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….

Photo Credit:

Photo Credit:

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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Photo Credit:

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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Photo Credit:

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!

Nov 072014

Closing out our Japanese high end quartet is the 1981 Karuizawa, to be released sometime in the near future by Specialty Drinks through The Whisky Exchange. Pricing has yet to be announced, but it may be higher than the £375 of the October release, a speculation I’m making simply because tasting it cost a full dream dram token, rather than a half a token, as did the two Karuizawas released, and since the guidelines were that dream tokens are to be charged only for whiskies costing £500 and over. As I said, though, this is mere speculation.

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If you read yesterday’s post on the 29 and 30 year olds, you’ll recall that the characteristic Karuizawa woodiness is very prevalent and serves as the canvass upon which the other flavors and aromas paint.  The 1981 somehow retained a more traditional sherry cask character, and is far less woody and much more “sherry”. This release is of a cask selected by Specialty Drinks LTD

Karuizawa 1981, Single Sherry cask, Bottled 2014 (63.4% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Dark bronze, slow forming legs.

Nose: Oak, dark chocolate (>85%), espresso, faint orange, fresh cherry, cloves and nutmeg and baked pears in wine. Water brings out fresh fruit, namely red apples and ripe pears.

Palate: Full bodied and dry with notes of sherry, dark chocolate and rum.

Linger: Long and satisfying, with notes of red wine, dry oaky tannins, an undertone of sweet and dark berries with cinnamon, clove and nutmeg.



This is a real beauty, with the oak and sherry interplaying beautifully.

If I could, I’d decree that as this bottle gets rung up in the store, the seal is to be broken so bottles get sold open and actually are enjoyed in glasses….In my dreams  🙂






Nov 062014

Following yesterday’s post on the Joker, I’ll stay with Japanese whisky for a bit.

As you know from reading my post on the first day of the Show, people were dashing out as fast as they were checking into show to get into the shop to stand on a queue inside the store to buy one bottle per person of the new Karuizawa release by Speciality Drinks Ltd.

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This release included two single cask bottlings, one is a 29 year old from an ex bourbon cask (#8897) and a 30 year old sherry cask (#5347). Happily, both were available to taste for a single dream token. As you would expect from a Karuizawa, both are rather oaky, and if you think of the oak as the canvass, a beautiful spectrum of aromas and flavors appear. At the recent auction, the bottles sold for £1500 each, and a set of both bottles (pictured above) sold for £3500 (I guess saving £40 in shipping two separately purchased bottles justifies £550 – don’t forget the 10% commission – on the price). Only yesterday, another ex bourbon bottle closed for £1700 and a sherry one for £1650.


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Photo Credit:

Karuizawa 29 Year Old Single ex bourbon cask #8897 (53.9% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Deep Amber with very slow legs.

Nose: The oak washes over you first, then vanilla, marshmallow, honey, toasted white bread with butter and light citrus flowers. You could think you were sniffing cognac.

Palate: Gentle and mouth drying on contact. Honey and light warm spices (cinnamon, clove and cardamom) come though the oak.

Linger: Very long and dry with oak tannins and sweet honey.




Photo Credit:

Photo Credit:

Karuizawa 30 Year Old Single sherry cask #5347 (58.2% ABV, NCF, NC)


Appearance: Bronze with thin and slow legs.

Nose: Oak sets the tone as dried apricots, prunes and dried figs meet your nose with  light sultana sweetness and cherry candy coming through the oaky setting. Water, added slowly, brings out espresso coffee.

Palate: Not as mouth drying as the ex bourbon cask, nevertheless it’s very present. Delicate fruity notes of plum and not yet fully ripe apricots come through. Water brings out sweeter fruit.

Linger: Very long and dry with oak tannins and sweet honey.



Setting aside the pricing frenzy, these are two drams that require time to fully open and appreciate. I spent some time with each, but in the show setting, you can’t really spend a half an hour with each of these, which is fully merited.

I hope to have the chance to do that in the future, and hope you do too!