A History of Hanyu Whisky - The Spirit Behind the Series
Hanyu whisky traces its roots to 1941 when the Akuto family built a distillery in Hanyu City, to the north-west of Tokyo, obtaining a licence to distill alcohol five years later. The distillery was founded by Isouji Akuto and was an addition to the family's sake brewing business which had been active since the 17th century. Fast forward to the 1980s and the distillery began serious attempts at the production of malt whisky, taking inspiration from the Scotch whisky industry and having two Scottish pot stills installed. In the decades that followed the first single malt whisky was launched, named after the location of the family's original Sake brewery - Golden Horse Chichibu (Chichibu being a name that many will now be familiar with).
Sadly, production at Hanyu distillery was short-lived and an economic recession at the turn of the millennium forced the distillery to shut its doors in 2000. In 2004, the distillery was demolished with all of the stills dismantled for good, however the remaining casks of its unblended whisky stock were purchased by Venture Whisky, a firm established by the Hanyu distillery founder's grandson, Ichiro Akuto. This was the start of a new chapter in the history of the now closed distillery, which would see the Ichiro's Malt Card Series (also known as the Hanyu Card Series) be born, going on to become one of the most sought-after malt whisky collections ever produced.
Ichiro's Malt Card Series
Following the closure of Hanyu Distillery, Ichiro Akuto, rescued the aging stocks that remained at the distillery and in 2005, created the 'Ichiro's Malt Card Series', a collection of bottlings from Hanyu's old rescued stocks. The series is a collection of single cask releases, all of which feature a distinguished label depicting a unique playing card motif. The series has become legendary among whisky collectors and enthusiasts worldwide due to their exceptional rarity.
The full Hanyu Card Series collection boasts a total of 58 releases - 52 playing cards, two jokers, and a second batch of follow up releases for four of the cards: Ace of Spades, Queen of Hearts, King of Diamonds, and Jack of Clubs. These four single casks were bottled in particularly small quantities in 2005, however, overwhelmed by the reception they received, Ichiro issued a second bottling of the remainder of these casks (meaning these four second bottlings were matured for one year longer than the first). With extremely limited numbers produced of each card, these releases make an incredibly treasured addition to any collection.
Hanyu Ichiro's Malt 'Card' Series - Seven of Spades, The Joker 'Colour', & Nine of Clubs [Left to Right]
The Hanyu Card Series at Auction
The 2000 vintage 'Ace of Clubs' bottling was the first to feature at Whisky Auctioneer in November 2014, reaching a hammer price of £900. Just five years later this very bottle achieved a hammer price of £16,000, an incredible feat that illustrates the rising popularity of the series. Since, Whisky Auctioneer has been delighted to provide the opportunity to own almost all examples of these unique bottles in our monthly auctions, discover some auction highlights below (featured left to right).
Whilst continuing to bottle and sell the precious remaining stocks of Hanyu, Ichiro Akuto set out on a mission to build his own distillery, and in March 2008 Chichibu Distillery began producing their own single malt. Read more about Chichibu distillery here.