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Japan Mars Distillery Whisky from 100 to 200 euros

Mars Tsunuki 2022 Edition

Review of a young Japanese single malt in ex-Bourbon

Origin: Kagoshima (Japan)
Type: Single Malt Japanese Whisky
Gradation: 50%ABV
Ageing casks: Ex-Bourbon
Chillfiltered: No
Added colouring: No
Owner: Hombo Shuzo Co.
Average price: € 125.00 
Official website: www.hombo.co.jp
Vote: 85/100

Hombo Shuzo started out as a distillery in 1902 making shochu in southern Japan, in Kagoshima, and after an initial attempt at whisky production for almost a decade in the 1960s (which met with little public favour), it was not until 1985 that the first modern distillery, Shinshu, opened in Nagano prefecture, at the foot of Komagatake mountain.
The temporary closure between 1992 and 2011 did not stop bottling, which continued with blends, and a few years later, in 2016, the second distillery, Tsunuki, was founded, returning to the company’s original location.
If Shinsu offers a reduced production, which stops six months a year and is strongly influenced by the altitude, Tsunuki has a faster pace with a heavier distillate that also includes a peated version (from Scottish barley). They also have a third site, dedicated solely to ageing, in an area with a very hot, tropical climate and an evaporation rate of up to 9%, so they have several particularities to work with in their bottlings.
The name Mars has a peculiar origin, as told by Hombo’s Managing Director: ‘We had a shochu brand called Star Treasury and we asked consumers to think of another name for a new brand. Someone suggested Mars, and that was it’.

Tsunuki’s first whisky was released in 2020, also in a peated version, preceded by several editions of its own new make and progressive ageing not yet defined as whisky. The one featured in this picture is a bottling from early 2022, released in 35,800 bottles, the result of an all-bourbon maturation that took place on site.

Tasting notes

Waves of ripe fruit on the nose, a fruit salad of peach, banana, apricot, melon and coconut that, together with a marked vein of vanilla, could put some diabetics at risk, but mineral and slightly metallic notes come to the rescue to dampen the wave of sweetness. Plum cake, icing sugar and a thin layer of honey appear in the background, just to reiterate that rough tones are to be sought elsewhere. Gourmand with a certain elegance,
In the mouth, it becomes more angular, while remaining in the vein of ripe fruit, bringing out a clear acidic edge enhanced by ginger and black pepper. More assertive and less cuddly, bitterish traits with balsamic velleities intertwine with liquorice root, cocoa beans and almonds, while a crisp, slightly citrus vein titillates the palate. The mineral part cleanses the mouth with every sip, pushing the drink dangerously, also considering the absence of alcoholic impressions despite the alcohol content.
The finish is quite long with spicy and citrus touches, where fruit, vanilla and bitter and mineral traits continue the dance of flavours.

An unexpected whisky, which already from the premises hints at a non-trivial and pleasant dram that finds its strengths in its contrasts. Perhaps a little troubled on the palate but precisely for this reason engaging and enjoyable, certainly imperfect and very drinkable.
Superior ageing, more structured and complex, appears as a concrete promise.

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