Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! I'll be closing my evening with an extremely rare treat - three Karuizawas. One is rare enough, two impossible...but three basically turns me into a giant douchebag.
Originally a winery, Karuizawa converted to whisky in the 1950s. Being the smallest whisky distillery in Japan, it focused solely on malt matured in ex-sherry casks. Similar to Macallan, the stills were rather small and often used Golden Promise barley. It was owned by Kirin, mothballed in 2000 and finally closed in 2011. Of course, it is extremely hard to find and commands very high prices at auction, which is virtually the only place you are going to find these bottles. Most Karuizawas (but not this one) are single cask, cask strength independent bottlings. For many, they are serious investments and the most collectible of Japanese whiskies.
The vast majority of investment grade whiskies has always been, and still is, single malt scotches. However, Karuizawa malts have climbed up the flagpole of collectible malts, having now replaced Ardbeg as the third strongest distillery to invest in, behind Bowmore and Macallan (according to the Whisky Magazine Index). The only other non-Scottish distillery in the Top 25 is Van Winkle.
The Asama is a combination of malts distilled in 1999 and 2000, and was bottled in 2012. I received this sample quite some time ago, if memory serves it came to me from Johanne McInnis ("Whiskylassie"). To give you a sense of its collectibility, this bottle sold at auction in Hong Kong, in November, for $CDN695.
The colour is a rich gold. On the nose we have rich dark fruits, rum-raisin, salted dark chocolate and raspberries. Smoked paprika. Sage and rosemary. Wet forest floor. Very savoury - I almost get steak with mushrooms! Slightly sulphurous, but that just seems to add to the richness and complexity. Becomes smoky with water. Rich and elegant.
Remains fairly savoury on the palate, but some brown sugar adds the right sweetness. Dark honey, chocolate orange, mint and a bit of barbecue smoke winding through. Old leather. Ginger. Mincemeat pie. Delicious but a bit too tannic, though that quality is eliminated with a few drops of water, adding spice and balance.
The finish is a little fuzzy but features more orange, herbs and, believe it or not, smoked ham. Enormously rich and complex, but there is a sulphury off-note that I'm not crazy about. Regardless, a robust and rewarding malt. Even at $700 it is still one of the most affordable Karuizawas around, so if you can afford it, get it.