Whisky Magazine Issue 105
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Dave Broomjoins the final group to visit this much loved Japanese distillery
It's not like I wasn't prepared. I knew there couldn't be a lot left, but the sight in the warehouse was still a shock. The remaining stock didn't even fill the whole space. All that was left to show for 44 years of whisky at Karuizawa was 300 casks.
A distillery's DNA exists both in the physical place of its birth and in cask. One created the flavours, the other took that raw potential, nurtured it over the years, made it whole. All of that was overseen by the distillers because whisky-making is an active, living, personal process and a distiller is an active participant. As soon as he (or she) is removed, that distillery dies. That's what had happened here. All of the years of care, effort, love and belief reduced to these casks, sitting mute in this warehouse.
I walked around looking at the numbers, trying to discern connections. The stencils were faded, some of ends warping, the layers of paint flaking allowing you to just pick up the occasional name: “Glenlivet”, “Tokyo via Yokohama”.
Across the aisle sat new casks from Japan's newest distillery. Karuizawa had been emptied and all its remaining stock is being held here at Chichibu. It's the past and the present, old style and new, the passing of the flame. But standing there in Chichibu, hand on Karuizawa #3692, you can't help wondering why it had to be passed. It's not something which Ichiburo-san, former distillery manager at Karuizawa and now master distiller at Chichibu fully comprehends either.
It was he...