Karuizawa was a small distillery (4 pot stills, mind you Auchentoshan only have the 3!) which mainly used Golden Promise barley and sherry casks (very Macallan) and closed in 2000. It has become, as you know, phenomenally famous in the last few years for the quality, depth and complexity of the liquid and has passed almost fully into collectable territory. There is no more. Originally Karuizawa was intended as quite an ordinary malt to provide sherried depth to blends, and the eight year old sold while the distillery was open is apparently unremarkable. But just as with Port Ellen, when they found the unwanted casks 20-30 years later something magic had happened… collectable whisky magic!
Karuizawa Distillery, reproduced without permission from Bret Boivin
The recent Karuizawa masterclass at the whisky show was £6,000 a ticket and came with a bottle from a cask outturn of only 60 (and sold out). Last year the Karuizawa released at the show had an hour long queue and saw people buying a ticket to the show just so they could get the bottle (and in some cases immediately sell for £1,000+ profit). I've tasted a small number, I even own a bottle from an SMWS outturn a couple of years ago. I don't really care too much about the investment grade stuff as it's out of my league (the £350 bottles sold at the whisky show last year are too much for me to spend on a bottle) but I'm pleased to try it when I can. I've found what I’ve tried to be universally excellent.
The black whisky fungus is at home in Japan as Scotland
SMWS 132.4, Karuizawa, Rich, brooding and suggestive, 17 years old, 61.7% A⊕
8th July 1996, refill sherry, 346 bottles.
Nose - Surprisingly bright, with cranberries, blonde wood and menthol. Waxed fruit and a lovely ripe, floral, alien plastic character. Perfectly poised between lewd fruit and hard oak. With water, fruitier with hazelnuts, chocolate and raisin.
Body - Lovely and winey, fresh oak sawdust, sweet fruit and sour beer. Dusty and numbing. Very compelling. Slightly spicy at the back of the throat with water.
Finish - Medium, great wax development, long and drawn-out tannins. Lots of wax. Tropical burps.
What's not good about it - A touch unbalanced and a little too much spice at the end with water, but quite wonderful neat.
What's good about it - Intensely complex and explorable, balanced and fruity. Patience is a virtue.
SMWS 132.2, Karuizawa, Stunning Panorama of Exotic Fruits, 62.4% A⊕+
4th September 1992, refill sherry butt, 335 bottles. Reviewed previously.
Nose - Lots more deodorant than I previously remember but then that deep red lacquer is back, and the fruit and nut bar is still there. Behind the sweet fruit is old, authoratitive cask. Still epic. With water, slightly winier but even fruitier.
Body - Deep rich chocolate, red fruit and spicy perfume. Complex and complete. With water, even better - cask, wax and Asian fruit matched to excellent cask and a long maturation.
Finish - Incredibly oily and chocolatey, extremely long. Like good milk chocolate at the end. Tropical burps again (I love that).
What's not good about it - Nothing, still.
What's good about it - Fruity, exotic, ripe, very complex, extremely long and well balanced. A truly epic whisky.
Opportunities to buy this were by lottery last year. I wasn’t selected but Sjoerd was and we split his bottle.
Nose - Sweet, dark (and bright), waxy but raisiny but with intense (but polite) old cask and something like rum soaked prunes and lighter fluid. Behind this, fruit and nut bar and a very little cereal, but that intense, old, HD sherry cask is perfect. After tasting, the nose is noticeably more petrolic.
Body - Unexpectedly wooded, next to the sherry. Like sawdust from a repair of some old furniture; dark red wood. Extremely fruity too, cherry tobacco (numbing on the front of your tongue hanging off that rollup), and big sour plum at the top of the palate.
Finish - Very long, very spicy, very virgin oak? More sawdust and joss stick. Damn, this is compelling though.
What's not good about it - a heavy hand with the raw wood, big bitterness, although it certainly does hang together.
What's good about it - Beautiful nose, extremely intense but bright, sweet and sour sherry, loads of fruit, and almost unexplainable juxtapositions that seem to work, including being a tasting and a drinking whisky. Big in every sense of the word.
I have a couple more, both from Franck but I only just found one of them (you should have seen my samples/bottle shares before I tidied them this weekend) and if I don’t post this blog I’ll be adding to it forever. So I’ll save them for after Christmas. Next time, Chichibu and Hanyu.