Saturday, May 4, 2013

Two 1977 Karuizawas for Taiwan

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo

Today, we’re continuing our series of Karuizawas for Taiwan with two specimens from the 1977 vintage.

Karuizawa 1977 / 2011, cask #4747, 66.9%abv for Taiwan (Vintage Label)
This is one of those Karuizawas for which age is nothing but a number. It’s young at heart – vibrant, playful and with a frivolous lightness that I find quite seductive. On the nose, it offers cherry liqueur, after eights, roasted almonds, a roll in the hay (in the literal sense, although you’re free to imagine this any way you like) and tinned white peaches. Then, after a while, you may get apricot jam, grape jelly, liquorice allsorts, pear drops and a really pronounced, very sharp spearmint note. Lovely. There’s also a hint of roast duck with rum soaked apples and when you give it half an hour in the glass, there’s a suggestion of chocolate-coated coffee beans. Time in the glass is crucial here – not necessarily 30 minutes, but certainly 5 minutes or so. If you don’t give it a few minutes to settle, you may get some slight sulphur interference that may put you off, and then you’d miss out on all the loveliness that’s there. Again: give it a few minutes and it’ll clear up. Trust me.

Nothing on the nose really prepares you for the palate: sudachi, lime, pencil shavings, eucalyptus and Damask rose wax. It’s extraordinary. Sudachi is one of the signature notes of old Karuizawas – something I’ve never found in any other whiskies, Japanese or other – and here it’s at its most beautifully defined. It leads the attack, hand in hand with lime notes – refreshingly sour. Then, there’s a long interlude of pencil shavings and new plank, before the Damask rose notes (wax, rose water) enter and melt into air (the finish) rather than fade. You couldn’t orchestrate the progression of flavours and aromas any more beautifully. Water makes the nose and palate a bit more candied – personally, I prefer it without.

Karuizawa 1977 / 2011, cask #3584, 64.1%abv for Taiwan (Geisha Label)

Right from the start, it’s clear that the Geisha 1977 is much heavier, more intense and more concentrated than the Vintage 1977. The nose is really earthy, dominated by old leather, humidor notes, prunes and some great vegetal notes (burdock, potato peel). After a while, you get parmigiano stravecchio, cherries macerated in brandy, balsamico, mincemeat (just to be clear, I’m talking about the sort of stuff that goes into mince pies) and blueberry jam. Then, totally out of the blue (no pun intended), an incredibly fresh rosemary note comes piercing through. Underneath all of this, you’ll notice that with time, wood smoke becomes more prominent. It’s an incredibly complex affair: the more time you spend with it, the more it reveals but there’s never a moment where you get “everything”. Instead, you find yourself in the folds of the liquid, as it were, becoming part of a seemingly random process of unfolding and folding-back.

The palate is more compact, very integrated and therefore more difficult to analyze: old chapel notes, beech nuts, sultana raisins, a hint of kale juice, rhubarb jam... Water brings out more sweet fruit notes (overripe pears, peaches) – both on the nose and the palate – but makes it much more one-dimensional. The finish is medium-long – shorter than you’d expect – and reveals a nice chicory note.

There were only 169 bottles of the Geisha 1977. Unfortunately, we don’t know how many bottles cask #4747 (the Vintage 1977) yielded. Both were released two years ago, so – needless to say – the only chance of obtaining one of these now is on the secondary market. That being said, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bottle of the #4747 listed on any auction site. I imagine anyone who knows what’s in the bottle would have a hard time parting with this.

Read more about Karuizawa Distillery here.

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