Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A unicorn: Karuizawa 1960... the 'other' single cask

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo
Recently, we had the pleasure of visiting a private collection of wines and whiskies with mostly bottlings from previous decades. The whisky collection was heavily focused on older limited editions of Japanese whiskies, which is interesting because most collections of Japanese whiskies were started post-2005 (the year the first Ichiro's Hanyu bottlings were released, and a year or two later, the first Number One Drinks releases). The collection we visited gravitated towards old and limited Suntory and Nikka items, but in a tiny corner, we discovered a hitherto unknown release that would be the crown of anyone's Japanese whisky collection: the unknown, 'other' 1960 Karuizawa single cask. And there it was sitting, as an oddity, in a dark corner.

Everyone is familiar with the Number One Drinks Karuizawa 1960 (#5627), of course, but this particular bottle may be much rarer. It was bottled at the distillery. What the staff did in those days when they bottled single casks at the distillery (mostly for sale at the distillery shop) is: they would tap a cask and take as much liquid as they needed to have a good supply of a particular cask from a particular vintage on the shelves, and leave the rest to mature until a further date when they needed more. With younger vintages, bottles would sell out quite quickly (well, relatively speaking -  that would be at a snail's pace observed from today's Japanese whisky climate!). With older vintages, which were quite expensive for the time (now they'd be considered bargains, of course), that wouldn't be the case, so they would only bottle very few and they were usually on the shelves for months and years. We have no idea how many bottles were taken from cask #2435, but it's likely to be in the single digits. This particular bottle was filled on 25 July 2007 at 47yo (62.2%abv - much higher, incidentally, than the Number One Drinks 1960, which was bottled at 51.7%abv).

There are many mysteries surrounding this bottle - was it bottled for a specific customer as a one-off? what happened to the remaining liquid in the cask? - and we're in the process of analysing video footage taken at Karuizawa distillery (including the shop and the shelves with all available vintages) to see if any light can be shed on the existence of this bottle. (Don't hold your breath, though!) For obvious reasons (security, first and foremost), the location of this bottle cannot be disclosed, but if it is ever opened - as we hope it will be - we'll be sure to share the news with you and throw a wicked party to mark the occasion. We're trying to encourage this, but it may never happen... In that sense, Karuizawa has become a victim of its own success, and of the madness (in terms of prices on the secondary market) surrounding it. A few years ago, setting up a tasting of that bottle would have been a walk in the park. Now, it's a different world.

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