Karuizawa was Japan’s smallest whisky distillery, producing just 150,000 litres of spirit a year. Karuizawa whisky is rare, due to the low production capacity and the distillery prides itself on its use of traditional whisky making methods. They imported Golden Promise barley from Scotland, which was historically the most common barley used there and matured their whisky mostly in sherry casks imported from Spain. The water used in production was flowed through or over the volcanic lava rock and soil that surrounded the distillery, giving it a unique quality. Early releases were mostly blends appearing under the ‘Sanraku Ocean’ brand name. Later, Karuizawa  became more well known and more whisky has been released, although the range was still small and usually just from single casks. It may occasionally be found under the ‘Tsutagura malt’ name. They were also distilled larger quantities of a brandy that is similar in style to Marc de Bourgogne.

The Mercian Wine Company decided to set up the Karuizawa distillery in 1955. The Japanese whisky industry was booming and they decided to join in. The location was chosen at Karuizawa, near to Miyota a town on the southern slopes of an active complex volcano, Mount Asama, in Kitasaku District , Nagano, as they felt it offered the closest climatic conditions to the Highlands of Scotland (although the summers are much hotter and the winters much colder at their peaks). Mercian owned a former vineyard and they decided to convert this into a small traditional distillery. These rustic buildings are still intact and the distillery remains one of the most picturesque in Japan, with the walls covered in ancient ivy plants. Production began in 1956 and in 1959, they became the first distillery to export whisky overseas. Most of the whisky produced was put into simple blends that were cheap and popular, with the first single malt being released in 1976. In 2007, Mercian sold Karuizawa to the Kirin Brewery Company, who also own the Fuji-Gotemba distillery. Sadly the new owner in 2000 decided to shut down the distillery. In 2000 it was mothballed, and closed in 2011. The land on which it had stood was sold in 2012.  The remaining casks were all bought up from Mr Eric Huang and others, each one buying as many as they could. In the years that followed, in the hands of Huang, and the figures behind The Whisky Exchange, Number One Drinks, and La Maison du Whisky, Karuizawa whisky became the world’s most sought-after, rarest, and expensive whisky. Casks started being bottled, lessening each year. In 2011, Number One Drinks entrusted all their remaining casks to Huang, as they loved how he’d branded and promoted the ones under his portfolio. This move meant that Huang held the largest number of casks in the world, which is still a fact today. As it stands, Huang now owns approximately twenty Karuizawa casks. The other owners, combined, hold just over five.

Huang states that he doesn’t like to sell full casks. Owners tend to keep them, and they never reach the hands of collectors and fans. He prefers to bottle them himself and work with companies to create the best bottlings possible. Another reason is that Huang specializes in every single part of the whisky process, from start to finish, literally. He monitors his own, large number of casks, including the Karuizawa ones, which are stored at the Chichibu distillery under the watchful eye of the great Japanese whisky legend and distillery owner, Ichiro Akuto.
Huang will release the final cask of Karuizawa around the 2020 Olympics, which should be the last one in the world, at the time.The final bottling will be based on the concept of a final, resonating sound.

The newest Karuizawa release by Huang was the Karuizawa Vintage 1965 Cask 8852 (The streams of Time 1965).

Bottled in 2017, after aging in a sherry cask for more than 52 years, this release offers the opportunity to own an expression that is in a league of its own. This single cask expression was bottled from one of Karuizawa’s last remaing casks, making it a true piece of Japanese Whisky history. Just 150 bottles were released, making this one of the most treasured collectibles on the market. There is a little chance that a release of similar age will be offered for sale again, due to the scarcity of remaining casks, combined with surging demand.

Suntory Yamazaki 50 Year Old (2005 Release).

The bottle which recently broke the world record for the highest amount paid at auction for a bottle of Japanese Single   Malt   Whisky, when it sold for 343.000 $ at Bonhams in August. After more than a half century of aging, a mere 150 bottles of this expression are released each year. As the number of collectors seeking these high end bottles continues to grow , they have become increasingly scarce. Among the few that have had the pleasure  of tasting this prolific Japanese Whisky, it is described as a once in a lifetime experience, which offers complex flavors that cannot be compared to anything else.

Presented in a special wooden box, this Yamazaki is exceptional. Owning a bottle will instantly move any collection into the ranks of the worlds most elite.

Additional Information.

Distillery              Yamazaki

Age(Years)           50

Whisky Origin    Japanese

Type                    Single Malt

Strength              53%

Bottle Size           70 cl

Weight                3 Kg

Ichiro’ s Malt Card Series Collection (54 bottles).

An iconic  collection that is truly in a league of its own. The last time a complete collection of the Ichiro’s Malt Card Series come onto to market was at auction in September 2017, the final price at the Sotheby’s event ended at 455.000 $. Since that time demand for the rare bottles of Japanese Whisky has grown significantly, making this set one of the most desirable in the world among the whisky elite.

About The Collection.

Several Japanese whisky distilleries have produced legendary lines of whisky bottles, and Ichiro’s Malt Card Series is one of them. Just like a deck of playing cards, this unique collection features 54 bottles that represent each card in a deck. Each vintage bottle has its own original card label, but no only that- they each have their own one-of-a-kind , luscious flavor that make them even more irresistible.

The Distillery behind the Famous Ichiro’s Malt Card Series.

Hanyu Distillery, now a closed whisky distillery, was one of the most renowned distilleries in Japan just like the Karuizawa Distillery. Even though the Hanyu Distillery was founded for whisky production, this family business went further back in Japanese history. In 1626, the Akuto Family were sake makers in Chichibu. But that changed when, in 1941, the family established a business in Hanyu and began producing Scotch-like whisky. During the time or its opening, Hanyu Distillery created the Ichiro’s Malt Card Series line. Unfortunately the popular distillery closed down in 2000. However, there was still stock left behind, which an heir of the Akuto Family inherited, and that’s why the Hanyu legend continues living today.

Japanese Whisky.

Japan has a relatively short whisky making history when compared to Scotland, America or Ireland. It does, however, offer almost 90 years of history since the foundation of the first single malt distillery at Yamazaki in 1923. The early part of Japanese whisky’s history is largely the same as that of the Yamazaki distillery. Yamazaki’s founder, Shinjiro Torri sent one of his best students, Masetsaka Taketsuru, to Scotland after the end of the First World War and his mission was to gain as much information and experience about the Scottish whisky industry as possible. After almost three years in Scotland and working at numerous distilleries, Taketsuru returned to put his knowledge in to practice and build Yamazaki. He later went on to form Japan’s second whisky distillery at Yoichi in the 1930s.

The Japanese industry really boomed in the 1970s and early 1980s when sales of imported whisky were increasing massively. Numerous new distilleries were built and some sake distilleries and companies were also converted to making whisky, in order to meet demand. By the end of the 1980s, the whisky industry in Japan was struggling and a number of distilleries were closed. The main contributing factors blamed for the slump were the increasing cheapness and availability of imported whiskies from Scotland, Ireland and the USA combined with a hike in the Japanese alcohol taxes. This made the Japanese whiskies very expensive in comparison to overseas competitors and sales crashed.

Today the demand for Japanese whisky is growing again. This is mostly in the export markets as taxes still remain high and the Japanese market is flooded with cheaper foreign imported whiskies. Through the winning of major whisky awards, the reputation of Japanese whisky has grown and more people are drinking it than ever. Japanese whisky contributes to 5% of all worldwide whisky sales, meaning that of every 20 bottles of whisky sold then one is Japanese. This helps to sustain eight operating whisky distilleries, including the original Yamazaki and Chichibu – the first new distillery in Japan since the 1970s and which opened in 2008.

What is the difference?

Each distillery has its own style and method for distilling and maturing whisky, but most follow the traditional Scottish practices. Generalising is hard but here are a few facts about Japanese whisky ..

  • The whisky is normally distilled twice, as in Scotland, using pot stills.
  • Malted barley is mainly imported from Scotland. Some of it is peated. Australia also supplies barley. American oak/ bourbon casks are also imported from Scotland and America, as are sherry casks from Spain. Some whisky is matured in Japanese oak (called mizunara) that gives different flavours and characteristics.
  • The Japanese climate is more similar to the states of Kentucky and Tennessee in America, than those of Scotland or Ireland. This means that the summers are warm to hot while the winters are cold, making the extremes of temperature that the whisky experiences during maturation much greater.
  • Due to the different temperatures and climate, the whisky matures at a faster rate than in Scotland or Ireland. As in America, the whisky shows more wood influence as a result.
  • By using a bit of Japanese innovation, each distillery can produce a broader range of flavours and styles in their whisky. They achieve this by having different shapes of stills, using different types of yeast for fermentation, using mixes of barley and other grains and experimenting with cask maturation.
  • Japanese whisky companies do not share their stocks of whisky when producing a blend, unlike in Scotland or Ireland. Therefore, blends will only consist of whisky produced at a maximum of two distilleries.
  • Japanese whisky distilleries
  • Chichibu
    • −Japan’s newest distillery about 2 hours north west of Tokyo
  • Eigashima
    • − often known as ‘White Oak’ distillery, with separate still rooms for sake, shochu and whisky
  • Fuji-Gotemba
    • − lying at the foot of Mount Fuji, it is currently the world’s largest whisky distillery
  • Hakushu
    • − known as the ‘forest distillery’. It is the highest and remotest distillery in Japan with a unique climate that is perfect for maturing whisky
  • Karuizawa
    • − the smallest whisky distillery in Japan which is located in a popular mountain resort
  • Miyagikyo
    • − originally named Sendei. Used in Nikka blended whisky, with recent single malt releases starting to gain recognition
  • Yamazaki
    • − Japan’s first whisky distillery opened in 1923. It has the most popular visitor centre and a world famous bar
  • Yoichi
    • − Japan’s most notherly distillery and the only one located on the island of Hokkaido.