky has been entirely matured in them - should we be expecting an unsubtle wood onslaught?
Nose: A mix of orchard and hedgerow – apples and pears (both reduced and seeming syrupy) alongside redcurrants and gentle raspberry. There’s a lot of floral influence here – cherry blossom, umesha plum liqueur and musky incense. Running throughout the nose is a malty mix of cereals and underlying earthiness – quite soil like. The addition of water adds stone fruits (peach and apricot) as well as introducing a slightly mineral character.
Taste: A big arrival delivering impact, sweetness and then a large helping of spice. Slightly more tropical than the nose – pineapples and mangos (tinned) combined with brown sugar to start. These develop, reasonably quickly, taking on bitterness and spicy from intense pepper. In the back palate, sourness is apparent – akin to tart grapefruits – it sits rather well as a polar opposite to the rather saccharine arrival. Water is a real leveller – now we’re talking – the bitterness, which was a little biting before is now reduced, fruits are both dusty and slightly syrupy and light tobacco and leather have been introduced.
Finish: Quite long with tinned fruits (slightly tropical still) dusty pepper spicing and tangy tart citrus.
Chichibu Chibidaru is high quality stuff. Blind, I’d be amazed if you could tell it was no older than four years – such is the underlying quality of the Chichibu spirit. This (sort of) QC hasn’t allows the wood to run riot – possibly because rather than being newly coopered, the oak is derived from a hogshead which has been used at least once, possibly multiple times. A such, the influence here is much more subtle than it could have been – the naturally estery distillate shines as the wood has been used for maturation, not for imbuing a ton of flavour to mask youthfulness.