By now, every person and their dog pretty much knows about Suntory’s and Nikka’s whisky, but there’s a handful of other Japanese distilleries which you don’t tend to see quite so often. Shinshu Mars is one such distillery. Opened relatively recently in 1985 (just as the Japanese whisky industry was about to enter a serious decline), the distillery is located in the Japanese alps, 798 metres above sea level in the small town of Miyada. Parent company Hombo Shuzo had produced a variety of alcoholic beverages in the decades before hand, including whisky at the Kagoshima distillery which operated from 1953 until 1985 producing ‘Satsuma Whisky’.
Shinshu Mars was only open seven years before the Japanese whisky downturn took hold and production was terminated. It was not until 2011, with the industry surging back to life, that production recommenced. The first bottling produced in this new era was Shinshu Mars ‘The Revival 2011’ – a nod to the rebirth of Mars whisky and bottled under a previously used name of ‘Mars Maltage Komagatake’. The distillery has reused this brand for its subsequent single malt releases over the past three years. Today we’ll look at one of the earlier new Mars expressions - Komagatake 3 year old Sherry & American White Oak 2011. This bottling was distilled in the first year of the distillery’s revival and bottled in 2014 as a 3 year old. It’s drawn from sherry and American white oak casks and bottled at 57% ABV. It was part of a release of 5,200 bottles, some of which found their way overseas.
Nose: Fairly acrid and arguably raw. Once you get beyond the initial notes of new make spirit and copper there are some more interesting aromas to discern - fresh barley, corn, mushrooms and cabbage all provide a really umami-driven experience. There’s little discernible sherry influence here barring some light honey sweetness and perhaps unsmoked tobacco. Resting lessens the youthful elements and adds a layer of meatiness and maltiness to the affair.
Taste: On the one hand light, grassy and with fresh fruit salad, on the other, syrupy, meaty and with a heavy underlying varnish flavour. A dash of water greatly improves the balance here – there’s some buttered corn, vanilla and mossy earthiness. Quite some salinity going on for a good salty tang.
Finish: Medium to long, very salty and fairly astringent.
I’ve had this Komagatake quite some time, and straight out of the bottle it was so explosive it was almost like my grandma’s smelling salts. Time, and oxygenation have calmed things down, but I’m still struggling with this one to be honest. Whilst displaying a 3 year old age statement is commendable, it’s hard to get over the raw youthfulness of this whisky and the strange collection of aromas and flavours. The vegetal and meaty notes are certainly interesting but, I find them rather imbalanced and jarring without water and meshed better but dulled down with. I’ve seen some very good reviews for this bottling, but alas, it’s not one for me.