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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. I bought this 15yo original bottling in Japan in October 2011.
The nose opens with very distinct sherry notes, coupled with a no less distinct acidic quality (where did this come from?). There are some fruity elements such as oranges and pineapples. Generally there is a lot of rubber (but in a good way), liquorice, and some sawdust. Refreshing and very well balanced.
The palate is very smooth at first, almost to the point of being watery, then becomes more spicy and peppery. Again rubber plays a big role here, accompanied by some coffee notes.
The finish felt like a rollercoaster ride: after a powerful beginning it seems to fade away before coming back with a vengeance – but only for an instant, before it vanishes completely. Still this is a rather short finish that does not deliver much impact.
As with the 12yo original bottling I liked the nose best: it is delightfully sherried, fruity and very well balanced. I am still wondering where the acidic quality comes from but in any case it does not negatively influence the overall nosing experience. I equally liked the palate that, just like the nose, reflected the use of sherry casks during the maturation process. Although quite entertaining the finish is not the strong part of this single malt. All in all I’d consider this to be a tad above the 12yo original bottling, and I would gladly buy another bottle if it came my way.