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The winter continues

but so does the dramming


Maybe this is a typical February weather-wise as the cold spell digs in and refuses to give way to any semblence of spring-time just yet, but at least it gives me the excuse to keep the inner glow fired with some more nice drams, comparisons and general whisky musings.

Meanwhile, back at the weather .....





The Art of Karuizawa

or "Karui-WOW-Ahhhh"


Why is it that such a high percentage of the really treasured art is only really treasured after the artist has passed on? Of course the quality has to exist in the first place, but is it also a statement of rarity or finality that no more of their work will be produced, ever?

What is art? When I look for an answer to this question the internet offers many possible explanations from "Art is form and content" and "Art plays a large part in making our lives infinitely rich". Wikipedia offers "Art is a diverse range of human activities and the products of those activities". Can it be argued that the product of a distillery be called art, especially as all definitions I've found refer to art being the product of human endeavour? Well, a distillery does usually have a master distiller at its helm and the various distillery components are his trade tools, so why not indeed?

I am indebted to fellow Malt Maniac Dave Broom for permission to use his notes on the history of Karuizawa (below).

Karuizawa is a town sitting at 800 to 1000 metres and sits in the shadow of Mount Asama, Japan's most active volcano. It's a fashionable town with designer outlets, top-end bars and hotels, a place where Tokyo's smart set come to ski in winter and relax away from the summer humidity of the plains. Karuizawa was home to a winery established by Kaitakushi Budo Jozojo, which would rename itself Daikoku-budoshu.

While Daikoku had been dabbling with whisky at its distillery in Yamanashi - its first brand, ‘KM Sweet Home’ appeared in 1922 - the main business remained wine. It was not until after the war that the Japanese whisky industry as we now know it began to take shape. In 1946, Daikoku, released a blend called Ocean, one of the first to (re)emerge after the disasters of war.

By the 1950s demand for whisky was growing and drinks firms wanted a piece of the action. Ocean was becoming an established brand and a new distillery site was needed. Initially this was tried at Shiojiri, but the quality of the spirit was poor. In 1955, therefore, the decision was taken to shift production to the firm’s winery at Karuizawa.

Ocean helped establish Karuizawa as a whisky town. Further mergers followed bringing Ocean into the ownership of the Showa Brewing Company which itself had swallowed up another winemaking firm, Mercian, which would eventually become the company’s name.

Karuizawa is a Japanese whisky unlike any other. It is big, it is bold, it has solidity and weight, it is richly fruited, it revels in its oiliness, it has smoke, but has retained that very Japanese qualities of heightened aroma and precision of flavour. It is the antithesis of lightness. Why? Because this was the bass line for a blend, the anchor in the Ocean.

Following the economic crash of the 1990's Karuizawa finally stopped production in 2000 and never reopened.

There was some hope that there might be whisky made there in 2007 when Mercian was bought by Kirin. After all, by this time interest in Japanese single malt was growing not only domestically but in export markets. Karuizawa - because of its scarcity - had become a cult. Kirin also owned another distillery, Gotemba which made a light, gentle fruity style. It was a perfect pairing, but it was not to be. The stills remained cold. It was a disgraceful decision whose logic remains unfathomable. The site has been sold and the distilling licence returned. No whisky will be made here again.

By 2007 it was clear that Kirin had no plans to re-open the distillery and though attempts were made to buy it, they were rebuffed. It then became apparent that the firm would however sell the stock, which is when Number One Drinks entered the picture.

After protracted negotiations, in 2011 (including a bid to buy the distillery itself) they became owners of all of the remaining casks of Karuizawa, all 300 of them which now sit at Japan’s newest distillery, Chichibu, where they are watched over by Ichibori-san, former distiller at... Karuizawa.

Thanks Dave, Slàinte Mhath.



The Art of Karuizawa?

In just the last two years The Malt Maniacs Awards has seen seven entries from Karuizawa, winning three Coveted Gold Medals and four Silver. "Great" is a word never far from my lips when it comes to this distillery so imagine my delight as today I get to sample ten of them in a rather Maniacal head to head Karuizawa art-fest.

1981-2011 Casks 2634 & 6207, 1983-2012 Casks 7576 & 8597, 1984-2012 Cask 3692, 1982 Cask 8497, 1984 Cask 4021, Spirit of Asama 48% & 55%, 1964 48y Cask 3603.






1981-2011 Cask 2634 for LMDW The colour of rich dark treacle toffee also reflects in the nose as this is the first aroma I detect. This is followed quickly by rich almonds and gently smouldering wood with frequent and delightful suggestions of early summer flora. The whole experience comes to a crescendo with hints of dark chocolate and freshly ground coffee beans alongside a light antiseptic-ness typical of faint Atlantic coastal peatiness. The palate is a wonderful fruity cocktail of figs, prunes, plums and dark cherries along with almonds, finest espresso coffee and dark chocolate, all wrapped in that treacle toffee-ness. The finish just powers along relentlessly as I wonder if it will ever end. My overall impression is still one of "Great"-ness although I've downgraded my original 93 points to a still wonderful 92.



1981-2011 Cask 6207 for LMDW Another 1981-2011 Karuizawa for LMDW and yes, let's get straight to the point; another "Great". A little lighter in colour than cask 2634 as this is more dark teak than very dark treacle toffee. The nose offers a slightly dry woodiness, aromatic wax polish and after some minutes a suggestion of fresh strawberries develops. But wait a minute, as I now inhale deeply is that a hint of Yorkshire pudding? Oooh this is good, very good. The palate is very slightly dry with floral wood, banana stem, peppery vanilla and suggestions of cherries and plums. The finish is very long and although rich it manages to also remain lightly floral and be ever-expanding. My overall impression is that this is indeed a wonderful whisky, full of character and a delightful "Great". My original 93 point score remains and is very well deserved.



1983-2012 Cask 7576 "Noh" No.1 Drinks Again the rich dark colour of treacle toffee. The nose is filled with suggestions of rich dark fruits marinated in sherry. There's a hint of aged oak too as the aromas expand and just get better and better and better ..... The palate has a massive earthiness, in fact almost maritime alongside a cornucopia of dark fruitiness and nuttiness. It's rich, it's heavy, it's delightful and all this is reflected further in the very long finish. My overall impression says this is indeed massive and extremely rich, but it's also a very well balanced and harmonious gem. I really can't argue with my original score of 94 points awarded during MMA 2012 when I sampled it blind.



1983-2012 Cask 8597 No.1 Drinks for LMDW This edition of Karuizawa comes from LMDW's "Cocktail Series" and I have to ask "Do people really want to use this in cocktails?" I guess my Old Luddite-ness is rearing its overly-traditional head here?  The colour is amber. The nose is earthy and very lightly toasted in character and expands with a faint rubbery leatheriness. After some minutes I'm also detecting suggestions of dark chocolate and fresh coffee. This is jam-packed full of character.  The palate is initially creamy-smooth and then caressed by  a rich tingle comprising hints of fresh fruit, an earthiness, leather and rubber. Why am I reminded of a very good cognac here?  The finish is very long and delightful. My overall impression doesn't hesitate to use that word again "Great". In fact I'm even upgrading my MMA 2012 91 points to a very worthy 92.



1984-2012 Cask 3692 No.1 Drinks My apologies to those readers who've never experienced the English delight of treacle toffee as once again I'm going down that route in describing the colour of this cask 3692 Karuizawa.  As for the nose; it's also rich, heavy and delightful with dark fruitiness, aged oak and again a light background of very aromatic flora. There's a very faint rubberiness at times, but this just further enhances the depth of aromas. The palate is massive, rich and tingly. The rubberiness is there along with the aged oak, almonds, walnuts, cherries, prunes and light peat bog. All creating a truly wonderful synergy. My overall impression? Life is good, very good. Pass a bottle around after a fine steak or duck banquet and I'm sure you'll agree it's a "Great" as I stick to my original 90 points awarded blind during MMA 2012.



1982 Cask 8497 The Whisky Exchange The colour is one of gently glowing golden brass. The nose offers aromatic earthy flora, maybe English cottage herb garden alongside spring bulbs. Was that a sudden hint of spent match? Perhaps more like bonfire or BBQ embers at the end of a summer day in the garden? The palate is wonderfully fruity with hints of creamy peach that tingle and tantalise. Crème caramel? Tiramisu?  Maybe even marinated trifle base? The finish is delightfully long with that tiramisu really coming to the fore now. My overall impression is one of a very good, nay excellent fruity whisky with a depth of tiramisu and light cappuccino. It may not be as heavy and rich as some of the others I'm trying today, but maybe it exhibits a slightly different distillery style and one which is extremely commendable. I'm even upgrading my original MMA 2012 score from 85 to 86 points.



1984 Cask 4021 The Whisky Exchange Unlike the previous six examples this is the first of four today that I haven't tried before, so I'm visiting these for the first time. The colour is rich cork with a hint of coppery bronze. The nose is immensely fragrant with a herbal leafiness alongside a suggestion of figs and maybe dates. Whoa ... wait a minute .. is that really the aroma of freshly roasted pork coming through now? Surely not smoky bacon crisps too? Yes, I really believe so. Magnificent! The palate is big, massive, powerful, bold and personnifies everything from the nose including the smoky bacon crisps. Especially the smoky bacon crisps. The finish may eventually end, one day. My overall impression says I'm a hapyp man, very happy and I'm about to use that word again "Great" and 92 very bold, delightful and massive points.



Spirit of Asama 48% abv No.1 Drinks for The Whisky Exchange The colour here is slightly dull cork. The nose is initially slightly farmy whilst also offering what I can only describe as a maritime woodiness with just a hint of spent match. This all develops with time to include a custard style creaminess and just a suggestion of liquorice. The palate again personnifies the nose and also has a slightly watery mouth-feel. Perhaps a slightly higher abv would help here? The finish is very pleasantly long. As for my overall impression? Make no mistake this is good, very good, even excellent but I feel it needs just a little more ooomph. Points? A well-deserved 87 really don't go amiss with this one.



Spirit of Asama 55% abv No.1 Drinks for The Whisky Exchange The colour here is light amber. The nose offers a selection of dried herbs with just the faintest suggestion of a very aromatic Alpine cheese. A warm woodiness develops which is reminiscent of bonfire embers. The palate has a very smooth and creamy mouth-feel, a suggestion of crème caramel?  A dark fruitiness akin to figs, prunes, dates and cherries - almost but not quite. Freshly ground coffee beans? Again almost, but not quite. The finish is long and slightly dry, again with almost coffee beans. My overall impression is that the few extra abv really do help here as it has the ooomph that the 48% version lacks. A couple more points on my scale too ..... 89 to be exact.



1964, 48y Cask 3603 No.1 for Wealth Solutions, Poland I think it's fair to say I've been looking forward to this one; the oldest Karuizawa ever bottled to date. The colour is dark amber with a tinge of copperiness. The nose is fragrant, very fragrant with amazingly delicate flora alongside a lightly perfumed antique woodiness. After some minutes it suggests its age with a light mustiness but with more time it expands and further develops those wonderfully delicate floral notes. The palate just bursts forth onto the front of the tongue. This is very much alive! The floral notes from the nose are now dancing across the palate. Ahhh peach melba with gently perfumed (English) Christmas cake. My overall impression is of a truly magnificent and vibrant whisky. A "Great" by a country mile, or two. 95 Points or 96? Any excuse to try it again and decide.


When I first started this article I spoke of the art of Karuizawa and now, after trying all ten examples in one evening I can honestly say it has been the unique Karuizawa art-fest that I hoped for. I don't often publish my scores here on my website but in this case the need arises for comparitive purposes. It isn't often that one has the opportunity to sample ten different expressions from the same closed distillery in a single head to head and, when that distillery happens to be Karuizawa, then it has to be something special. Ten whiskies, seven 90+ scores and three in the high 80's is something dreams are made of. So far the highest score I ever awarded a whisky was 95 points for a truly astonishing Ardbeg 30y distillery bottling. This 1964 Karuizawa is at least as good as that Ardbeg, maybe better, so I will indeed revisit this one later this evening and try to decide if this really is the highest scoring whisky I've tried (as yet), or only as good as the highest scoring one. Keep a lookout on The Maniacs' Monitor for my ultimate decision.

Slàinte Mhath

I am indebted to Dave Broom for permission to reproduce his work on the history of Karuizawa. Also to The Whisky Exchange for samples of the two Spirit of Asama along with cask 4021. Master of Malt deserve a very special "Thank you" for the official sample of the 48y 1964. I guess this is also a good time to thank everyone who supports our Malt Maniacs Awards by submitting entries to our annual competition as without the likes of No.1 Drinks, LMDW, MoM and TWE our MMA would be a much poorer event and this Karuizawa art-fest would never have happened. Did I forget anyone? Ahh yes, thanks for taking the time to read this!





Three Wee Oddities

or "A Horse, a Bow and a Dear"


Well maybe not so odd as mysterious and unusual: Today's offering includes two rather mysterious drams, or at least they were mysterious when I sampled them in June last year during a tasting in Scotland. We were told one was a Bowmore and the other an Auchentoshan, but that was all. The third is a sample sent to me as part of a sample exchange with a whisky-loving friend and the only information I have is from the attached picture of the label; Golden Horse, aged 12 years, single malt whisky.


The Horse

Golden Horse, single malt whisky, aged 12 years

The nose is really quite unusual as initially there's something very metallic but this does fade over time to be replaced by slightly antiseptic fruity vanilla notes. Am I in a Doctor's surgery? Hmm, the antiseptic fruitiness expands further with time.



The palate just confirms that metallic fruitiness as I'm now thinking of banana, kiwi fruit, raspberry and melon served on one of those tinny, unbreakable camping plates that were used some years ago before they were thankfully replaced by less-intrusive plastic ones. The finish is long, slightly bitter and dry. Maybe just too long?

My overall impression is that I certainly enjoyed my schoolboy camping trips rather more than this whisky, even though they were usually rain-sodden with flooded fields and leaking tents. Ahh those were the days around the proverbial campfire singing Cum-by-Ah. (Just for the record 67 points for the whisky, not the camping trips). "Quality of your choice"???

Adendum: I have been contacted by Ulf Buxrud after he read this article and he offers a little more detail on this Golden Horse bottling. He believes this is the Hanyu trademarked label which was questioned back in the 80's by DCL in a Japanese court. DCL own the White Horse brand.



The Bow

Bowmore, Mystery Sample, 55.1% abv

The colour is a very bright golden yellow. The nose offers the freshness and slight saltiness of the Atlantic coast along with a very nicely musty smokiness which is all wrapped in a suggestion of perfumed cinnamon. The palate expands on this with a perfumed smokiness.

My overall impression is of a very enjoyable nose, yes even though I'm not the biggest cinnamon fan, this is a very good nose, but the palate is a slight let-down and overall I think the whisky is a little disjointed. For the record; 83 points from me and as yet, the actual identity of this whisky remains a mystery.


The Dear

Auchentoshan, Mystery Sample, 50.1% abv

Rich amber in colour and with a nose exuding a nicely sherried woodiness with a quite typical Auchentoshan lightness in the background this is a very nice experience. The palate is quite dry with lots of sherried notes and even a hint of port wine and blueberry fruitiness. I even detect something reminiscent of crème brulée leading into the medium to long finish. My overall impression is of a very nice, well sherried and fruity Auchentoshan, but why "The Dear"? This sample has now been released as an official bottling and is the 1966, 44y limited edition and as such, carries a quite extreme price tag! For the record; 86 points from me.





Kürzlich behandelte Themen (Eine vollständige Liste von allen unter Dram-atics veröffentlichten Artikeln sind in meiner Inhaltsangabe nachzulesen.)  
Januar 2013 Glen-CLASS-augh, Fab Fo(u)rties, Glen-DROOL-nach  
Herbst 2012 The Olympkins, Getting old and Grainy  
Juli 2012 Motor Maniac - Malt Maniac, Nosing den New Make  
Mai-Jun 2012 Limburg - Die Whisky Messe, Dalmore Constellation, Integrität MM 15y Schottland, Blend of Maniacs  
Mar-Apr 2012 Investment grade madness, Glenglassaugh, 5th IWD, 1000th Review, April Fool, Going dotty, age verification
Feb. 2012 It's a rum old do, Growing old gracefully, Four Imperial sisters  
Jan. 2012 Onwards & Upwards, Canadian Whisky Awards  
Dec. 2011 MMA 2011 Winners, HP 70's Orcadians, Debussy plays Pitaud, Class of 64-65, Elementary my dear Sukhinder  
Sept-Nov 2011 Malt Maniacs Awards 2011 - A weekend in the life of a Postmaster General  
June-Aug 2011 Bits Bytes & Drams, Glen Garioch 1994, Angela D'Orazio - Mackmyra, Trinity of Two Earls, Drams at Dawn
May 2011 Don't bug me with ads, A dram fine evening
April 2011 Cry me a River, Golden Oldies, The Shackleton Legacy, Two Weddings and a Whisky
March 2011 Masters of Photography, Memory and the Middle Cut, Sampling again, Dave Stirk 5, Choosing choice Choices
Feb. 2011 Festival time again, Spam Galore!, Drams & Trams

Jan. 2011

Lookback at 2010, New Job? Three Thirties, ToC, Overdosing on sherry casks






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