An Exclusive Release of the Rare Karuizawa 1981 Single Cask Whisky

Summer 2021 sees the exciting and much-anticipated release of the Karuizawa Distillery’s extremely rare 1981 vintage single cask malt whisky. Presented as exclusive sets, with a hardback book, bespoke Glencairn Crystal glassware and handcrafted luna wood casing, these are collector’s items.

Whisky from the base of a volcano

 Celebrated within the whisky world, Karuizawa is highly sought-after amongst whisky connoisseurs. The distillery was originally based at the foot of Mount Asama, one of Japan’s most active volcanoes, in Central Honshu. Water was taken from mountain snowmelt, naturally volcanic-rock-filtered and mineral rich, to aid fermentation. This gave the Karuizawa brand its signature clean, crisp flavour. 

Small batch release in its native Japan

Following 20 years of maturation across cold winters and warm summers, the casks were transferred to Chichibu Distillery, Saitama Prefecture. It later saw a small batch release, almost entirely within its native land. And, when the Japanese economy collapsed during the 1990s, Karuizawa was one of the many distilleries to close. This has only added to the rarity of its limited production. 

The Legend of Asama 

Only 364 casks remained, gradually bottles and sold at auction for eye-watering prices. Mahesh Patel, Founder of Universal Whisky Experience, chose casks 4059 and 6183 in 2011 and kept them at Chichibu Distillery to continue their maturation until 2017. It was then that some of the whisky was bottled and sold in tiny batches, with the rest held back until now, for this one-off release. Telling the story behind the Legend of Asama (and with tasting notes), each set has been augmented with a signed and numbered hardback book by whisky writer Charles MacLean MBE.

Patel said: “I am extremely excited to finally be releasing this very special whisky to the world. I wanted to ensure that when these exceptional whiskies were released, they were presented in a beautiful way that could tell the story of their turbulent past and be celebrated by the person lucky enough to purchase them. This vision, along with Glencairn Crystal’s creativity and innovation has brought a part of this spectacular distillery back to life.” 

Incorporating Noh heritage

Each bottle is decorated with a Noh mask. The Noh is Sino Japanese for skill or craft and a genre of theatre performed in Japan since the 14th century. It incorporates masks, costumes, props and music with chanted drama and dance based on old traditional tales. The set is made up of five tubes, two of which contain stunning Noh bottles, with handmade crystal decanters and gold caps. 

A collaboration with the Glencairn Crystal Studio

Engraved with original labels, two further bottles hold cut crystal glasses, produced by the award-winning Glencairn Crystal Studio in East Kilbride, Scotland. And the final bottle holds an exclusively designed Glencairn water jug. 

Scott Davidson, New Product Development Director at Glencairn Crystal said of the release: “The inspiration for the packaging can be summed up as ‘Japanese simplicity’, understated, clean, and made only from natural materials. The whole display stands on an elevated plinth, arranged in a manner that reflects the noble elevations of Mount Asama. It has been an absolute honour for our talented team of craftspeople to be involved in this remarkable project”.

Exquisite craftsmanship and unique decoration

Handcrafted from luna wood the presentation tubs fasten together with a screw thread that’s hand-cut into the wood. Paying tribute to Mount Asama and the Olympic Games taking place in Japan this month, the presentation is a true work of art in itself. And of course, most importantly, the set holds two bottles of the coveted Japanese single malt whisky, one from each of the two remaining casks – 4059 and 6183. 

Discover  ‘The Legend of Asama’ Karuizawa 1981 collection online at

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