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Rare Karuizawa whisky goes on sale

An incredibly rare release from Japan's Karuizawa Distillery has been announced.

Just 30 sets of The Legend of Asama, comprising a pair of 1981 vintage single cask malt whiskies, Glencairn Crystal glassware and lunawood casing, are set to be released over a three-year period.

Each set will include two bottles of single malt whisky from the lost Japanese distillery from two remaining casks (no. 4059 and 6183).

After 20 years of ageing at the Karuizawa Distillery, the casks were transferred to Chichibu Distillery and watched over by Karuizawa's former master distiller, Ichibori-san.

After trading small quantities of single malt whisky almost exclusively for the domestic market in Japan, Karuizawa Distillery closed in 2001 and the building was demolished in 2016. Its remaining stock of 364 casks were sold on in 2011 and have since been gradually bottled and released. 

Whisky collector Mahesh Patel, founder of Universal Whisky Experience, picked up casks 4059 and 6183 and matured them at Chichibu until 2017, when some of the whisky was bottled and sold in small batches. The last remaining bottles were held back for The Legend of Asama release, which pays homage to the mountain at whose foot the Karuizawa Distillery was based.

Patel said: "I am extremely excited to finally be releasing this very special whisky to the world. I wanted to ensure that when these exceptional whiskies were released, they were presented in a beautiful way that could tell the story of their turbulent past and be celebrated by the person lucky enough to purchase them. This vision, along with Glencairn Crystal's creativity and innovation has brought a part of this spectacular distillery back to life."

The bottles in which the Karuizawa malt is presented are decorated with Noh masks. 'Noh' translates as 'skill', 'craft' or 'talent' in Sino Japanese and is also a style of theatre performed in Japan since the 14th century.

The Legend of Asama set comprises five tubes - two containing the Noh bottles, two holding empty handmade crystal decanters with gold caps and decorated with engravings of the original labels, and the last holding two Glencairn cut crystal glasses and a Glencairn water jug, all exclusively designed.

Each set is also accompanied by a signed and numbered hardback book written by whisky writer Charles MacLean, featuring the story behind The Legend of Asama collection and tasting notes.

Scott Davidson, new product development director at Glencairn Crystal, said: "The inspiration for the packaging can be summed up as 'Japanese simplicity', understated, clean and made only from natural materials. The whole display stands on an elevated plinth, arranged in a manner which reflects the noble elevations of Mount Asama. It has been an absolute honour for our talented team of craftspeople to be involved in this remarkable project."


3 September 2021 - Bethany Whymark