Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo
Karuizawa 1980 / 2015 (35yo) for Harbour City (HK), sherry butt #4376, 60.1%abv, 212btls.
Big and robust, this is not for the faint of heart. This is the whisky equivalent of Henry Rollins (and we’re huge fans of Mr. Rollins, so that’s saying something!) It’s very intense, that’s for sure. The nose needs a bit of taming with water in order to reveal its complexities – don’t even try without. It also needs time… loads of time. Then, little by little, you catch some glimpses of its aromatic universe: yakibuta, rock pools in summer, unagi sauce, porcini soup, permanent markers (don’t pretend you’ve never sniffed one!), bacon-wrapped dates, blue cheese and walnut toast, dried cantaloupes, tent odors (but nothing unpleasant!), wood creosote, rooibos tea, pomegranate molasses… It’s a combination of aromas that doesn’t conjure up any plausible “natural settings” (unless you’ve got a very unusual and adventurous daily life), but it works.
On the palate, it’s so thick it needs to be chewed – literally! Here, you get deer jerky, eggplant chutney, fennel, berry lime compote, dried persimmons (hoshigaki) and a tiny bit of lemongrass, but the wood is quite loud, so if you don’t like oak in your whisky, this could be a bit of a challenge. Since you can’t take out the water once you’ve added it, it would actually be better to start with the palate undiluted, and then add water and enjoy the nose, which is an atypical progression, of course, but you’ll notice it makes sense in this context. The finish is long and drying, but you get a really beautiful crossfade from bitter, peppery and minty notes to subtle hints of coffee, salt caramel and candied lime peel.
This is definitely not a whisky for beginners, but it’s incredibly rewarding if you’re willing to put in the work… No kiddy gloves here, but what a joy to be able to grapple with a whisky of this caliber – not many specimens like this around in this day and age of inoffensive, easy, superficially sexy whisky that seeks to please anyone and everyone.
Now for the bad news – it’s a bit expensive (what did you expect?). We’ve heard prices in the area of 80,000HKD. That is a lot of money – true – but life is short (and even shorter if your liver gets fed up) and I can tell you, you won’t have the chance to turn down a whisky like this for much longer anymore, since the Karuizawa stock is almost gone… You’re paying for a lot of things here – including the presentation featuring a wood block print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi which is stunning – but, as always, one has to weigh quality and quantity against the limits of one’s budget. That’s something we can’t help you with. As far as the liquid’s concerned, though, you’re in for a wild ride, so you’ve got nothing to worry about there!