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Karuizawa distillery was established in 1955 by the Mercian Wine Company. Mercian owned a former vineyard and decided to convert this into a small traditional distillery. Apparently the location at Karuizawa was chosen due to offering the closest climatic conditions to the Highlands of Scotland, even though the summers are much hotter and the winters much colder at their peaks than in Scotland. Production started in 1956. In the beginning most of the whisky produced was put into simple blends that were cheap and popular, and the first single malt was released only in 1976. Mercian stopped distilling at Karuizawa in 2001 and in 2007 sold the distillery to the Kirin Brewery Company. Unfortunately, Kirin never showed much interest in investing in the brand and shut the distillery down in 2011. In the same year the entire remaining inventory of the Karuizawa distillery was bought by Number One Drinks and moved to Ichiro Akuto’s Chichibu distillery. This particular bottling was distilled in 1996 and bottled in 2013 from cask #3684, the total outturn being 303 bottles.
The nose is faced immediately with a mighty assault of heat due to the high ABV. Once the heat subsides there are apples and prunes but not much else. With water the nose becomes fruity and a little grassy: next to apples and prunes there are now hints of pineapples and figs.
The palate is full-bodied and spicy. Tannic dryness is accompanied by oranges and figs. With water the palate gets quite light-bodied and loses a lot of its spiciness. Next to oranges and figs there now are pineapples and a hint of honey.
The finish is surprisingly long, peppery and spicy.
This was one of those malts that changed dramatically over time - and all for the better. While the initial assault on the nose was close to brutal, the flavours became quite distinct after a while, evolving into a fruity assortment that was further refined with the addition of water. Interestingly enough I preferred the palate without adding water as this helped preserving its powerful and spicy character that I quite enjoyed. This is an unusual Karuizawa in the sense that it lacks the sherry bomb characteristics of many older bottlings but boasts a powerful and spicy side that is absent in younger versions. Once again, many thanks for the sample, Clint L.!