Karuizawa was a small distillery located in Miyota that produced first-class malt whiskys. While it was the smallest distillery in Japan, Karuizawa whiskies are both highly sought-after and extremely rare today. In 2015, a bottle of 1960 Karuizawa was sold at Bonhams for a record price of US$118,500.
Karuizawa was built near the active volcano Mount Asama in 1955. During the 21st century Kirin Holdings who owned the distillery 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 and world-famous whisky, its price has almost doubled in recent times. Currently it’s not easy to get one’s hands on a bottle.
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% domestic malt whisky saw the light of day at Karuizawa. The whisky 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.