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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 is the first edition of Karuizawa’s ‘Master Blend’, released in 2004. It does not carry any age statement, however the back label states that both malt and grain whisky used are more than 10 years old.
The nose begins with intensely fruity and grainy notes. I detected apricots, vanilla and caramel, followed by a lovely maltiness. Altogether a clean and sweet nose.
The palate is medium-bodied and smooth at first, then becomes slightly spicy and peppery. Although not as fruity as the nose, there are again apricots next to lemons and vanilla notes. Very refreshing!
The finish is of medium length and slightly peppery, followed by notes of mint and lemon.
This is one of the few blends where I actually like the palate better than the nose. While the nose was indeed clean and sweet, it was the freshness of the palate that caught my attention. This is a very easily drinkable whisky, in my opinion perfect for a warm summer evening. In a way I find it interesting that Karuizawa was able and willing to add a blend of this sort to their offering.