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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 in 2012 for La Maison du Whisky.
The nose starts with a bang! There is an onrush of different flavours: raisins, peaches, strawberry jam and a delightful whiff of smoke. Later on more distinct rubbery notes appear, alongside some tobacco and leather, everything very well balanced. Wow!
The palate is full-bodied and peppery. There are again raisins and peaches, followed by oranges and lemons. Next I detected smoked bacon, together with chocolate and tobacco. A mighty palate, both fruity and complex.
The finish is dry and woody, with some pepper creeping in later on. Right at the end there is delightful smoke.
I absolutely loved this Karuizawa! As was to be expected from a sherry cask-matured whisky it displayed at lot of dried fruits flavours. Next to that there were nice smoky and meaty elements, resulting in a complex whisky. Without doubt this is one of the older Karuizawas that live up to the hype.