Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Geishas for Taiwan: Karuizawa 1981 & 1983

Post by Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub.

If one looks at the various whiskies bottled exclusively for the Taiwanese market over the last couple of years, a pattern starts to emerge that seems to indicate a preference for heavily-sherried whiskies and for old whiskies. I'm sure many whisky drinkers elsewhere in the world would self-apply such a preference, too. What makes Taiwan a little different is that a large segment of the whisky drinking population there actually has the means to put their money where their mouth is. And so, it should not come as a surprise that Karuizawa has been and continues to be a big hit over there. Over the next weeks, we'll review some Karuizawa single casks exclusively bottled for Taiwan and what better way than to start with these "young" beauties... and I'm talking about the ladies on the label here. They're part of a series of "geishas" lost in various types of reveries. What's not to like?

Karuizawa 1983 / 2012, cask #2656 [sherry butt], 57.6%abv, 589 bottles
This is one of those roller-coaster type Karuizawas and definitely not for the faint-of-heart. On the nose, you get an intense rhubarb note, as well as some persimmons and something like a scorched lawn. In the background, there are dates and a hint of beef jerky. And if you really give it time, you'll get the last of a summer campfire. Nothing quite prepares you for the palate, though - and this is where the wild ride starts. It starts off with a short bitter episode (goya, mulberry leaves, tree kale juice), then takes you to a sour place - in the pleasant sense of the word - throwing some kumquats at you, but very soon after, a beautiful sweetness emerges (nougat and a hint of marshmallows). You don't get to wallow in that for too long, though, because before you know it, you'll find yourself in more savoury regions (the beef jerky making its re-appearance). Water changes things quite a bit: it brings out more sweet elements on the nose (cherry liqueur), but sabotages that great ride on the palate as the oak becomes a bit louder and the liquid has trouble getting beyond those first two phases. The trade-off is a lovely cafe latte note on the finish. Personally, I would take this neat and then have a cafe latte half an hour later, but - as always - it depends on so many factors (mood, time of day, company, whether you've got a decent coffee machine or not, etc.). It's just good to know that there is a different side to it, if you want it.

Karuizawa 1981 / 2012, cask #2100 [sherry butt], 60.4%abv, 409 bottles

In my opinion, Karuizawa's golden age was the early 80s - i.e. the 1981 to 1984 vintages - and this bottling is a classic example of that style: heavy, thick and rich but never incoherent in all its abundance. On the nose, you get raisins, prunes, some fig jam, marzipan, old balsamic vinegar, new leather, but also rosemary, macademia nuts and a subtle smoked char (the fish, "iwana", that is) note. Given a bit of time in the glass, things will get a bit more nutty (beech nuts, cashews) and meaty (coppa, dried pork sausage). The palate is a lush feast of assorted dried fruits, stewed prunes and roast lamb - incredibly mouth-coating (it just won't leave - not that you'd want it to). The finish is really long and gives you this beautiful brown-sugar-and-balsamic dressing note and something akin to a smoking room "the morning after". Water gives it a bit more definition on the nose, but disturbs the coherence on the palate. Classic Karuizawa and certainly easier than the 1983, but sometimes "easy" is not what you want or need. Then again, sometimes it is...

In the second part of our mini-series on Karuizawas for Taiwan, we'll be looking at two specimens from the 1977 vintage. Watch this space.


Sanjay said...

Do you know where would Japanese whiskies be available in Taiwan?

Stefan said...

Karuizawas are incredibly popular in Taiwan and sell out almost instantly. Your only chance is if you know someone there (and someone who knows the whisky scene well!) or the auction circuit.