Category Archives: Karuizawa

Karuizawa Cask #3603 from 1964 – a massive 48yo bottled at 57.7% ABV


Karuizawa Cask 3603 1964Japan — 57.7% ABV — 70cl — £8995 | $13929

I spent about a week in Mexico City.  You know, work stuff as per usual.

Boy, was it hot down there!  About 85 degrees; a nice dry heat.  Quite a change from the mid 20 something degrees Fahrenheit and the 30+ inches of snow I had waiting for me at home.

While I was sad to say good-bye to Mexico, I was happy to come home again to the wife and chillins.  Also waiting for me at home were three samples.  One was a Bruichladdich from a Mr. LZ.  Karuizawa cask 3603 1964Another sample was the new Balvenie 12yo Single Barrel from Mr. AW and, finally, a sample of this here Karuizawa from 1964 (cask 3603).

While I was excited to receive all three, ¡Holy frijoles, was I a happy boy to have received this historical Karuizawa sample!  Very much an unexpected package!

At the time of bottling, this was the oldest Karuizawa to ever have been bottled and now I was going to get to taste and review it!

Before I go further, I must thank everyone from Master of Malt for thinking of me (again — remember the sample of 1953 Glenfarclas they sent to me?  I do!).  Also, a big thanks to Michal Kowalski of Wealth Solutions!

So last night I had made a Facebook status update telling people: “I’m going to have a 48 year old in my mouth tonight.  Get your minds out of the gutter, I’m talking about whisky!

The snark factor on Facebook seemed unusually high as an old school mate of mine (known as “the other Josh”) returned with this image:


After a few comments, David Hartogs (friend, member of Single Cask Nation and occasional guest poster.  Note here and here) chimed in with: “What’s the verdict?

That same old school mate, the other Josh, came back with:


Ah, the Facebook…

Funny schtuff aside, let’s taste some history (not Frank, the Karuizawa):

Karuizawa-3603-1964-1On the nose — Initially hot to the nostrils but from the go (after the heat) is bitter Mexican chocolate and clementines.

Heated butter, not burnt but heated with bits of dill weed swirling in the near butter boil.

Cracklin’ Oat Bran cereal and burnt sugar.  Rotting stone fruits (peach juice turned bad… but in a good way).

Rubber soles on sneakers.  Black Pu’er tea (like with the Glenmorangie Ealanta).

Karuizawa-3603-1964-2Apple sauce (slight note) and boiling berries.  Noticeably fragrant mahogany furniture.  Cherry cola.

With water the heat is nearly gone.   Chocolate covered Werther’s and good, old-fashioned belt leather.  Loose leaf paper (like a 5 subject notebook, not copy paper).

More mahogany and apple fritter grizzle.  This has become a joy to nose.

Karuizawa-3603-1964-3On the mouth — Intensely hot on first sip.  Almost absurdly hot; like a $2 pistol.  Burning rubber, wooden window sills (with fresh, hot lacquer).

I better add a drop of water before my head catches fire.

Karuizawa-3603-1964-4With water she’s still hot, but fresh with mangoes and mango skin, tinned fruits, window sills (again) lacquer (again), lots of tropical fruits popping about — sort of crazy and not what I expected at all.

Sweet papaya (not the earthy/footy papaya), hints of guanabana and guava paste (??).  Aerosol paint and paint caps.  Beeswax across the front of the palate, too.

Not oily or viscous in any way.

Finish —  Like the fast decay at the end of a song, bitter chocolates leave their echo upon the tongue.  Slight touch of dill as well.

WW — Very waxy finish, flat cola, drying and lasting longer now with the water.

Karuizawa-3603-1964-5In sum — An intensely hot whisky that loves water more than I love whisky.  Once given the water she desires, she simmers right down and opens up to tell you her life story.

A whisky experience unlike any other I’ve had to date.  If you have the casheesh to buy a bottle, open said bottle and try it without the water.   Then, add 3 drops or so to your dram.

The transformation from The Hulk into Dr. Robert Bruce Banner is astonishing.


You might also enjoy Oli’s review on

Also, check out the review at

Serge’s reviews are always a joy to read, too!

Karuizawa 32yr Single cask – 1977 – Cask number 4592

Japan – 60.7%ABV – full bottle is 70cl, my sample from Master of Malt was 3cl – $243 | £150 | €173

This is not available in US stores and not available in a full bottle from MoM anymore though, as of November 8th, 2010, you can still get a 3cl sample for $14 | £8.65 | €10 – I’d grab a sample while you can.

We in the United States of America are deprived.  Deprived and sheltered I tells ya!  When it comes to whisky, Japanese whisky that is, we in the US don’t have much to choose from.  Please do not misunderstand – I’m not discounting the Japanese whiskies we do have.  The Yamazaki 12yr and 18yr whiskies are fantastic.  So is the Hibiki 12yr blended whisky (to be reviewed soon).  We do not have, however, any Nikka whiskies like the cask strength beauty “Nikka Whisky from the Barrel” or any of their Yoichi whiskies like their vintage and younger single cask series, 10yr, 12yr, 15yr, 20yr, etc…

On top of this (and many, many other great ones out there), we do not have local access to any Karuizawa.  A crying shame.

These 1977 single cask Karuizawa bottles sold out from Master of Malt in about a day (update — these bottles sold out in 17 minutes!).  At £150 each, that’s impressive (if’n you ask me).  I had to get a sample – a mere taste of this stuff to see what I was missing.

Thankfully, the good folks at Master of Malt were kind enough to gift me a sample (todah rabah, gracias, danke, you rock).

Beyond the tasting notes I’ve read (I usually try not to read other people’s tasting notes prior to a review of a gifted sample as I do not want to be influenced in any way), I was intrigued by how the color of this whisky was described.  The folks at Master of Malt say “the whisky is tinged slightly green in colour, a product of the cask maturation.”  Let’s see if they’re right…

ColorDeep gold – no, green.  No… gold.  Perhaps the color of oloroso sherry but with a tricked-out iridescence to it.  Very cool.

On the nose Big hot pokers up my big Jew nose – at 60.7% ABV, I shouldn’t expect much less.

Getting past this now…

Boiled red cherries and crushed sesame seeds.

Thick cut orange marmalade.

Sort of a meaty quality to it.

Swedish meatballs.

Deeply sweet and savory at the same time.

On the mouth Not as hot as the nose but there’s a big sumo pepper fight going on in my mouth.

Light and bright in both flavor and feel then, a savoriness kicks in…

Roasted walnuts.

After the second sip, the mouth feel changes completely – this is some big league chewy stuff.

Unlit cigars with a side of Godiva chocolates containing ooey cherry and raspberry filling.

Finish It’s all on bitter cherries and walnuts.

Long and pleasingly hot.

In sum This is a G-d damn powerhouse of a whisky!  I’d say I only scratched the surface of its complexity.  Flavor-wise the balance was impeccable; everything worked.  It was so dead on with the palate but the nose was a bit hot for me.  While I wanted to add water to calm the nose down, I was a bit nervous to adversely affect the flavors & mouthfeel so I just manned up and dealt with the heat on the nose.  This is a contemplative dram, there’s no doubt about it.