Here’s a particularly pointless review to start the month. Japanese whisky as a category has been rather fucked for the last couple of years—and probably will be for more than a couple more. Very little is available, very little of that is worth buying, and what is worth buying is not worth buying at the prices being asked for them. (The one exception is the Nikka Whisky from the Barrel, which is now available in the US for a reportedly good price.) And in the general landscape of fucked Japanese whisky there is little as fucked as Karuizawa, the closed distillery all of whose remaining stock was purchased by a cartel that has figured out how to stoke and exploit an overheated market. For reference, the Whisky Exchange recently released a 29 yo and a 31 yo for £6000 each and you had to enter into a lottery for the privilege of making a fool of yourself by buying one. Then again, no one who is paying that amount of money for a single bottle of whisky is particularly concerned about money. Anyway, the Karuizawa I am reviewing today was released well before all this madness began: in 2010. I don’t know how much this cost then but back then you could purchase 28 yo Karuizawa from the Whisky Exchange for less than $200. I think this was bottled for Whisky Magazine Japan for OXFAM. There was another release that bore this “Spirit Safe” label that was a 19 yo. I have no idea what that was like but let’s see about this one.
Karuizawa 13 (60.2%; “Spirit Safe”; sherry cask 3312; from a sample from a friend)
Nose: Dusty oak, dried orange peel, apricot. Leafier and also saltier on the second sniff with a bit of soy sauce and hints of richer fruit—let’s see if air and water pull them out. Not much change with air but a couple of drops of water pull out more bright citrus along with camphor and the wood moves in the direction of rosewood. Another drop of water and a little more time and it gets stickier and the wood gets pushed back.
Palate: A big bite from both the oak (spicy rather than tannic) and the alcohol—the fruit from the nose is much more muted here. Not much change with time; let’s see what water does. Well, it softens the bite of the oak and pulls out a bit of the apricot but I can’t say it makes it very much more interesting. Let’s try a few more drops. Ah yes, that’s better: the citrus and apricot from the nose are now in the lead and the oak is very much in a supporting role.
Finish: Long. The oak is what makes the biggest impression. As on the palate with water.
Comments: If you’re looking for evidence that not every malt from a legendary, closed distillery is a world-beater then this is the malt for you. It is very good, very solid (especially if you don’t mind some oak) but tasted blind, I’d hazard that very few people would find it very exceptional. Might have been better if reduced to 55% or so. It improved with water for me on the nose and palate but it took a while to get the balance right.
Rating: 84 points.
Thanks to Nick S. for the sample!