By: David Othenin-Girard
K&L Staff Member
The excellent Mars Distillery in Nagano has played third fiddle to the big boys during the Japanese Whisky explosion, but their special releases are still snatch up by collectors as quickly as we can get them. Last year, we were allocated we received a minuscule 36 bottle allocation. It was sold out in a day. This year we were able to muscle the supplier for more than 20 cases thanks to the fact that bars all over the country are closed. So, for the first time in ages, we're able to market a collectible Limited Edition Japanese Single Malt that isn't made from Canadian or Irish Whiskey bulked into Japan, marked up and bottled as Japanese. This is real Japanese malt here and Mars is making some seriously delicious stuff. The stills were hand built in the 50s and moved around the country during various periods, but production began in earnest again at the Nagano plant in 2009, so this is not very old whisky by any means. The malt is dried with the tiniest amount of peat smoke, around 3-5 parts per million. Their Limited Edition apparently comes from the warmest parts of the warehouse. The top floors is what one source mentions. Hombo Shuzo seems to have some Kentucky style racking warehouses, which are not unheard of in Scotland either. This vast majority of this batch was aged in first fill ex-bourbon, with tiny amounts of virgin oak and sherry butts thrown in for good measure. Let's have a taste. Almost an hour of aeration the glass before tasting. The color is old gold. A gorgeous nose of fresh orchard fruit: yuzu, poire d'anjou, mirabelle, Crispins and more. A pristine, almost chiseled character on the nose, focused, refined, but not monotonous. Fleeting slivers of spice and vanilla, but the pure fruity malt is front and center. It might be young malt, but it's very very good malt. On the palate, we're starting to see more American oak take charge, still with some fruit there though. A bit of roasted vanilla bean, cinnamon spice, twinges of espresso and burnt sugar. The fruit is maybe a bit more tropical now. The tiniest drop of water washes away the slightly overt wood on the palate bringing some lively citrus and unusual herbal character. Is it tarragon? A decidedly refreshing take on the white-hot Japanese malt category. It isn't simply an approximation of Scottish single malt, but a window into what will certainly become the house style in years to come, and an idiosyncratic style that I believe allows it to stand alone among it's peers. While the collectors may snatch this up, it's the drinkers who will undoubtedly get the most out of it.