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WhiskyFun Legends: Karuizawa 1964 48 Year Old Number One Drinks for Wealth Solutions #3603

The Karuizawa 1964 48 Year Old Number One Drinks for Wealth Solutions. Image via Whisky Auctioneer.

This week on WhiskyFun Legends, we travel to Japan to delve into a bottling from the lost distillery, Karuizawa. 

Read to the end of the article for a brief history of Karuizawa, and an explanation of just why this whisky is so rare. 

You can catch up on the previous installments of WhiskyFun Legends here

The Karuizawa 1964 48 Year Old Number One Drinks For Wealth Solutions #3603 

This Karuizawa was distilled on 1st September 1964 and bottled by Number One Drinks exclusively for Wealth Solutions in Poland in 2012. The whisky is 48 years old, which is an extremely impressive age statement for Japanese whisky, especially one that was destined to end up in a blend. 

In addition to the high age statement, the whisky was bottled from a single cask (#3603) at cask strength. Only 143 bottles were produced. 

The whisky is presented in a bespoke case made from Polish black fossil oak. 

Serge Valentin’s Tasting Notes on the Karuizawa 1964 48 Year Old Number One Drinks For Wealth Solutions #3603 

Serge Valentin of WhiskyFun sampled the Karuizawa on February 14th 2013, and had this to say: 

This magnifico bottle was just launched on Feb 13 in Warsaw. 

Colour: rich amber. 

Nose: rather than smoky and chocolaty like some other old Karuizawas could be, this one is full of overripe fruits and the jams made thereof, with many spices and sappy ‘things’ in the background. In fact, it’s quite extraordinary. Strawberries with menthol? Figs and marzipan? Dates and liquorice? Quinces with some putty? There’s even something coastal that’s growing and growing, but the whole rather makes me think of some glorious very old but terrifyingly vibrant sherried Speysider that would have sucked a little extra-menthol out of a magnificent cask. And maybe a little beef stock at the same time… 

With water: Karuizawa really loves water, the whisky became even more fabulous and incredibly complex. Some fruitcake especially made for a very wealthy and completely mad dictator? 

Mouth (neat): what the hell is this? I’ve never found this in any malt whisky… Some kind of overripe tropical fruits, maybe longans? There’s also this curious cheesy side, absolutely wonderful (in this context!) New Comté or other fruity Jurassian cheese? There’s also a lot of oak, which is normal, but what’s important, I think, is that it’s all perfectly integrated. Add to that some tangerine liqueur, black pepper, cumin, cloves, grape pips (ha, resveratrol!)… All that is very big, it’s almost a monster of a whisky. With water: these wonderfully strange notes grew even bigger. Swiss cheese with mango jam. 

Finish: endless, with the spices singing many songs. No, I won’t list them all, do not worry. Bitter chocolate in the aftertaste (tannins, but no worries). Comments: first it’s brilliant whisky, and second, it’s ‘different’ whisky. Respect. I’m sorry, but that’ll be SGP:571 – 95 points.” – Serge Valentin, WhiskyFun.com, February 14th, 2013. 

The Price of the Karuizawa 1964 48 Year Old Number One Drinks For Wealth Solutions #3603 At Auction 

Karuizawa whisky is exceedingly rare. It is thanks to Marcin Miller and David Croll (see below) that we even have access to such single malts. 

The rarity of this bottle (143 produced) has seen the price on the secondary market skyrocket, with collectors engaging in bidding wars each time one of these elusive whiskies appears at auction. 

The Karuizawa 1964 48 Year Old Number One Drinks For Wealth Solutions #3603 last sold at auction in the UK in November 2021, for £42,976 (~$54,405). 

A Brief History of Karuizawa 

Karuizawa whiskies, such as these Ruby Geishas, are highly sought-after on the secondary market.

Karuizawa Distillery was initially founded as a winery at the foot of Mount Asama in 1934. It was built by the Japanese wine company, Daikoku, near the town after which it was named. 

The winery was converted into a whisky distillery in 1955 after the popularity of the spirit began to rise in Japan. Using exclusively Golden Promise barley and volcanic-filtered water from Mount Asama, the distillery produced whisky that was then matured in sherry casks. 

For most of its life, Karuiawa served as a contributor to Daikoku’s Ocean Blend whisky, apart from the occasional single malt release that was overlooked in the market. 

With the popularity of Japanese whisky fading the the domestic market, then-owners Kirin decided to permanently close Karuizawa in 2011. The 350 remaining casks of Karuizawa were destined to be blended. However, they were subsequently saved by two whisky enthusiasts who saw Karuizawa’s potential as a single malt. 

Founders of Number One Drinks Company, Marcin Miller and David Croll, purchased all remaining Karuizawa casks from Kirin. Having sampled the single malt previously, the two were determined that the stunning single malts would not be lost to blends. 

By the time the two had purchased the casks, many were aged well over 30 years, presenting a unique opportunity to bottle and release some high age statement Japanese single malt whisky. 

The subsequent launch of 41 bottles of Karuizawa 1960 catapulted the distillery into the spotlight. 

In the ensuing years, Number One Drinks, along with Taiwanese Entrepreneur Eric Huang, have strategically released aged Karuizawa stock to market, being sure to maintain the exclusivity and rarity that comes along with such an elusive style of whisky. 

Today, Karuizawa is one of the most sought-after single malts in the world. 

The ‘Reopening’ of Karuizawa

In 2023 it was announced, much to the delight of Karuizawa fans, that the distillery would be reopening. 

Whilst a distillery called Karuizawa will indeed reopen soon, the reality is that the new distillery will be built from scratch. This is because the original Karuizawa was completely demolished upon closure. As such, the billing of Karuizawa as a soon-to-be-revived distillery has caused some controversy

The question now, is, how will the new distillery replicate the old Karuizawa style? If that is indeed its mission. Will we see replica stills installed? Or is the old style of Karuizawa whisky truly lost? Only time will tell. 

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