Japanese whiskies have been steadily growing.

The RW Karuizawa index tracks the performance of bottles from the Karuizawa distillery, and has gained roughly 308.42% since the end of 2014*.

*Past results do not guarantee future returns.

Introducing: Karuizawa distillery

Karuizawa was actually a vineyard in 1955 when then-owner Daikoku Budoshu decided to enter a Japanese whisky industry still in its infancy and base a distillery in the shadow of active volcano, Mount Asama.

The distillery was tiny, and the aim was traditional, small-scale production to create quality whiskies. Karuizawa used 100% Golden Promise barley, wooden wash backs, small stills and sherry casks sourced from Spain.

Karuizawa’s whiskies are perhaps the closest you’ll find to the Scottish malt style in Japan, but they still had their own unique character. The water was filtered through lava and the distillery also experienced very hot summers and extremely cold winters which resulted in a different maturation profile.

Selected Releases

Karuizawa Cask 6177

1970 42yr old

Karuizawa Cask 152

1981 33yr old

Karuizawa Geisha Platinum

1982 40yr old
1984 38yr old

The Karuizawa 1981 cask #152 was part of the 2014 collection from La Maison du Whisky, which included four Karuizawas from the late 1970s and 1981. The nose reveals lots of tobacco notes and exotic woods like cedar and thuja. There are some pronounced fruity notes too, strawberry jam and blackberries. The palate offers an interplay of sweet berries and dark prunes, spices and earthy smoke. Bergamot and blood oranges in a second wave.

The Karuizawa Geisha series was created to celebrate the skill, beauty and tradition of both the geisha and this great Japanese distillery, which closed in 2001 and was then demolished in 2016. The geishas are often misunderstood, their artistry misconstrued as the product of a bygone era, and these iconic labels, designed by Elixir Distillers creative director Raj Chavda, represent different aspects of what it means to be a geisha and the skills and fortitude required to become one.

Unfortunately, the whisky market was not as buoyant in Japan as today, and despite its popularity, in 2001 Karuizawa closed. In 2006, the distillery’s owner – by this time called Mercian – was acquired by drinks giant Kirin and in 2011 Karuizawa’s distilling licence was returned. To put an end to any hopes of a revival, in 2016 the distillery was scrapped and razed to the ground. By 15 March, there was nothing left, making it a ghost distillery.

Secure your Allocation now

Oeno will not sell, trade or release your information. We take your privacy very seriously.

Why is Japanese Whisky so good?

Japanese distilleries are renowned for their meticulous approach, drawing inspiration from Scottish methods but with a uniquely Japanese focus on refinement and precision. This translates to a smooth, nuanced final product.

Japan’s dramatic seasonal variations, with hot, humid summers and cold winters, accelerate the maturation process compared to Scotland. Additionally, Japanese distilleries use a variety of casks, including ex-bourbon barrels, sherry casks, and most importantly, Mizunara, a rare Japanese oak that imparts a subtle, spicy character to the whisky. 

Japanese whisky is known for its exceptional blending, combining various malt and grain whiskies to create a harmonious and complex final product. This focus on blending creates a smoother, more approachable whisky compared to some bolder Scotches

Our Takeaway

When we think of top notch whisky, let alone collectible and investible whisky, most of us tend to think of Scotland. Indeed, Scotch and Irish whiskies were the original and most ardent contributors to the rise of small batch single-malts, but Japanese whiskies have been steadily growing in popularity in recent years.

Since 2014, the RW 101 Japanese 100 Index has gained nearly 580%. This index from Rare Whisky 101 includes 100 collectors bottles of whisky from Japan.