August 13, 2014


The sound of the Gion Shōja bells echoes the impermanence of all things; the color of the sāla flowers reveals the truth that the prosperous must decline. The proud do not endure, they are like a dream on a spring night; the mighty fall at last, they are as dust before the wind. 
                                     -The Tale of the Heike (14th Century Noh Epic)
The Art of the Whisky Bottle

Wifey and Hubby were suffering from a little bug a couple of weeks ago. The worst symptom was the label on the prescription that read "Do Not Drink Alcohol."  It was a long couple of weeks.  Anyway we're back in the saddle, but we need a little time to write another review.  Today we figured that we'd showcase the visual side of whisky with one of the most beautiful line of bottle designs in the world: the Noh decanters from Karuizawa.

Karuizawa with Mount Asama in background
The town of Karuizawa lies in the Kitasaku District, Nagano Prefecture of Japan next to Mount Asama, an active volcano. The location was chosen due to the ultra-pure spring water produced through natural filtration through the lava rocks as it descends from the volcano's peak.  Karuizawa Distillery operated from 1955 until it ceased production in the early 1980's.  While it was reopened after some years and resumed production until the early 2000's, these 1970's and 1980's vintages were unique.  The distillery made a name for itself by producing very small batches of single malts using high quality ingredients including barley imported from Scotland and sherry casks from Europe.  At the time of closing, it was rumored that less than five hundred barrels of Karuizawa whisky existed.  The bulk of them were purchased by an outfit called "Number One Drinks Company."  Number One Drinks took great care in designing a beautiful series of Noh-themed decanters and releasing a range of Karuizawa vintages which are now some of the most collectible Japanese whisky bottles in the world.

We haven't tried this stuff (it's next to impossible to find, not to mention that the 1980's vintages go for over $500 and the bottles from the 1970's are over $1,000).  If anyone is sitting on a collection and wants to invite us over for a tasting we wouldn't object!  For now we hope you'll join us in admiring some of the brilliant designs that were created for these beautiful bottles.

Kurohige 28 Year 1983 / 2011
Kurohige - Literally "Black Beard" Kurohige is a powerful demon, also known as The Water Dragon or The Dragon God. One of the stars of Kasuga Ryūjin (The Kasuga Dragon God), Kurohige appears in the fantasy dream sequences of the traveller Myōe, as Buddha's place of birth, enlightenment, preaching, and death are revealed.

Geisha 32 Year 1976 / 2009

Geisha 29 Year 1983 / 2012

Geisha 35 Year 1977 / 2012

Geisha 21 Year 1981 / 2012

Geisha 22 Year 1990 / 2012

Geisha 42 Year 1970 / 2012

Geisha 34 Year 1977 / 2011

Okina 31 Year 1981 / 2012
Okina - The venerable old man Okina is one of the oldest Noh characters.  Okina traditionally opens the Noh festival with a performance of an ancient Shinto ritual dance.

Honor Sumo Triple Set
Triple set of 1981, 1982, and 1983 "Honor Sumo" Decanters
Ukiyo-e is a Japanese painting style described as "floating realism."  This tribute by Ukiyo-e artist Hachisuka Kuniaki's depicts the Yokozuna ceremony before the Sumo contest.  There are ten classes of Sumo.  Only seventy-one fighters in the entire history of Japan have ever reached the highest rank: The Yokozuna.

Namanari - The demon woman Namanari is an "Oni," a half-human devil creature.  The Oni carry iron clubs that represent invincibility.  This may be the original source of inspiration for references like "Iron Fist" and "Iron Palm."

Onna - Blend of Vintages #1 (27+ Years)
Onna - Female masks were classified as Onna, representing various types of women from young beautiful women to grieving widows to otherworldly deities.

We hope you enjoyed these incredible works of art!  Don't worry, we'll be back with more actual reviews and tasting notes soon.  Tune in Labor Day weekend for "the big Willett tasting" marathon where we go through a whole range of Willetts from 2 years to 25 years!


  1. Superb and interesting, thank you.

    1. Nice article. I poured myself a small dram of the 1970 "geisha with a paper crane" while I read. Your pricing is off 500 for an 80 s karuizawa is a thing of the past. You've are really looking at closer to a 1000 and more likely euros than dollars. The prices have skyrocketed in the past few months. I should be in the city for whiskyfest. (That reminds me I need to buy a ticket still). We can meet up for a tasting.

    2. Wow is that right about the prices shooting up in the past few months? Not surprising I guess but a thousand euros? That's really incredible. Definitely look us up around whiskyfest and thanks for reading!