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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 1981 and bottled from cask #7924 by Number One Drinks in October 2011.
The nose starts with hints of rubber and burnt leaves. After a while there is chocolate as well as sherry (of the mossy kind), followed by dark fruits and dried figs. With water the nose becomes mellower and less sweet, but now the rubber notes are more prominent. All in all a challenging nose that failed to wow me.
The palate is peppery and dry. Sour candies overpower much else. With water the tannic dryness is reduced but the sour candies are not. There is now licorice alongside oranges and some vanilla.
The finish is long and quite dry. Sour candies again make an appearance. Adding water does not bring much change here. A bland finish that is too dry.
This is one of the more challenging Karuizawas that I have had. Although letting it breathe helped it get balance, ultimately it failed to impress me, mainly because of the acerbic touch that the sour candies bring to the whole. This still makes for an interesting dram but it is no match for some of the stellar single cask bottlings I tried in the past.