Friday, August 9, 2013

Karuizawa Cask-Strength “2nd Release” for Taiwan

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo

A few weeks ago, the follow-up to the cask-strength NAS Karuizawa for the Taiwanese market (“1st Release”, a vatting of casks from the 1999/2000 vintages) went on sale. The extreme summer heat and humidity of the past month has not been conducive to evaluating fine whiskies but the show must go on, so here are our impressions of the “2nd Release” (bottled at 61.7%abv)… finally.
In theory, the difference between the 1st and the 2nd release is a few months. You’d expect the whisky to be very similar. In reality, though, they’re very different beasts. Maybe they come from a slightly different batch (when the original casks were vatted together). Maybe the influence of the cask(s) to which they were returned was stronger. (For some background on all this, check this post.) Maybe it’s just nature’s way. Who knows?

On the nose, it’s immediately clear there’s a bigger sherry influence: sultana raisins, dried figs, also prune juice, porcini and polished leather – like in the 1st Release – but much more concentrated. Given time in the glass, the figs really jump out. If the 1st release was quite shy and subtle, the 2nd one is loud and extrovert. The earthy notes of the 1st are still there – potato skins and burdock – but the lighter, subtler secondary notes are gone. On the palate, the first thing you notice is that the mouthfeel itself is very different, the 2nd one much creamier and thicker than the 1st. There’s Christmas cake, rum-raisin butter tarts, prune jam, candied ginger and candied lemon peel, but the vegetal dimension that I enjoyed in the 1st is gone (or masked by the impact of the cask’s original contents). Water brings out a certain freshness on the palate: maraschino cherries, apricot jam and a hint of marzipan. The finish is long – considerably longer than the 1st – on dark (as opposed to milk) chocolate spiked with cointreau and berry jam.

Most people seem to like the 2nd release, and I can certainly understand why, but I prefer the 1st. It wears its youth on its sleeve and revels in its contradictions. There’s something to be said for that. The 2nd release comes across as more ‘mature’ – and conforms more to our received notions of what a mature Karuizawa is like – but is lacking a bit in depth and complexity. There’s a 3rd release in the works, and hopefully more later, because whichever you prefer at this point – the 1st or the 2nd – having the chance to see how young Karuizawas of the same age can develop different personalities even with minimal changes (a bit of extra time and micro-variations in batch and slightly different ensembles of casks selected for each release) is a real treat.

Karuizawa fans in Japan will have the chance to try their own – again, slightly different – Asama-version. As mentioned before, this will be bottled at 50.5%abv. The bottles have been printed and bottling is in progress, so it should be available soon. There will be an initial release through a well-known department store in Shinjuku (while you’re there, do yourself a favour and grab a bottle of their new exclusive Kilchoman single cask, too) and then a more general release throughout Japan. It’s shaping up to be quite a summer for Karuizawa… let’s enjoy it while we still can!

Read more about Karuizawa Distillery here.

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