Mars Komagatake Limited Edition (2020 Release), 50%
Japanese Single Malt | $210
Prunes, forest honey, vanilla seeds, dark chocolate cookies, and Brazil nut, with hints of chocolate orange and ground pepper: I’m hooked. Cocoa, Whoppers, baked orange, jellied peel, jumpy peppery spices, tamarind bark, and milk chocolate pralines on the palate, and chocolate, stewed fruits, and walnut once the strength dies down. This is the complete package, and a prime contender as one of the year’s tastiest new Japanese whiskies.
Yes, there is a cute, mewing black kitten on the label. Turkish delight, pomegranate, rose water, lemon, lime zest, clementine, and sandalwood. A syrupy texture with the sweetness of hard fruit candy; there are flavors of cooked apple, mandarin, butterscotch, melon, ginger, and chili pepper. The slow crescendo of spices is particularly impressive. The pleasantly fruity finish sees a drop-off in the spices. Distinctively aromatic and exotic.
Distilled at Mars Shinshu, but matured in the Mars Tsunuki aging cellar, this charms with fresh fruity notes of raspberry, apple, and pear, with banana loaf, baking spices, lemon zest, and seasoned oak. The opening flavors of vanilla fudge and warm fruits are submersed by a vigorous peppery incursion, though there’s pear, chocolate, malt, and vanilla pod flavors once that settles. I recommend experimenting to pinpoint your preferred dilution.
Mars Komagatake Double Cellars Japanese Single Malt (2019 Release), 47%
Japanese Whisky | $165
Distilled at the Shinshu distillery in Nagano, and matured both there and at the aging cellar on Yakushima Island, this whisky has a compelling balance of cask influences. Aromas of honey, cherry gummy bears, red apple, heady floral scents, banana muffin, vanilla essence, menthol, and feisty aromatic spices. The palate takes a journey through honey, grapefruit, lime zest, Honey Smacks cereal, red apple, playful spices, then more sherry fruit matched by ginger, clove, and pepper. (3,659 bottles)
Mars Komagatake Limited Edition Japanese Single Malt (2019 Release), 48%
Japanese Whisky | $145
If whisky were a warm hug, this would be it. The sweet nose is rich with a lovely fruitiness of satsuma, Seville orange marmalade, yuzu, and vanilla. This carries a velvety texture rippled with an orange-flavored effervescence; apricot jam, sweet orange, sherbet, fine spices, ground ginger, and hot pepper. If this well-made example is an indication of the Mars Shinshu house style, they are getting a lot of things right. (10,000 bottles)
Aromas of ripe peach, barley, dry spices, waxy green leaves, baked citrus, scorched earth, and dried flowers on Hombo Shuzo’s debut whisky from Mars Tsunuki Distillery, produced in the 2016–2017 season. Sipping reveals sweet orange, chocolate, and clove, though the spices are straining at the leash and the high-strength alcohol can KO unwary taste buds. Dilute and the fruits shine beautifully while the spices are kept in check. (9,984 bottles)
Boosting the ABV gives this more versatility for whisky-based cocktails, but neat, there are aromas of honey, barley, exotic woods, ripening pear, box-fresh sneakers, citrus, and fruity acids, with the spices turned down low. A convoluted profile winds through vanilla, sugar cubes, and honey fudge, followed by pear, apricot, and a gentle crescendo of spice, before hitting a plateau of honey, breakfast cereal, nougat, and white chocolate to finish. Best Value
The original Iwai pot stills from the 1960s have been retired and now stand outside the Mars Shinshu Distillery. Cajoled by the savory, almost gamey aromas assimilated with brown apple and old strawberries, the whisky is surprisingly candy sweet to the taste. Dark jellied fruits: first Rowntree’s Fruit Gums, then Fruit Pastilles. Hazelnut, gentle oriental spices, and chicory coffee usher in a deep, fruity finish with creamy chocolate and fresh mint.
This young whisky from the Mars Shinshu Distillery was matured in Japanese wine casks. Fragrantly aromatic with perfumed florals, apple blossom, and pastel-colored chalky candy. By way of explanation, Rindo means “gentian,” the mountain flower of Nagano. Its light texture is rather sweet, with caramel, mango, a piquancy of tart oranges, and a little underlying pepper and clove. A snarl of pepper and lingering soft fruits rounds things off. (8,200 bottles)
Mars Iwai Tradition Yamanashi Wine Cask-Finished, 40%
Japanese Whisky | $68
This carmine dram has a soft, mellow nose of raisin, earthy red wine notes, wet slate, prune flesh, stewed rhubarb, caramelized brown sugar, and maple syrup. It’s fruity rather than sweet on the palate, but it seems held back at 40% ABV without a heavier mouthfeel, showing date, red plum, sultana, fudge, red velvet cake, brown sugar, and peppery spice, with a raspberry and spice finish.
A fusion of Japanese and Scotch whisky from the owners of the Mars Shinshu Distillery, who have recently opened a second distillery named Tsunuki. Dates, treacle, red cabbage, and maitake mushroom add intrigue. Light-textured, sweet and juicy, with burnished orange, toffee apple, dark caramel, but some lackluster spices. The texture becomes fatter with dilution, as damson flavors emerge. Finish of bonfire toffee, flat cola, raisins, and spice. £75
Prunes, barbecue seasonings, and hoisin sauce, sweetened by rich caramel; soak up the heady aromatics. Gloopy texture on the palate explodes into life with burnt orange, dried mango, and banoffee pie, spiraling down to black licorice, burnt oak, and Brazil nut. The name acknowledges Kiichiro Iwai’s role in ushering in whisky making for Hombo Shuzo in the 1960s, drawing on the notes diligently recorded by Masataka Taketsuru in Scotland.