Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Mars Iwai Tradition Wine Cask Finish

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo
Regular readers of Nonjatta will know we’re big fans of Shinshu Mars Distillery. We regularly make the trek to Nagano prefecture – which is a joy in itself – to check out what they’re up to there, whether it’s making whisky during the winter or craft beers (at Minami Shinshu Brewery, which is located on the same premises and operated by the same staff) the rest of the year. They’re experimenting in many different ways, from trying out yeast strains used to brew their beers in whisky production to maturing their spirit in extreme climate conditions elsewhere in the country. We’ll fill you in on all the details in due time, but today, we’re happy to spotlight another area they’ve been experimenting in: finishing.

Hombo Shuzo – the company behind Mars Distillery – produces many kinds of alcoholic beverages at various places in Japan, so it’s a bit surprising it took them so long to hit on the idea of using ex-red wine casks from their Chateau Mars winery in neighbouring Yamanashi prefecture to finish their whiskies. For their first project in this field, they decided to use their blended whisky “Iwai Tradition” and finish it for over a year in ex-red wine casks. It officially went on sale today but I doubt it will be around for very long. Why? Well, (a) because it’s really good; (b) it’s priced at around 2,000 yen for a 750ml bottle (yes, that’s 15 EUR/20 USD); and (c) there are only 2,495 bottles… At the same time, they’ve also repackaged their regular “Iwai Tradition” and that’s even cheaper.

With these uncharacteristically low prices (for Japanese whisky, that is), people tend to become a bit suspicious. Rest assured: the quality is there. “Iwai Tradition” is a bit of an oddity among Japanese blends, and not everyone will take to it, but we are very fond of its quirky taste profile, which features notes of rye bread, fresh pasta and baked goods. The interesting thing with the “Wine Cask Finish” is that – while there are obvious influences from the wine casks – the secondary maturation actually seems to have enhanced those grain (not as in ‘grain whisky’, but actual grains – wheat, rye, etc) notes.

Both the regular and the wine finished “Iwai Tradition” were bottled at 40%abv but because it’s a whisky with body and weight to it, it doesn’t actually feel like it needs a higher abv. It works perfectly well at 40% abv. We’ll do a head-to-head tasting of both new “Iwai Tradition” releases, and throw in one bottled a few years ago for comparison, too. But don't wait for our notes to grab a bottle or six, because by the time we get round to putting our post up, most of it may already have been snapped up by discerning whisky drinkers here.

Read more about Hombo Mars Distillery here.


S├ębastien said...


Are those bottles only available in Japan?


Stefan Van Eycken said...

It's only available in Japan as Mars don't export any of their products.