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Karuizawa 1960 Japanese whisky released

Number One Drinks Co launched the world’s oldest and rarest Japanese whisky, Karuizawa 1960, Cask #5627, at the Whisky Live Tokyo this month. Cask #5627 is a sherry oak hogshead (250 litre) and the oldest in the inventory; each of the 41 bottles (53.2%abv) tells a compelling story.

Built in 1955 Karuizawa was created to make whisky in the most traditional manner possible; imported barley from Scotland, small stills and sherry casks for maturation all contributed to the house style, ‘stout like a soldier’. The whisky was distilled with a view to being a key component of the blends Mercian supplied to an increasingly interested domestic market.

That it is available as a venerable single cask single malt is down to serendipity. The whisky industry is punctuated by periods of boom and bust and it was the latter that led to Karuizawa ceasing production in 2000. Kirin, a significant brewer, had acquired Mercian principally for its wine business rather than whisky.

 The entire inventory would have been lost had the directors of Number One Drinks not entered into prolonged negotiations to secure the last remaining 364 casks of mature whisky. Number One Drinks has been handling single cask sales of Karuizawa since 2006 and was determined to ensure these precious casks of Japanese liquid history should be preserved. In August 2011 the stock acquisition was finalised. The casks were transported to Chichibu distillery and in February 2012 the directors of Number One Drinks arranged the last ever visit to Karuizawa distillery.

The packaging
Designed and produced by Edinburgh studio, Contagious, each element of the packaging has been carefully crafted. The paper has been handmade by Norito Hasegawa, a third generation papermaker, and then embellished by multi-award winning calligrapher, Soji Nishimoto.

Modelled on traditional Japanese puzzle boxes and handmade by a British cabinetmaker, the box has been adorned with pieces from the original ex-sherry cask head. Shipped over from Karuizawa, these plaques have then been branded by searing the cask with red hot metal.

Each of the 41 bottles one has been named after the unique netsuke that hangs from the neck of the double-layered glass. The team in Edinburgh and Kiyo Humm, a consultant in London, coordinated all elements of the presentation.
Karuizawa 1960 Cask #5627 is available in the UK from The Whisky Exchange at £12,500 per bottle. Other distribution partners are La Maison du Whisky in France, Magny International in Taiwan and Whisk-e in Japan.

29 April 2013 - Felicity Murray