Dec 302015

La Maison du Whisky is France’s leading whisky retailer, and the purveyors of Whisky Live Paris, which is one of the Continent’s foremost whisky events of the year. Whisky Live Paris is usually held on the last weekend  in September, one week before The Whisky Show in London. This whisky is linked also by another, much bigger (if not necessarily more interesting) event: the Olympics.

The Karuizawa Distillery was located in the mountainous Nagano District, in central Japan, where the 1998 Winter Olympics were held. Paris held the 1924 Olympic games, and is bidding to host the 2024 games. The distillery was located on the lower slopes of Japan’s most active volcano, Mount Asama (yes, a Karuizawa whisky was, indeed, named for the mountain).

“Mount Asama” by Ski Mania Photo Credit:

In summer 2014 La Maison du Whisky bottled a 1981 single cask of Karuizawa whisky, tasted as part of my belated birthday premium night, following the absolutely gorgeous 1980 Samurai Karuizawa I tasted at The Whisky Show which was released just the other week  🙂

The charred oak effect in this expression is pretty strong, and without water (and you would add a few drops to this….) it was almost like a light peated effect. Fascinating dram….

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1981 Karuizawa, La Maison Du Whisky, Cask 136 (55.3% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Bronze, thick and viscous leaving a lot of residue and a persistent necklace.

Nose: Light spice and a gentle creamy custard. In the background wood spices and tobacco. Hints of citrus and sherry with wood and a light note of BBQ meat.

Palate: Is this peat? It sure feels like it, though not the dirty island peat, and none of it on the nose. I’ll just count that as oak, and a lot of it. Fresh ginger root, ground cloves and licorice in a very dry delivery. Water strengths the wood, cleans it up a bit.

Linger: Extremely dry with star anise and nutmeg and a sweet and sout sherry on the tongue. Down the gullet the spice is strong.


Beautifully balanced with a massive sherry and oak battle going on, with a fascinating (phantom?) smoky note going on in the background.

Santé Franck!

Nov 062015

Specialty Drinks is continuing to bottle single cask Karuizawa expressions, of which stocks are now down to below 50 casks,  and The Whisky Show is the showcase for the new expressions each year. Last year it was the two Geisha labels (reviewed here) and the utterly stunning 1981 vintage, which I reviewed here, and sadly didn’t win the right to buy a bottle.

This Karuizawa was available to taste as a dream dram at the show, where a second bottling of a single cask with a 50 bottle outturn was bottled for the Nepal Appeal, and “given” to 45 participants who paid £6000 each for the ticket, the proceeds of which went to five charities working in Nepal. Additionally, two bottles went on auction, with the proceeds going to charity as well. The two auction bottles went for £9000 in one auction and for £9700 in the other. The tasting raised £225,000 for charity, with the auctions probably pushing the appeal to just over £240,000. All in all, this is a very worthy way of dispensing with an almost empty cask.

© Simon J Hanna      Photo Credit:

Back to our 1980 expression. This whisky isn’t out yet, but it will be made available for purchase to those who attended The Whisky Show, after last year’s show was disrupted by visitors checking into the show and running out to queue for a bottle at the store (see my review of last year’s day one here). Therefore, a drawing will be held for the right to purchase a bottle when it’s put up for sale. It is a single cask, but no information on the cask itself was revealed, although I can safely state that this is a sherry cask, as you’ll see from the notes.

How is it?

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Karuizawa Vintage 1980 (61.6% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Dark mahogany, viscous and sticky on the glass leaving a perfect necklace.

Nose: Gentle oak on the nose, sherry, prunes, perfume in the background, varnish, warm wood spices and a general feeling of an old spice shop.

Palate: Massive oaky hit, then concentrated stewed fruit, jasmine, a sour/vinegary note and a note of prune jam. This is a big dram in the mouth with very strong and pronounced flavors.

Linger: Long, dry and very oaky with white pepper and notes of violet.


A classic, big Karuizawa, with A LOT of the cask in the liquid. It packs a punch, not just in the high ABV, but in the bold, in your face, flavors. Like most older Karuizawas, this is one for lovers of tannins.

Isn’t it a shame most of the bottles will never actually be opened?


Jun 042015

Within the Japanese whisky craze washing over the whisky world, Karuizawa has its own kind of crazy. Tulipmania in full bloom.

Here are just two selections of the most recent Karuizawa craziness, off of recent auctions. The first is a bottle released by The Whisky Exchange this past October, one I have tasted and reviewed here:

30 Year Old Sherry

30 Year Old Sherry Cask 5347

The second, is a crazy reserved for a class of collectors well beyond my scope of comprehension – miniature maniacs:

Yes, You are seeing this right!

Yes, You are seeing this right!

The real shame is that what are the chances of you opening a £375 bottle which cost you £3500? Exactly zero!

And thus, the circle of people who actually enjoy this whisky is ever shrinking, as the bottlings become rarer.

When the Scotch Malt Whisky Society got hold of six casks of Karuizawa ranging in age from 29 to 12 years old. The 29 year old was priced at £268, and the youngest of the brood, the 12 year old, was priced at £108. Do you fancy a bottle? you can get one here:

Anybody need new glasses?

Anybody need new glasses? This price is beyond silly, and at auction you’ll pay around £300 for it…

Did anybody say CRAZY?

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Scotch Malt Whisky Society, Cask 132.6 – Karuizawa Distilled 31.12.200, 12 Year Old Refill Sherry Butt, Outturn 553 Bottles (63.0% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Deep Gold, thin and quick legs.

Nose: Sherry and malt, orange blossom, cinnamon, a hint of a lactic note, hay, dough and grain. Water brings out perfume and citrus flowers.

Palate: Warm cinnamon, orange peel, dark chocolate, allspice, clove and honey.

Linger: Sweet spice on the tongue, sherry dryness, dark chocolate with a very long sweetness on the palate.


This is an intense whisky, with a depth of flavor and aromas. Great cask!

Feb 242015

Yesterday I reviewed the Miygikyo 12 and found it just a little too put together. How does the 15 year old fare?

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Yesterday’s blind tasting whisky was the Tobermory 10, which I had recently reviewed, so I’m sticking with notes from the London Whisky Show that I didn’t get to yet.

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Miyagikyo 15 Year Old (45% ABV)

Appearance: Light Bronze and sluggish, thin legs.

Nose: Dusty tangerine, sherry notes with some dried fruit. There’s a very faint balsamic note present in the background, getting stronger as it breathes. Cookie dough and malt are present under the sherry.

Palate: Sherry and light smoke, orange or tangerine sweetness with cinnamon and nutmeg.

Linger: Sweet citrus notes on the tongue, spice in the back of the throat leaving the mouth dry with a hint of smoke (not peat, more wood smoke).


The 15 year old does not suffer from the “perfection” flaw the 12 has. This whisky is complex, far looser and less tight than the 12 year old and has the undertones and imperfect balsamic, an indistinction between orange and tangerine and some of the cask got in there too.

Despite being a great dram, at the nearly £100 you’d have to leave in the store for this expression, you can do better.

Feb 232015

Israel’s whisky community is now in the midst of the first organized blind tasting organized by Tapuz Wine and Alcohol Forum’s Admin and resident whisky buff Assaf Harel in conjunction with Sitonaut Binyamina, who organizes next month’s Whisky Live Tel Aviv. We got 14 blind samples, and have one revealed each night at 11pm. The first whisky was the Tomatin 14 (which I reviewed here last May), So obviously…..I got it….WRONG!!!  Yes, despite having tasted and reviewed this particular expression, I failed miserably…

The other bloggers in the competition didn’t fare much better, and these competitions serve to teach humility in a fun way.

Since I already reviewed this expression, I’ll be harking back to some whiskys I tasted at the Whisky Show in London and didn’t get to review, starting with the Miyagikyo 12.

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The first Miyagikyo I reviewed was a stunning sample of a single cask I got from my friend Torben. You can read this review here. The distillery was built in 1969 in a pristine remote location by Masataka Taketsuru, who pretty much invented Japanese whisky, and who’s story will be the basis of a Japanese television series – sure to interest whisky fans the world over. This is a distillery in which precision is the name of the game and the entire distillation operation is controlled by computers.

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Nikka Miyagikyo 12 (45% ABV)

Appearance: Light bronze, slow and thin legs.

Nose: Sliced pears, bouquet of flowers, touches of smoke and a somewhat dusty quality. Also detectable is cake batter and notes of sherry, which works very well with the smoke.

Palate: Spicy white pepper and cardamom, orange peel and honey that was melted in hot water.

Linger: Light spices on the tongue, some spice in the back that fades and some dryness.


This is a very precise whisky. It’s very “put together”, somewhat tight. Very good, although somewhat uninspiring.

The problem, of course, is the price. While you can get the Yamazaki 12 for under £60 (which is still high for a 12 year old), whereas the Miyagikyo will set you back £82, I can’t say I’m sure why it should cost more than 33% more.