Karuizawa: history of the distillery and flavours of its whiskies

Japan is also one of the countries which have mastered the art of distillation and blending of whisky. The official start of the first Japanese distillery dates back to 1923, but the Karuizawa distillery was only founded 32 years later. The distillery went through phases of growth and decline, and finally closed its doors in 2001 after being mothballed. Despite this, the brand remains a legend in the spirits industry and is regularly awarded in international competitions. Rare whisky enthusiasts are still snapping up its excellent spirits at a premium. We have therefore decided to dedicate this article to the history of the Karuizawa distillery and the flavours of its whiskies.

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Back to the history of the Karuizawa distillery

The time when Ireland and Scotland kept the monopoly on the production and sale of whisky is long gone. Indeed, over the years, whisky from the rising sun has conquered the market and some brands like Karuizawa are even highly regarded. The history of this distillery starts in 1955. It was founded by the Mercian Corporation. It was the smallest distillery in Japan. It is located on the site of a former vineyard, at the foot of Mount Asama, an active volcano situated 140 km west of the capital. It is the highest distillation plant in Japan, at an altitude of 850m. The Mercian Wine Company chose this location because of its desire to replicate the special climatic conditions of Scotland.
Production of whisky from malted barley at the facility began in 1958. Its production capacity was then 150,000 litres per year. The firm used a Japanese-made still. Four years later, it decided to expand its activities by investing in four new stills. With these new installations, it continued to produce quality whiskies and gained fame until the year 2000 when the firm was forced to shut down. At that time, many Japanese distilleries decided to stop their activities. There are many reasons for this. On the one hand, there is the slowdown of the Japanese economy and the increase of the tax on whisky production in 1984. On the other hand, the Japanese government has significantly reduced the customs duties on scotch imports. Not to mention the volatile behaviour of Japanese consumers who sometimes prefer spirits such as wine or schochu. This period of recession finally led to the mothballing of the Karuizawa distillery in 2000 and the cessation of distillation of the company.
Number One drinks Co, the Norwich-based company, then entered into an agreement to distribute what remains of the distillery's maturation stocks, 364 casks in 2006 and 2009. The distillery's dedication to showcasing its incredibly rich and complex flavours is only rewarded when consumers are made aware of the scarcity and quality of its products. This scarcity and high demand has an impact on their price. For example, Cask 5627 bottled in 1960 became the most expensive whisky ever sold at 2 million yen. In the meantime, four of its versions have also won medals, including a gold medal at the International Wine and Spirits competition. The competition was held in London in 2001, but the company has already stopped distilling. The Vintage series of vintages also appeared in 2002: single malt bottled cask by cask at natural strength and without the passage of cold filtration. The end of the legendary era of the Karuizawa distillery ended with its demolition in 2016 but its whiskies remain famous to this day. They even become collectors' items because of their rare availability.

Flavours of Karuizawa whiskies

The Karuizawa distillery has an excellent command of the whisky distillation process. Its sherry-aged single malt has rich and complex flavours.
-Karuzawa Bourbon Cask 8897: This rare bourbon is aged in sherry casks before bottling in 2014. It contains 53.9% high alcohol. You will appreciate its beautiful complexity exhaling aromas of leather, dark chocolate, spices, fresh fruits.
-Whisky Karuizawa Japonism Edition 1965: we give a score of 95 out of 100 to this whisky, a product also available in a limited edition. We only sell one product on the website, while there are only about 60 in the world. This exclusive, perfectly packaged bourbon comes in a luxury box and is perfectly balanced. It is a combination of a sherry cask and a bourbon cask. The whisky is full of aromas and flavours with an inviting nose of super light yet deep caramel, bourbon, sherry and floral and tropical notes. The very long finish is rich with oak notes and light spices. Karuizawa must be biting his fingers for giving up this cask. A must-taste for amateurs and initiates.
-Karuzawa Whisky Single cask 6426-42 years 1967: This exceptional old sherry was distilled in 1967 before bottling in 2009. It reveals itself with a salty start before revealing a paradise of very sweet, harmonious flavours, a slight note of ginger or bitter orange with a long finish of spice and tannins. The nose is very seductive, both rich and fruity with aromas of chocolate, cocoa, cherry, black tea, walnut, violet flowers, and old fat peat smoke. The whole is very refreshing and never tiresome. A beautiful old whisky with well contained tannins despite its age.