Monday, February 22, 2016

Karuizawa 1980 for Harbour City Hong Kong

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo
The time when Karuizawa single cask bottlings were coming at you faster than your paychecks is definitely over. That doesn’t mean it’s easier to get hold of a bottle when one does come by, of course. In fact, since everybody’s starved and waiting, it usually turns into a mad scramble for crumbs. So what a thrill it is to be able to spotlight a very recent 35yo Karuizawa single cask, bottled for Harbour City in Hong Kong. It’s from 1980, which is a pretty rare vintage. In fact, you can count the specimens from that vintage on the fingers of both hands. We’ve been able to try a few 1980s over the years and they were are all superb, without exception, so the expectations are high…

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!

1 comment:

Scott van Leenen said...

Gorgeous presentation! Wow.

A great Karuizawa as well. I had a chance to try it and loved it!