Karuizawa was a small distillery that produced first-class malt whiskeys.
There is no shortage of thawing snow at Mount Asama and the chilly climate provided an excellent location for whiskey making. In 1976 the first 100 percent domestic malt whiskey saw the light of day at Karuizawa. The whiskey was stored in small barrels, and the distillery used small pots for distillation. The storehouse of Karuizawa was also covered in ivy, which is said to assist in keeping the temperature and humidity at exactly the right levels for producing good whisky. Though small, this distillery was known for producing whiskey of the finest quality.
Karuizawa whiskeys are noted for their floral scent and maturity, making them highly sought-after products. In former times the company produced pharmaceuticals and chemicals as well as alcoholic beverages before focusing solely on alcoholic beverages.
History Of Karuizawa Distillery
Suzuki Chuji, the second son of the founder of the Ajinomoto brand, started brewing sake from soya beans and founded the Showa Brewing Corp. in 1934.
After establishing a factory in Kawasaki, the company began producing Miraku refined sake, and in 1949, the name of the company was changed to Miraku Breweries Corp. In 1955, Karuizawa distillery was built near Mount Asama, and whisky production began.
In 1961 the company acquired wine maker Nisshin Breweries based in the city of Koshu. The Nisshin owned the Mercian brand, and under this name the company added wine its production. In the following year it acquired the Ocean brand (owned by Daikoku Wineries). Following the example of Suntory, the company became a large producer of Western style alcoholic beverages under the Ocean name.
In 1970 the company marketed Chateau Mercian wine, and then during the 1980s highball boom, the company started making sour drinks and cocktails of all sorts, such as the famous peachtree fizz that’s still popular today. In 1990 the company acquired its present name of Mercian.
For a long time, the Suzuki family owned the largest shares in Ajinomoto; however, in 1997 following a power struggle, the company president published a damning account of family’s behavior. The company was then reworked and improved before being acquired as a subsidiary of Kirin Holdings in the mid-2000s. Today, Mercian forms the nucleus of the Kirin group’s wine industry. Although the main shareholder has changed, the company itself remains largely unchanged from its Ajinomoto origins.
But Kirin could not sustain the premium whisky production, so the Karuizawa distillery and its sister distillery at Kawasaki closed in 2011. When Karuizawa was completely shuttered in 2012, the pot still and other equipment were removed, and what could be sold was sold off. As Karuizawa is now a rare, world-famous whisky, its price has almost doubled in recent times. Currently it’s not easy to get one’s hands on a bottle.
How To Find Karuizawa Distillery
Unfortunately it is no longer possible to visit Karuizawa distillery as it was closed and the land on which it stood sold in 2012.
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