Quick Hits: Two Old Karuizawas

Let’s finish up a week of older whiskies. I have two older whiskies today, one from the 1980s and one from the 1970s. Both are Karuizawas. For my opinion on the state of the Karuizawa industrial complex see this post from last year—prices have doubtless shot up even higher since then but everything else still seems applicable. Both of these whiskies were bottled in 2011. The first is a “multi vintage” bottling of four casks from the early-mid 1980s, with the youngest having been filled in 1984. An odd thing you might say to vat four casks of Karuizawa rather than milk them each as single casks—as you’ll see, I have a theory about this below. The other one is a more straightforward single sherry cask release, distilled in 1972 and bottled in 2011. I shudder to think how much either would cost now on the secondary market. I did not purchase either of these samples. Back in the days when I used to purchase a lot of whisky from Whiskybase they would occasionally slip samples of some premium whiskies in with my orders. As I have no memory of buying them this must be how I acquired these (as I did the Glenlivet and Glenury reviewed here). As always with reviews of whiskies I have less than 30 ml of, I am not assigning scores. Continue reading


Karuizawa 13, 1997, “Spirit Safe”

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.  Continue reading

Karuizawa 13, 1999 (Cask 869 for K&L)

Karuizawa, K&L
The Karuizawa I reviewed on Tuesday didn’t impress me overmuch; will this one, a single cask bottled for K&L in 2013, be better? This came with one of the striking “Noh” labels usually associated with much older single cask Karuizawas—it doubtless helped justify the cost: about $150 at the time (which would, of course, be a steal now, just two years later, for a 13 yo Karuizawa). Let’s get right to it.

Karuizawa 13, 1999 (57.7%; cask #869 for K&L; from a sample received in a swap)

Nose: Oh, this is much better to begin. Rich, nutty sherry with hints of chocolate, leather and earth (I was gardening today) with some orange peel and gunpowder behind it. The gunpowder starts getting stronger and then transitions to rubber and then, alas, to the sharper kind of sulphur. But most of it burns off soon enough, leaving behind tobacco and a growing fruitiness (marmalade, apricot). With more time there’s some cola concentrate and some beef stock. Water brings out some toffee and some caramel and cream and knocks the sulphur back even further. Continue reading

Karuizawa “Asama”

Karuizawa Asama 46%
This is the first of two Karuizawa reviews this week. This is of one of the “Asama” releases that came out right around the time that Number One Drinks purchased all remaining casks of Karuizawa. The big money releases at the time were the single casks, but a few vatted releases emerged as well. The Whisky Exchange had a “Spirit of Asama” at 55% and another of the same name at 48% (I believe, though I could be wrong, that this was the same whisky at different strengths), and there was also an earlier release for the EU at 46%. To make matters even more confusing it’s also possible that the EU release at 46% was from the same vatting as the later ones at higher strength. At any rate, what I do know for sure (I think) is that this sample is from the EU release and that all these Asamas were from whisky distilled in 1999/2000, right before the distillery shut down for good. These were priced quite reasonably at the time—about half the price of the 1999 that K&L sold in the US a couple of years ago (and that’s the next one that I’ll be reviewing later this week).

Continue reading