This month we are exploring the Whisky of Japan from the Mars and Nikka distilleries.
The Iwai Traditional blended Japanese whisky from the Hombo Shuzo’s Mars.
This Iwai Traditional blend is part of the new-age of Mars whisky. 75% malt and 25% corn/grain spirits (the opposite of the standard Iwai) it’s a thick, syrupy expression with dark fruits and milk chocolate.
The Iwai name comes from Kiichiro Iwai, who designed the distillery's stills based on designs drafted by Masataka Taketsuru - the founder of Japanese whisky. Whisky Magazine attest the still design does in fact resemble those at Nikka’s Yoichi distillery.
This is malt driven spirit is truly a reflection of contemporary Japanese whisky. Incredibly balanced, soft and layered. A blending of sherry, bourbon and wine casks with delicate hints of peat make for a harmonious whisky that would make Iwai-san proud.
NOSE – Soft and rounded, Sweet Honey
PALATE- A Complex, peaty and full bodied palate which gives sweet peat, orange marmalade, maple, burnt sugar cane, cedar and cigar.
FINISH- Ripe Cherry, honey toffee with a beautiful ginger spice.
The main single malt brand from the current operation is sold under the 'Komagatake' label, named after a nearby mountain. Whiskies released under the Twin Alps label might not be their best known, but they maintain a following. 40% Alc./Vol.
A full-bodied blend from the Shinshu Mars Distillery that is more grassy and fruity than the perfumy and oaky Iwai.
The name “Twin Alps” represents the magnificent image of "Central Alps" and eastern "Southern Alps", which are the locations of distillery.
This wine features a soft texture and a blended aroma of vanilla and sweet biscuit and ripe fruit, giving you a calm flavour.
approachable and delicious, with oak aromas and soft fruit flavours and a hint of spice.
NOSE- Blended aroma of Vanilla and sweet biscuit, oak
PALATE- soft, ripe fruit flavours, approachable and delicious with a hint of spice
Nikka Black Aromatic is the third and final limited-edition release of Nikka Black in 2017. So what whiskies were used to make this wonderfully fruity and sweet Japanese whisky I hear you ask? Well, casks full of Miyagikyo malt, some of which are 20 years old sherry casks, Nikka’s single malts, coffey blends, coffey malt, and coffey grain whiskies. One of Nikka’s newest blends, made with the expertise built up over the past sixty years.
NOSE- Muesli with freshly cut fruits and a drizzle of honey.
PALATE- The Coffey grain is evident, malty and fresh. Some Sherry sweetness with Christmas cake and toffee.
FINISH- Sultana cookies, digestive biscuit and honey.
Nikka Black Crossover is the second limited-edition release of Nikka Black in 2017. In this release we see the impact of heavily peated whisky. Nikka have taken Sherry matured whiskies and combined them with new barrel malt.
The outcome means this whisky gives a beautiful richness, powerful smokiness and wonderful smoothness.
NOSE- Sweet and light woody that reminiscent of vanilla. Malty and peat incense tighten the whole.
PALATE- A gorgeous and rich flavour reminiscent of a dry, smoky peat taste and ripe fruit. The rich body of malt spreads slowly.
FINISH- Complex and powerful peat reverberation continues.
Nikka from the Barrel was created to deliver full flavours and richness of whisky “from barrels” which only blenders can sniff and taste. As the whisky contains so many characteristic components at a higher abv of 51.4%, it is essential to let the liquid “marriage” in refill casks for 3-6 months for it to stabilize and harmonize.
This bottling is Miyagikyo distillery edition with whisky from this distillery only used in the blend.
Nikka Whisky From the Barrel is one of the greatest value for money whiskies in the world. An incredible Japanese whisky, so much power!
NOSE- Medium-body with good balance. There are notes of cut flowers and fresh fruits, spice and a little oak.
PALATE- Full-bodied and punchy. There is plenty of winter spice and toffee, a little caramel, vanilla and a good mouthful of fruit.
FINISH- Long, warming and fruity with a little oaken spice.
Sandwiched between Japan’s soaring Southern Alps and the towering Central Alps, at just over 2,600 feet, Mars Shinshu is Japan’s highest whisky distillery. The Hombo family have been distilling for more than a century and they added whisky to their repertoire in 1949. Back then the distillery was located in Kagoshima Prefecture on the southernmost island of Kyushu. Until 1984, it was the southernmost whisky made in Japan, which ended with the Hombo clan moving the distillery to the idyllic alpine setting of Miyada village in southern Nagano Prefecture. They chose this site for its cool temps, which slowed maturation, and the plentiful, soft, granite filtered snowmelt fed aquifers. Smart choice. The whiskies are elegant, smooth and very complex.
The Shinshu Distillery was founded by Japanese shochu producer Hombo Shuzo in the Nagano Prefecture and it distilled both whisky and brandy - the whisky being labelled Mars Whisky. A drop of in demand for distilled spirits saw whisky production cancelled in 1985 - and it stayed offline until 2011/12 when the demand for whisky had grown considerably.
In 1985, Hombo Brewing (“Hombo Shuzo”), a Japanese “shochu” maker from Kagoshima Prefecture on the island of Kyushu, founded the Shinshu Distillery in Miyata village in Nagano Prefecture as a base for the production of whisky and brandy. Production was sold under the brand name of Mars Whisky.
The distillery, which used to produce whisky only during winter, as it also produced other distilled liquors such as brandy, halted its whisky production in 1992, due to sluggish demand. In 2011 production was resumed following the recovery of the whisky market first seen in 2007. The pot stills, moved from the Yamanashi Plant, were designed by Kiichiro Iwai, based upon the records left by Masataka Taketsuru, and, in fact, closely resemble the straight-head stills used at the Yoichi Distillery.
Miyata village is 798 meters above sea level. It is a cold district where fog often occurs and the temperature falls below -15 degrees Celsius during the winter months. Produced from water that has passed through granite rock and is high in natural minerals, the whisky has a full and balanced flavor.
About The Founder- Masataka Taketsuru
In 1918, Masataka Taketsuru embarked alone on a long voyage to Scotland. In this distant land the secrets of whisky-making would be imparted to this young Japanese man, and here he would meet the woman who would become his bride.
Masataka Taketsuru was born in the coastal town of Takehara (now Takehara City) about 60km from Hiroshima City. The Taketsuru family owned a "sake"(Japanese brew made from fermented rice) brewery that goes back to 1733-- and continues to produce fine sake today, in 2004. Taught early that sake making is a painstaking fine art, Masataka studied diligently and trained at university as a chemist, preparing to carry on the family trade.
However, Scotch whisky captured the young man's imagination, as well as the interest of few other enterprising Japanese of that day. He decided to dedicate his life to whisky.
Given the chance to go to Scotland, Masataka enrolled at the University of Glasgow and became the first Japanese ever to study the art of whisky making. He took chemistry courses at the university and apprenticed at distilleries, learning first-hand from craftsmen and receiving training as a blender. Masataka would later become known as a master blender.
In 1920 Masataka returned to Japan with Jessie Roberta (Rita), whom he had married earlier that year. Later joining a company that aspired to make genuine whisky, he succeeded under its employment in producing Japan's first whisky.
Masataka's vision of whisky was formed by his experience in Scotland, and he knew that the right environment was essential. However, it was becoming apparent that in order to produce whisky as he felt it had to be, he would have to become independent.
Thus in 1934 Masataka established Nikka Whisky, and built its first distillery in Yoichi, Hokkaido, which-- though inconveniently located-- he had always considered to be the ideal site in Japan for whisky-making, similar in many ways to the Scottish town where he had studied.
Masataka established Nikka because he was determined to introduce his fellow Japanese to the joys of authentic whisky. In the decades since, as his company developed and the enjoyment of whisky became a fixture in Japan, he remained relentlessly passionate about quality. Never did he allow it to be sacrificed in favour of efficiency.
In that sense, Masataka Taketsuru, Father of Japanese Whisky, sake brewer's son, had never truly left his roots.
The young Scotswoman who, in 1920, embarked with her Japanese husband on a long voyage to Japan, adopted the ways of the distant land.
She steadfastly supported her husband throughout their marriage, as he built Nikka and made it flourish, until her passing in 1961. Rita and Masataka Taketsuru are buried together, in Yoichi.
The location was selected for whisky production because of its clean air, just the right humidity for storage, and abundant underground water filtered through a layer of peat. In Yoichi, Masataka Taketsuru saw numerous reminders of Scotland, and this convinced him that this should be the home of Japanese Whisky.
The Miyagikyo Distillery is also in northern Japan, in Sendai (lat.38 N), Miyagi Prefecture, northern Honshu. Travelling in the area one day, Masataka came upon this site completely enclosed by mountains and sandwiched between two rivers. He immediately knew that this was the perfect site for whisky distilling. Sendai's fresh water, suitable humidity and crisp air produce soft and mild malt.
--is at Lat.43 10'N.Lon.14045'E,
or about the same Latitude as the middle of New York State, Toronto Canada, Vladivostok Russia.
--rests about 50km west of Sapporo City in southern Hokkaido, which is the northernmost of Japan's four principal islands, and was one of the last Japanese frontiers to be developed.
--has three sides surrounded by mountains, and one side on the coast (Sea of Japan).
--is blessed with the things that really matter to great whisky.