Karuizawa Whisky Company have partnered with online retailer Dekantā to offer their forthcoming inaugural releases from the new Karuizawa distillery. Both companies are aiming to not just revive the legendary Karuizawa name, but develop the brand for the future.

The new Karuizawa distillery has been built in the town of the same name but will not be utilising the old site, which was demolished in 2016. Production in the new facility started late 2022.

Established in 1956 in the shadow of Mount Asama, the original Karuizawa distillery initially produced malt for blending. By the 1980s Karuizawa had gained a reputation for producing high quality, sherry matured single malt. Sadly the market for Japanese single malt whisky was not as strong then as it is now, and the distillery was mothballed in 2000 when their owner shifted their focus to wine production.

Since its closure, Karuizawa’s popularity has only continued to grow. Their limited remaining stock has been slowly released over the years and are incredibly sought after among collectors, with many vintages selling for eye-catching prices at auction.

Of course this isn’t the only attempt to capitalise on the reputation of a closed distillery and its whisky. In Scotland we’ve recently seen the revival of both Brora and Port Ellen, two beloved brands whose popularity also skyrocketed following the closure.

Indeed, this isn’t even the first new Japanese distillery to associate themselves with the fabled Karuizawa name. In 2020, Karuizawa Distillers built a new distillery seven miles from the site of the original Karuizawa distillery. Despite not using the Karuizawa name (the new distillery is called Komoro), they too are hoping to honour the legacy of Karuizawa and the history of whisky production in the region, while also establishing their own identity and heritage.

Whenever a new venture aims to capitalise on the popularity of an old name, naysayers are always quick to point out - rightly or wrongly - that the new stuff is never as good as it was before. However, a great effort is being made to make sure the whisky is as faithful to the original as possible.

Firstly, the Karuizawa Whisky Company have brought in former Karuizawa Master Distiller Osami Uchibori as an advisor, and they’ve hired Yoshiyuki Nakazato, who also worked as a distiller at the old facility, as their new Master Distiller. Much of the equipment at the new distillery is also similar to what was used before, though there are some inevitable differences.

Importantly they are also committed to using sherry casks for their initial releases, offering another link to the old Karuizawa. No whisky will be released before it is at least ten years old, so unfortunately we have a good while to wait before we can get our hands on a bottle. And with such continuity with the past I am sure we will be rewarded for our patience.

The old adage of ‘quality over quantity’ will also play a part in their whisky-making ethos, as only 250 casks will be filled each year.

Time will tell to what extent the Karuizawa Whisky Company’s new distillery will add the the legacy of the Karuizawa name. Interest is certainly already there, with the allocation of casks for 2022 having quickly sold out, and Dekantā are promising sale of the 2023 allocation in the near future.

Until then, whisky enthusiasts can still enjoy what little is left from the original Karuizawa (if your pockets go deep enough).