Karuizawa stands in the foothills of Mount Asama, which is one of Japan’s most active volcanos. It has been recorded as erupting 152 times since records began, with the most recent eruption being in 2004
Country - Japan
1795-2 Oaza Maseguchi
tel - +81(0)267 32 0288
web - www.kirin.co.jp
Tours are not currently available but there is a whisky museum, a visitors centre and a café.
How to pronouce Karuizawa? karo-zau-wa
Karuizawa is Japan’s smallest whisky distillery, producing just 150,000 litres of spirit a year. It is situated to the west of the town of Karuizawa, which is a popular mountain resort for Tokyo highflyers. Karuizawa whisky is rare, due to the low production capacity and the distillery prides itself on its use of traditional whisky making methods. They import Golden Promise barley from Scotland, which was historically the most common barley used there and mature their whisky mostly in sherry casks imported from Spain. The water used in production has flowed through or over the volcanic lava rock and soil that surround the distillery, giving it a unique quality. Early releases were mostly blends appearing under the ‘Sanraku Ocean’ brand name. Now, Karuizawa is becoming more well known and more whisky is being released, although the range is still small and usually just from single casks. It may occasionally be found under the ‘Tsutagura malt’ name. They also distil larger quantities of a brandy that is similar in style to Marc de Bourgogne.
The Mercian Wine Company decided to set up the Karuizawa distillery in 1955. The Japanese whisky industry was booming and they decided to join in. The location was chosen at Karuizawa as they felt it offered the closest climatic conditions to the Highlands of Scotland (although the summers are much hotter and the winters much colder at their peaks). Mercian owned a former vineyard and they decided to convert this into a small traditional distillery. These rustic buildings are still intact and the distillery remains one of the most picturesque in Japan, with the walls covered in ancient ivy plants. Production began in 1956 and in 1959, they became the first distillery to export whisky overseas. Most of the whisky produced was put into simple blends that were cheap and popular, with the first single malt being released in 1976. In 2007, Mercian sold Karuizawa to the Kirin Brewery Company, who also own the Fuji-Gotemba distillery. Kirin are planning to expand the availability of Karuizawa whisky and it is building a very strong reputation for their quality.