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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Single Malt Report: Karuizawa Spirit of Asama 55%

Yesterday, I gave a brief recap of the Karuizawa distillery and its highly valued whiskies.  Perhaps the lowest priced of all the Karuizawa bottlings are the Spirit of Asamas.

These two were originally exclusives for The Whisky Exchange, though other European retailers also sold them.  The 48%abv and 55%abv bottlings are part of a seventy-seven sherry cask vatting -- or so the marketing materials say.  The birthyears of the distillate within those casks are 1999 and 2000, just before the distillery's closure.

Yesterday, I reviewed the 48% edition.  Today, I'll review the 55%er.

Distillery: Karuizawa
BottlerNumber One Drinks Company
Distilled: 1999 and 2000
Bottled: 2012
Maturation: former sherry casks, 77 of them
Country: Japan
Alcohol by Volume: 55%

The color is a gold similar to the 48% version.  Maybe it's seven-hundredths darker but that's likely my imagination.  The nose starts out with Cinnamon Toast Crunch and hot sneaker rubber.  Again, there's not much sherry here.  The pine element is quieter than it was in the 48%.  Definitely some moss now, followed by rye-whiskey-like herbs (think anise and fennel seed).  Again, the sherry hits louder in the palate.  Here it's quite sweet.  Fruits stewing in mulled wine.  Herbs show up, but now it's more like rosemary and thyme (nope, no parsley or sage).  There's a strong mineral note that meets up with lime zest and a hot pepper bite.  Rocky minerality meets silky sherry in the finish, with smoke lingering in the background.

WITH WATER (at approx. 48%abv)
Yep, here's the pine and the farmy stuff in the nose.  Sherry in the back.  Very close to the 48, but without the very young mezcal-like note.  Some maple, bread, and floral powder too.  Creamy sherry in the palate but with Talisker-like peppery heat giving it an edge.  Some herbal bitterness perks up.  The limes and minerals recede, replaced by flower blossoms.  In the finish it's Macallan sherried malt with cracked black peppercorns in the back.

This is better than the 48% version on a number of levels.  Firstly, the nose and palate aren't on two different planets.  The nose feels more fully baked, meanwhile the herbs and minerals give the palate a more muscular delivery.  Plus, by adding water I turned the 55 into a similar but better version of the 48.  That's my kind of two-whiskies-in-one.

While the 55 is better, I still wouldn't go as far as saying it's excellent whisky.  While it could probably knock over many current Macallans, it can't compete with similar strength GlenDronach, nor GD's 15yo Revival, nor Glenfarclas 105.  And, I shouldn't have to say this but, it doesn't hold a whisky candle to Yamazaki 18.

But as I mentioned in yesterday's comment section, it would be fun if Number One Drinks released a new batch of Asama in the US and kept the price below $100.  That would silence the hubbub surrounding the overhyped overpriced underaged Kavalans for a moment or two by delivering a decent sherried Asian malt for less than the price of two weeks of groceries.

Availability - Europe and Asia
Pricing - was $85ish pre-shipping when it came out, probably twice that price now
Rating - 86 (with or without water)


  1. Number One Drinks has one major issue to get over in order to sell in the United States. They do not have access to 750 mL bottles. Number One was able to secure a number of 750 mL decanters for the K&L order but that was it.

    1. Ah yes, the Davids mention something about the bottle size issue. The rest of the world (aside from South Africa) uses a different size than us. We make it such a pain in the ass for whisky importers.

    2. I'm still not sure why we stick to 750 mL. I've heard it might be due to the change from quarts to milliliters/liters in bottle measurements but the history is rather vague. While empty 700 and 750 mL bottles probably cost the same, the distillers have to deal with another layer of complexity.

      At least some distillers are sending us 43% versions of their whisky in 750 mL bottles.

    3. A "fifth" (of a gallon) is 757mL so that's my best guess. Someone out there in the internets has to know the story. But I do like the fact that we get the 43% versions while Europe gets the 40% ones.