Everything You Need to Know about Mars Whisky

Deja Vu Sake hosted a Mars Whisky Tasting at The Whisky Room with Mr Kazuto Hombo President of Hombo Shuzo Co Ltd and Mr Koki Takehira, Distillery Manager.

Mars Whisky
Mars Whisky at The Whisky Room

Brief History of Mars Whisky

The history of Mars Whisky dates back to 1949 when the Hombo family, owners of Mars Whisky, first took out a license to distil but it was not until 1960 that they started making whisky at a plant in Yamanashi.

It was run by Kiichiro Iwai, who had been Masataka Taketsuru’s immediate superior who had sent Taketsuru to Scotland in 1919 to learn about whisky production. He used Taketsuru’s specifications to make his whisky which was too heavy and smoky for the Japanese palate. Iwai was also responsible for the design of the pot stills and is considered a pioneer in the history and development of pot still whisky in Japan.

In 1984, production was switched to Mars Shinshu Distillery in the Japanese Alps, chosen for its altitude to encourage slow maturation and the availability of soft water. This brought a change of style to the whisky, being lighter and more approachable but the timing was wrong with the beginning of Japan’s whisky crash so Mars closed in 1992 and reopened in 2011.

Mars Whisky
Mars Whisky on Taste

Mars Whisky Distilleries

Mars Whisky consists of two distilleries, Mars Shinshu Distillery and Tsunuki Distillery, and three ageing sites at Shinshu, Tsunuki and Yakushima.

Mars Shinshu Distillery is located high in the Japan Alps and is the highest distillery in Japan at over 800m above sea level. The distillery is surrounded by South Alps and Central Alps with 120m of underground water running through granite rocks which gives a soft water character with low in minerality at 26 ppm. Shinshu experiences four distinct seasons with a short but hot summer and long cold winter.

Mars Tsunuki Distillery is the southernmost distillery, opened in Kagoshima in November 2016. It produces richer and heavy malts with a salty air influence.

Mars Wa Bi Gin

Mars Whisky
Wa Bi Gin

Mars has recently produced a gin which is soon to be available on the Australian market. Wa Bi Gin (45% ABV) is made from a base of rice that distilled twice to create a “rice spirit”. The gin is an expression of the terroir with local botanicals from Kagoshima: juniper berries, cinnamon leaf, shell ginger, bitter orange, yuzu, kumquat, lemon, ginger, green tea, perilla (shiso).

The name means “Japan Beautiful Gin” with a front label displays the local botanicals is a traditional ornate design.

On the nose, a melee of citrus abounds, with notes of yuku, kumquat, green tea and a hint of warm spice. The palate has punchy citrus upfront with yuzu note underpinned by green tea and a little spice. The juniper is present but not overpowering. Wa Bi Gin is a dry style of gin with a bold citrus profile that makes it well suited to a Martini.

Mars Whisky
Mars Whisky Highball with Henry Hammersla

Below are the whisky expressions tasted and introduced by Mr Koki Takehira, Distillery Manager:

Iwai  Tradition Blended Whisky

Named after Mars Whisky Founder, Mr Kilchiro Iwai, Iwai  Tradition Blended Whisky is a Pot Still Blended whisky (40% ABV) aged in sherry casks, bourbon casks, American white oak and Japanese Mizunara casks. This is a full bodied whisky with a malty note, sweet honey character, hints of orange and a rich, long finish.

Iwai Tradition Blended Wine Cask Finish Whisky

Iwai Tradition Blended Wine Cask Finish Whisky is the same spirit as above but aged in ex Cabernet Sauvignon casks for a minimum of one year. The casks come from the Mars Winery in Yamanashi, owned by the Hombo Shuzo of Mars Whisky. The dram has a light, floral nose with hints of orange peel and dark chocolate along with a richer, fruitier flavour with vanilla, honey, and read wine character that gives it complexity. The finish is shorter than its counterpart above but nonetheless an enjoyable sipping dram.

HHae Blended Whisky

HHae means a warm summer breeze in the Kyushu region and HHae Blended Whisky (40% ABV) brings a lightness and floral fruity note with a hint of peat. HHae Blended Whisky is a limited release launched to celebrate the launch of Mars Tsunuki Distillery in November 2016. The dram carries a good texture and mouthfeel with orange marmalade, vanilla sweetness and a touch of smoke.

New Pot Sample (Non-Peated)

Also on taste is the New Pot Sample (Non-Peated) new make spirit (60% ABV) with a distinctive maltiness on the nose note, sweetness and a lingering clean finish.

Maltage Cosmo Malt Whisky

Maltage Cosmo Malt Whisky (43% ABV) is named after the mountains in Japan’s Central Alps located close to the Mars distillery. The whisky is aged in sherry, bourbon and American white oak new casks and exhibits complexity and character of ripe fruit aromas with a hint of spice, honey, caramel toffee and spice on the palate with a long and delicately smoky finish.

Mars Whisky Cocktail

Mars Whisky
Base Camp Cocktail

Inspired by the location of Mars Whisky Distillery with mountains, shrubbery and snow, the Base Camp Cocktail was served at the conclusion of the event, a delicious and moreish cocktail created by Henry Hammersla of The Whisky Room, with Mars Iwai Tradition Blended Whisky, Umeshu, Raspberry Syrup, Lemon Juice, Egg White and Activated Charcoal.⠀

Mars Whisky
L-R: Mr Kazuto Hombo President of Hombo Shuzo Co Ltd, Yukino Ochiai, Mr Koki Takehira, Distillery Manager of Mars Whisky

The Mars Whisky masterclass was held on Thursday 6 July 2017 at The Whisky Room.

Photography © by Kevin Burke for Gourmantic – Copyright: All rights reserved.

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Everything You Need to Know about Mars Whisky was last modified: July 10th, 2017 by Corinne Mossati

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Corinne Mossati

Corinne Mossati is the Founder/Editor of popular online magazine Gourmantic and Cocktails & Bars, a website dedicated to cocktail culture and the discerning drinker. She is named in Australian Bartender Magazine’s Top 100 Most Influential List, is a member of The Academy responsible for judging the World’s 50 Best Bars. She has also judged the inaugural Australasian Whisky Awards and various national cocktail competitions.

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