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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 Karuizawa distillery was bought by Number One Drinks and moved to Ichiro Akuto’s Chichibu distillery. This 12yo original bottling presumably dates from the mid 1990’s.
The nose is very malty and fruity: I got apple and banana, followed by a winey component similar to apple cider. There was also a peppery element, close to but not quite like coffee. All in all this is a very well balanced and quite malty nose.
The palate is medium-bodied, malty and gets a little bit peppery towards the end. Pleasant but far from exciting.
The finish is rather short, warming and dry. I got apples again as well as a whiff of coffee.
The nose certainly is the strong part of this Karuizawa original bottling. It is light, fruity and delightfully malty. I also liked the palate although it could not quite keep up with the nose. The finish, however, was a tad too short for my taste: nothing much happened except for some coffee flavours making an appearance. Still, I can very well picture myself quietly sipping this on a summer evening and having a very good time.