Hats off to Kirsch Whisky! Their North-German tasting tour for Mars Whisky – a Japanese brand they distribute here in Germany – was a lot more than just another promo event. Following up on the Whisky Live exhibition in Paris, Kirsch’s very own Andre Haberecht hit the road together with Momoko Kato from Mars Whisky’s overseas sales department and Teddy Althape Arhondo from the brand’s European importer Le Maison Du Whisky. Their mission: To treat the customers of specialist liquor stores in Hamburg, Itzehoe and Bremen to six distinguished drams from the Mars Whisky portfolio. Eager to take this chance, I attended the free (!) tasting at the retail store of Weinquelle Lühmann in Hamburg on October 10. When I entered the shop, the bottles were already standing in line and the presenters were happy to pour me the first glass. Since I had no plans of going back to work afterwards, I tried the entire range.
As is often the case these days, the two blends in the line-up (Kasei and Cosmo) were composed from both Japanese whisky and imported Scotch. The four single malts, on the other hand, were exclusively distilled in Shinshu Distillery, the older one of Mars Whisky’s two production units on Japanese soil. Their other location, Tsunuki Distillery, has only started distilling in 2017. Thus, its output is not yet old enough to be labeled a whisky. Both distilleries have their own aging cellars on site; additionally, Mars Whisky also has a third maturation facility on the island of Yakushima. According to Momoko, the differences in altitude and climate between the three storage units have a strong influence on the way the slumbering spirit develops.
The first expression I sipped was Mars Kasei, a pleasant “everyday” blend with an easy ABV of 40 per cent. As said earlier, its recipe includes both Japanese and Scottish whisky. Mars Whisky imports the latter to Japan, where the blending as well as the bottling takes place. The following Mars Cosmo has a proportion of Scotch in the mix, too. Unlike Mars Kasei, however, it only contains malts and no grains. It had a sweetish nose with rosehips and berries. The well-balanced palate was smooth and fruity. It lead up to a long, spicy finish.
A distinct spiciness was also part of the first single malt I tried: Komagatake Limited Edition 2018. Its clean and beautiful bouquet had peach, banana, camomile and a lot of vanilla. In the mouth, the light fruits notes got accompanied by a spoonful of mild pepper. The whisky ended on in a sweet and chewy white chocolate finish of medium length. I was so impressed by its quality and complexity that I took a bottle home – even though I had already maxed out my self-imposed whisky budget at the beginning of the month. Next up was a personal fave of Momoko’s, namely the 2019 edition of Komagatake Double Cellars. Sweet, spiced and sherried in equal shares, it had ripe plums in the nose, red fruits on the tongue and grassy notes in the aftertaste. As the name suggests, it was vatted from spirit matured in two of Mars Whisky’s three aging cellars. This particular expression featured malts from the Shinshu and Yakushima locations. But other vintages may have a differing composition.
Dram number five was Komagatake Yakushima 2019, an cask strength peat bomb of outstanding quality. Since there is little to no natural peat to be found in Japan, Mars Whisky imports this resource from other countries such as Scotland, Germany and Australia. In the stunningly complex Yakushima bottling, the peat smoke appeared in the form of thick BBQ reek and smoldering chimney wood. A real scorcher! The same can also be said about the tasting’s finale – a peated Komagatake Single Cask! In regard to its character, this whisky reminded me of both Caol Ila and Ardbeg. It combined the restrained smokiness and “milky” fruitiness of the former with the lemony sweetness and pristine “nature” notes of the latter. This clean-yet-currish whisky marked another mighty fine offering and an impressive conclusion to a very special Japanese tasting event!
Mars Kasei (Blended Whisky / Japan / NAS / 40% / ~35 Euro)
Mars Cosmo (Blended Malt / Japan / NAS / 43% / ~55 Euro)
Mars Komagatake Limited Edition 2018 (Single Malt / Japan / NAS / 48% / ~110 Euro)
Mars Komagatake Double Cellars 2019 (Single Malt / Japan / 5 Years / 47% / ~150 Euro)
Mars Komagatake Yakushima 2019 (Single Malt / Japan / 4 Years / 58% / ~250 Euro)
Mars Komagatake Peated Single Cask #1782 (Single Malt / Japan / 3 Years / 61.8% / ~200 Euro)
Mars Tsunuki @ Web: https://www.hombo.co.jp/company/kura/tsunuki.html (Distillery)
Mars Shinshu @ Web: https://www.hombo.co.jp/company/kura/shinshu.html (Distillery)
Kirsch Whisky @ Web: https://kirschwhisky.de/ (German Importer)
La Maison Du Whisky @ Web: https://www.whisky.fr/ (European Importer)
Weinquelle @ Web: https://www.weinquelle.com/ (Host)