Is a comeback on the cards for this ‘legendary’ Japanese whisky?
Karuizawa Whisky Company has partnered with online retailer Dekanta to bring back Karuizawa Whisky, after the distillery closed its doors in 2011.
Fine Japanese whisky retailer Dekanter has teamed up with Karuizawa Whisky Company to revive the revered single malt whisky that hasn’t been made for more than 11 years.
Together, the two companies plan to return Karuizawa Whisky to its former glory, beginning with building a new distillery, just seven miles from the location of the original distillery, which ceased operating in 2011 after 46 years of crafting whisky.
It’s not the first time, however, that a company has tried to bring Karuizawa back. In 2021, it was hotly rumoured that Mitsubishi Estate and a company called Plan・Do・See, which owns several Japanese hotels and restaurants, were attempting to reverse the fate of the defunct distillery.
Karuizawa Whisky is one of the rarest Japanese whiskies on the market, as its original distillery was one of the smallest in Japan and its volumes very low. Even once the new project gets going, the whisky is likely to remain extremely rare for some time, as any whisky produced will need to be aged in barrel for a minimum of 10 years. “No single malt will be released before then,” new distillery owner, Shigeru Totsuka has revealed.
To give an idea of the whisky’s standing in the market, in March 2020, a bottle of 52-year-old Karuizawa became the world’s most expensive Japanese whisky to be sold at auction, fetching £363,000 at Sotheby’s in London. Earlier this year, a tiny 250ml botle of Karuizawa 1960 sold for more than triple its estimated sale price at almost US$160,000.
The new Dekanter partnership is so committed to staying true to the whisky’s original flavour that it has employeed former employees of the original distillery to ensure “the whisky’s principles are kept intact”.
“Our first goal is to make whisky that is very similar to the old Karuizawa whisky, to continue that tradition, and then we may challenge other offerings, but our first goal is definitely to make whisky that is as good as the old Karuizawa whisky, using the person who made it, similar casks, similar stills etc.,” said Totsuka. “We want to create some of the very best single malt in Japan.”
He added: “We have already sourced a large number of top quality sherry casks from Spain.”
The original Karuizawa distillery was sidelined in 2001 when its owners Kirin Holdings pivoted their focus away from whisky to wine. In 2012, all the Karuizawa distillery equipment, including its whisky stills, were sold, and anything that remained was demolished in 2016.