The following originally appeared on Food Digital on March 6, 2013:
Located on the southern slopes of Mount Asama, an active volcano in the Nagano Prefecture, the resort town of Karuizawa can be accessed from Tokyo in about an hour. While the town, which sits at 1000m (approx. 3300 ft) above sea level, has long provided a respite from the sweltering summer heat for Tokyo’s urbanites it has also, since 1956, been home to the Karuizawa distillery.
While distilling at this former vineyard began in 1956 the distillate served as one component of parent company Mercian’s blended whisky (note that the Japanese, like the Scots, eschew the ‘e’) until 1987. The distillery was mothballed in 2001 before drinks giant, Kirin, purchased Mercian in 2007. The distillery has now been completely closed, the four stills have been removed, and, in 2011, the remaining stocks were sold to UK-based Number One Drinks Company.
Founded in 2006, Number One Drinks Company is focused on bringing Japanese whisky to a worldwide market. While they currently hold exclusive distribution rights for Chichibu and Hanyu they are well-known for their Karuizawa releases with their Vintage and Noh series helping to return the shuttered distillery to the world stage.
Also helping to keep Karuizawa in the international spotlight is the recent release of a 1964 single cask from Wealth Solutions, a Polish wealth management company who, last year, released a single cask of Glenfarclas distilled in 1953. If Karauizawa already has a reputation for being expensive the $14,000 price tag on each of the 142 bottles won’t do anything to alleviate that.
Distilled when the distillery had only been in production for eight years, and matured in sherry oak for all forty-eight years this was, at the time of bottling, the oldest cask of Karuizawa ever bottled. The whisky inside lives up to the reputation of Karauizawa being a hot, fearsome whisky but with a little water the spirit is tamed and the sherry influence is clear. The tasting experience presents leather-bound library books, overstuffed leather chairs, and even shoe polish.
It’s sad to see the end of an era in Karuizawa but with the remaining stocks in the hands of Number One Drinks Company whisky lovers can be certain of seeing more quality Karuizawa bottlings on the world stage.