Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo
Last week, we spent some quality time with 4 Karuizawas from the late 70s/early 80s matured in ex-bourbon wood. Today, we’re continuing with the two remaining Karuizawa single casks released by LMdW in 2014, matured – as is more habitual for this distillery – in ex-sherry wood: 1981/2014 (#152, 54.5%, Vintage Label) and 1981/2014 (#136, 55.3%, Artifices-series).
On to #152, then. As said, you get more veggies here, right from the get-go. On the nose, it opens with lotus root, burdock and turnip. But there’s much more coming at you: candied orange peel, herbs (thyme again), humidor notes (again, yes) and, after a while, you find yourself smack in the middle of a Chinese medicine/dried goods shop. There’s also a lovely touch of freshly crushed berries in there (brambles, strawberries, blueberries), and a mushroom risotto cooking in the background. This one really benefits from time in the glass: time pushes the sliders on the ‘mixing console’, but it’s not just a case of elements gaining in strength – everything becomes beautifully integrated after about 15-20 minutes. And if you give it even longer and add a few drops of water, you’ll get some fantastic old mimolette cheese. What a treat. On the palate, you get tons of flavour but everything in just the right doses (there is no excess, here – which you can’t say about most Karuizawas): spinach cake, herbs muffins, orange-drizzled grated carrots, truffle shavings, and so much more… With water and time, you get more blood orange jam and some rhubarb tart. Who needs more reason to be patient? The finish is slightly tannic and quite drying. Here the wood really dominates but there are hints of cumin, After Eights and yuzu jam, as well, which is nice. With water it becomes exceedingly drying, so – while it doesn’t affect the palate so much – the finish really suffers, so it’s best to keep the water where it is.
Two stellar Karuizawas from the Golden Age… but before we go, we’ll revisit an even older glory, bottled for LMdW in 2010. If that seems like an eternity ago, it certainly is in ‘Karuizawa years’. So much has changed since then… not for the better as far as availability is concerned, but I guess that’s the price of success (no pun intended). Five years ago this 1968 single cask (#6955, 61%) could have been yours for a few hundred euros. Now, you’d have to sell an arm and a leg for something similar. Anyway, let’s put those depressing thoughts aside for an hour or two and focus on the liquid at hand.
What an experience… On the nose, you get cola cubes (that’s somewhat unusual for Karuizawa!) and then a whole kitchen pantry: chutneys, preserves, fresh fruit as well (mangoes, overripe pineapple, honeydew melon), prosciutto, rillettes, pretzels, old rye whiskey… there is no end to the marvels waiting to be discovered here. On the palate, it is the most amazingly smooth cross-fade from sweet (jams, sweets of all kinds, baked goods, …) to sour (freshly squeezed citrus fruits from all corners of the world) with various tertiary notes floating by (any mention of these would be hopelessly partial anyway, so we won’t even go there). The finish integrates the two dimensions (the sweet and the sour) whilst adding precious oils, aspects of old wood and a touch of spice. The stuff that dreams are made of… and we’ll just leave it at that (so we can go back and have some more of this – carpe diem!).