If Japanese whisky now stands as an equal to Scotch, then it must be said that this status is owed in no small part to Karuizawa whisky. This sadly closed distillery was a small, craft orientated operation and resolutely adhered to a production centred around Golden Promise barley and the finest Sherry casks available. However, the quality of Karuizawa’s output was discovered too late as, like Port Ellen for example, the spirit requires long maturation to reach the heights that have garnered it such widespread praise in recent years.
This example was bottled for this year’s The Whisky Exchange -Whisky Show and managed to stand out among the events veritable Smörgåsbord of dramming delights – not to mention several other spectacular Karuizawa’s -. Its offers a rare opportunity to taste the distillery’s make devoid of the heavy sherry-influence that has helped build Karuizawa’s near mythical reputation, and thus maybe offering us a clearer glimpse of what was undoubtedly a top-quality new-spirit.
It is no secret that opening a new distillery is a hugely demanding and expensive project and with this in mind, it should come as no great surprise that some distillers are choosing to release their output as soon as possible. The current, almost unprecedented interest in whisky is making this a viable way of generating revenue from young spirit, which can only be a good thing for those interested parties who wish to follow a distillery’s product as it matures.
While this all seems fairly win-win on the surface, it must be said that these young releases are not always much more than a curiosity. On one had they can sometimes be spirity and rough with obvious signs of immaturity and on the other, they can feel hurried along by very active oak, adding a veneer of maturity but at the expense of individuality. Obviously, personal taste is always key and the vibrancy of even the more suspect bottlings can charm, fitting the mood on certain occasions. Sometimes though, when the spirit character is right and the maturation is well handled, they can be truly excellent.