Post by Nonjatta contributor Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub.
This is the first in an ongoing series entitled "Distillery Vignettes", featuring snapshots of Japanese distilleries, usually focusing on some particular detail(s) of interest. What better way to kick off the series than to start with Karuizawa distillery, which unfortunately is now officially a "lost distillery." It was closed in the fall of 2011 after more than a decade of inactivity. When all of the remaining maturing stock was bought by the people behind Number One Drinks and moved to the Chichibu distillery, it was clear to everyone that there was no hope of resurrection anymore.
Having fallen in love with Karuizawa distillery (not only the whisky, but the actual place itself) long before the Number One Drinks-led rise-to-legendary-status abroad, I felt particularly sad about the end of the Karuizawa era. I never understood why the people at Kirin gave up on the distillery: it just doesn't make any sense at all, not when you consider the quality (and prestige abroad!) of the whisky as well as the history and heritage. It's very sad that nobody wanted to keep it alive - maybe it all comes down to the business of vested interest. I guess it wasn't in anybody's best interests to keepit alive. The sale of the remaining casks also means the end of Karuizawa's (i.e. the whisky) presence in Japan - I was told by someone in the know that one of the conditions of the sale of the complete stock was that it would not be sold in Japan. Well, at least people in Europe will get to enjoy the fruits of its glorious past (including a 52-year old single cask, to be released later this year).
Anyway, I visited Karuizawa distillery on many occasions... Today, I thought I'd just share a couple of snapshots of a visit I made in the spring of 2008, focusing on casks. Everyone knows about Karuizawa's adherence to traditional Scottish whisky-making practice, its use of Golden Promise barley, etc. but I've always wondered about the casks. This is not a minor detail, given the importance of the contribution of the cask to the final flavour profile. It would be really interesting to find out what casks were sourced where and how, what the wood policy was, and so on. In one of the photos, you can clearly see that some of the casks were from the Macallan distillery (when it was still hyphenated as "Macallan-Glenlivet") - the year on the casks is 1977. I'd love to be able to speak to someone who was actually in charge of warehouse management at Karuizawa when it was an active distillery. Until then, we'll just have to be satisfied with these glorious photos showing a distillery basking in the sun... as it will do no more.