Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo
To say that it’s getting harder and harder every month to get hold of new Karuizawa releases is a bit of an understatement. With the single casks featured in this post, it was almost like looking for two Holy Grails (well, actually three, because there was a 1981 as well) at the same time! They were bottled for Taiwan in 2012 but only released this summer. Don’t ask why! All I know is that even die-hard collectors/speculators in Taiwan were having a tough time getting hold of these bottles at home. Until the people at Bond #1 decided to re-import a few bottles and offer them to members, we got messages from desperate Karuizawa collectors almost every day. It was all a bit surreal since I was on holiday in France when word got out… Anyway, enough drama. Time to put these old Karuizawas to the test.
Karuizawa 1977/2012, cask #4010, 65.9%abv, 427 bottles
On the nose, the 1971 is very heavy and concentrated: sweet – think cough syrup, stewed and dried fruits – but also earthy (dried leaves) and with a very prominent fresh white peach note. After a few minutes in the glass, there’s a shift in emphasis and you get suggestions of red miso, balsamic vinegar, old parmezan, porcini, nail polish and gooseberries. If you leave it for a long time, it develops into something like orange balsamic glaze. The 1977 is much lighter and less sweet; here, the initial impressions are tobacco leaves, slightly smoked dried fruit (I have a friend here in Tokyo who’s a keen home-smoker – is there a word for that? – and the last time I met him he brought some smoked dried pineapple and mango and that’s what you get in this 1977 Karuizawa). There’s also hints of grilled mackerel (saba shioyaki), nuts (macadamias and cashews), postage stamp gum and katori senko (incense coils used to keep mosquitoes away, very common here in Japan especially around this time of the year). There’s also a lovely ruby grapefruit note that stands out if you give the whisky a bit of time.
On the palate, the 1971 offers berry jam on toast, chocolate mousse with cointreau, choco-chip scones, orange sorbet, persimmons and wood spice. It’s slightly tannic but not to the point where it gets in the way of the other flavours. The finish is medium-long on After Eights and umeboshi candy. Water pretty much kills the party – it really does. The 1977 is very different, again: a combination of a tropical fruit salad (pineapple, mango, passionfruit, a touch of lime) with Japanese seven-spice powder (shichimi togarashi) and a dollop of Nutella. The finish is medium-long with slightly bitter overtones (grapefruit peel) and settles on something akin to blood orange jam. This one swims well: water throws a bit more sour in the mix, especially on the finish.
I love the complexity of the nose of the 1971, but as a total experience I prefer the 1977 – an intriguing dram from start to finish. Then again, it’s summer and that may have something to do with it. We tend to forget how much we are influenced by the climate we’re in, and that includes much more than just the weather…
Read more about Karuizawa Distillery here.