Review: Karuizawa Spirit of Asama (55% Version)

What’s the deal with Karuizawa?

Karuizawa, better known as “Japanese Gold” in my house, is that awesome Japanese distillery that closed in 2000. Sometime around 2012, some folks on the internet decided that Karuizawa was the best brand and starting scooping it all up. Naturally, prices immediately skyrocketed anywhere from 10-25 times the original retail price depending on the release. What exactly makes this distillery so great? On the surface, they have all the makings of a bonefide rockstar brand. For starters, they only used UK Golden Promise barley, a staple of some of the best single malts in Scotland. They also used their own water source along Mount Asama adding a touch of unique terrior. Finally, the almost always matured in Sherry butts, a favorite among consumers these days. But what makes this stuff better than what you can find in Scotland? Nothing. Honestly, there are comparable Scottish malts out there. But Karuizawa continues to make waves so it’s time to explore a bit.

Unlike many of the single casks Karuizawa releases, Spirit of Asama was created from 77 casks filled during the final two years of the distillery’s production (1999 and 2000). Let’s get to the notes!

Karuizawa Spirit of Asama - 55% ABV
Category Notes
Appearance Copper
Nose Starts out minty and herbal, anise, sawdust, mushrooms, dried fruits, prunes, apricots, toffee, butter cookies.
Taste Big fruit up front, apples and oranges, red berries, some dark chocolate, leathery, baking spice, caramel, pepper.
Finish Long, earthiness returns in a big way, ginger, earl grey tea, more orange, nutmeg, mintiness, good oak throughout.
Overall Thoughts What can I say? It's Karuizawa all right. Big and bold, yet fruity and delecate at times. I hear that this is significantly better than the 48% abv version of the same release. I love the exchange from nose to taste to finish here. It's a great representation of the Karuizawa house style but doesn't stand out in any one particular area. Because it is what it is, I'll say what I say about all Japanese whisky. Was it worth seeking out 10 or maybe even 5 years ago? Absolutely. Is it worth the prices people pay for it today? Not a chance.
Total Score 91/100