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Article: Legend of Asama Karuizawa 1981 Single Cask Whiskies

Legend of Asama Karuizawa 1981 Single Cask Whiskies

Legend of Asama Karuizawa 1981 Single Cask Whiskies

Karuizawa Distillery

Karuizawa is a legendary whisky distillery in Japan. It has created some of the most collectable whiskies in the world. They've recently worked with Glencairn Crystal on a new single cask set.

This summer the distillery's rare 1981 vintage single cask whiskies are being released. The exclusive sets come in bespoke Glencairn Crystale glassware and lunawood case. Each set includes two bottles of the single malt whisky, one from each of two remaining casks (4059 and 6183). Only 30 sets of ‘The Legend of Asama’ are available, released over a three year period.

The two casks matured for 20 years at the Karuizawa Distillery. They then transferred to Chichibu Distilery in the Saitama Prefecture. Here, their custodian was Ichibori-san, the legendary former distiller at Karuizawa.

In recent years Karuizawa whisky has become sought-after amongst whisky collectors. Karuizawa Distillery was at the foot of Mount Asama, an active volcano, in Central Honshu. The site was perfect for whisky making. There was no shortage of snow melt from Mount Asama, filtered by volcanic rock and mineral rich. This aided fermentation and contributed to the clean, crisp flavour of the whisky. Temperate summer temperatures and cool winters were ideal for maturing the Japanese whisky.

Only a tiny quantity of Karuizawa was released as a single malt during the distillery’s lifetime. Almost all only in Japan. When the Japanese economy collapsed in the 1990s, their distilleries began to close. This included Karuizawa Distillery which closed its doors in 2001. It was later demolished in 2016.

Legend of Asama Whisky

After several years of negotiation, in 2011 the remaining stock of 364 casks were sold. In the years since, they've been bottled; many for the highest prices. Until now, only two casks were remaining. Whisky collector Mahesh Patel, Founder of Universal Whisky Experience, chose casks 4059 and 6183 in 2011. He kept them at Chichibu Distillery to continue their maturation until 2017. Then, some of the whisky was bottled and sold in tiny batches. The last remaining bottles from each cask now form this ‘Legend of Asama’ release.

The casks were hand bottled in 2017. Each whisky is 35 years old, natural colour, and non chill filtered. They are cask strength, which for cask 4059 is 60.6% ABV and for cask 6183 is 56.5% ABV.

Patel said: “I am excited to finally be releasing this very special whisky to the world. I wanted to ensure these whiskies were presented in a beautiful way. I wanted to tell the story of their turbulent past, celebrated by the person lucky enough to buy them. This goal and Glencairn Crystal’s creativity has brought the distillery back to life.”

The Glencairn presentation set

The Legend of Asama Karuizawa 1981 Single Casks Whisky

The bottles are decorated with Noh masks. The Noh is Sino Japanese for skill, craft or talent. This well describes the care with which the whisky was made. Noh theatre is a unique form of dance-drama performed in Japan since the 14th century. It combines masks, costumes, and music with drama and dance based on traditional tales.

Glencairn Crystal made the presentation sets in East Kilbride, Scotland. The set comprises five tubes. Two containing the precious Noh bottles. Two holding empty handmade crystal decanters with gold caps, decorated with engravings of the labels. The last holding two Glencairn cut crystal glasses and a Glencairn water-jug. The tubes are hand crafted from lunawood. They're in two sections which fasten together with a screw-thread hand cut into the wood. The design pays tribute to Mount Asama and the Olympic Games taking place in Japan this month.

Scott Davidson is New Product Development Director at Glencairn Crystal. He said: “The inspiration for the packaging is ‘Japanese simplicity’. Understated, clean, and made only from natural materials. The whole display stands on a plinth, arranged to reflect the noble elevations of Mount Asama. It has been an honour for our team of craftspeople to be involved in this remarkable project”.

Each set comes with a signed and numbered book written by whisky writer Charles MacLean MBE. It features the story behind ‘The Legend of Asama’ collection and tasting notes.

You can find out more about ‘The Legend of Asama’ Karuizawa 1981 set at

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