...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Glenmorangie Tùsail

This is only Glenmorangie special release I've ever been interested in. With Tùsail, Dr. Bill stops playing with his wood long enough to fiddle with the barley.

Because every company (not just LVMH) floods the whisky market with wood and wine experiments, I'm particularly fond of releases that showcase barley strains. Bruichladdich, Benromach, Springbank, Arran and (yes) Glenlivet have tried it out. It's a fun thing, and since the hipsters and geeks and nerds are spenders, maybe more producers should give it a try. I'm just saying.

For Tùsail, the Glenmo team distilled floor-malted Maris Otter Winter Barley for the spirit. Maris Otter was originally designed/bred in the mid-1960s for England's brewing industry. Over the next ten to twenty years, the strain became less popular because other types produced a higher sugar/alcohol yield. According to Glenmorangie's site, two merchants chose to protect and harvest Maris Otter starting in 1992.

Bruichladdich and Glann ar Mor (in France) have since made Maris Otter malts. Glenmorangie gave it a stab in 2014.

Distillery: Glenmorangie
Ownership: Louis Vuitton Moet-Hennessy (àccênts and ümlåūts not included)
Region: Highlands (Northern)
Age: NAS, though a former blogger claimed it was 10 years old
Maturation: ex-bourbon casks
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chill-filtered? ???
Colorant added? ???

The nose leads with toasty barley and roasted nuts. Irish soda bread, baby powder and almond cookies. Plantains and fermenting apples. Hints of fudge and cookie dough? A prickle of spirity heat.

The palate has the roasty/toasty notes from the nose, but also an expressive dried herbality (herbalness? herbalism?). Think oregano, fennel seed and anise wrapped in a soft bitterness. It's malty and tangy with minimal vanilla. Lemons, bananas and almond cookies.

The long finish is light on sweetness and vanilla. Heavier on fennel seed and peppercorns. Heaviest on malt.

This was as enjoyable as the 18 year old, but for very different reasons. While the 18 showcases finesse and cask blended, Tùsail on a bright spirit that's bolder and feistier than anything else by Glenmorangie. Yeah, there was the old Astar, but that zipped around at 57%abv while this one punches in at 46%.

Tùsail is neither too young nor raw, though I'd be giddier to try it at 18 years if it could find balance with the oak at that age. It still comes across as an experiment at this time, BUT it may be an experiment I'd purchase if I could nab it for less than $100.

Availability - Like most of Glenmorangie's limited editions, it's still widely available 3+ years after its release.
Pricing - $90-$120 US, $100-$150 Europe (ex-VAT)
Rating - 86

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Glenmorangie 15 year old (bottled in 2005)

A certain portion of the whisky-buying populace takes an abundance of photos of purchased whisky bottles, then peppers social media platforms with evidence of conspicuous consumption.

I have the opposite problem. Often, I take no photos of a purchased bottle. When I finish the whisky and dispose of its vessel I then have NO PICTURES for the damned review blog posts. Like today's.

One afternoon, 5 years ago, I came upon a corner liquor store in Los Angeles Proper with at least three bottles of the now defunct Glenmorangie 15 for its original price. I've always tried not to be the sort of asshole who cleans out a dusty find, so I bought one bottle.

The 15 year old (without a silly name) was retired in 2007 when Glenmorangie's owners, LVMH, chose to revamp the current range and sexify the remaining expressions. Now, before we go all "Ahhh, how Glenmorangie used to be!", remember the 15 spent an unspecified amount of time being finished in "NEW OAK" (all caps courtesy of the bottle's tube). So yes, Mr. Bill was going Full Carpenter at an early age.

Anyway, I found this to be a fair whisky when I drank it leisurely. Let's see how it reviews...

Distillery: Glenmorangie
Ownership: Louis Vuitton Moet-Hennessy (accents and umlauts still not included)
Region: Highlands (Northern)
Age: at least 15 years
Maturation: ex-bourbon casks then a "NEW OAK" finish
Bottling date: 2005 (code: L5 023)
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chill-filtered? ???
Colorant added? ???

Its nose is light and pretty. Roses, lychees and peaches. Hibiscus tea. Pencil shavings and envelope glue. There's also musty dunnage whiff here and there. It picks up much more vanilla with time, as well as a slight cherry candy note.

The palate begins with the nose's gentle fruitiness. And that moment of funky cask. But back to the fruits: acidic citrus and peach candy. It all gets tarter with time. Meanwhile, there are also hints of pepper, grass and cardboard. Moderate sweetness and a touch of woody bitterness.

The warm finish has flowers and tart apples. More tangy than bitter. Black pepper and a wee bit of wort.

I liked this better when I was consuming it casually. Once the inspection began, it didn't hold up as well, especially next to the 18 year old. While it shares the 18's gentleness and fruits, the 15's wood speaks much louder here than the elder's sherry casks.

Taking the current Scotch scene into consideration, this whisky would probably be an utter sawdust and vanilla bomb if produced in 2018, so I'm not that sad this expression was retired. Still, it's fun and it provides a different whisky experience than the 10 and 18. And perhaps it's more of a drinker than a thinker.

Availability - Happy hunting!
Pricing - dunno, but I bought mine for $65 five years ago
Rating - 83

Monday, March 26, 2018

Glenmorangie 18 year old "Extremely Rare" (current bottling)

As I write this the fourth day of spring comes to a close, yet this grim winter refuses to piss off. But I'm going to pretend the sun is warming the ground, leaves are beginning to peek through the branches and my HVAC system is getting a rest. And I'm going to review three whiskies from Glenmorangie, a distillery that produces a light fruity malt that suits warm weather.

I've devoted too many posts decrying the utter silliness of LVMH distilleries' (Ardbeg and Glenmorangie) limited releases. So this time I've chosen three 'Morangie malts that (I hope) are some of the more thoughtful Lumsden productions.

To begin the week, I am reviewing the current official 18 year old. It's officially called "Extremely Rare" because it is available at every specialty liquor retailer in the world. But aside from the name, there's a minimum of goofiness going on in this single malt.

Its contents are pretty straightforward. 70% of the whisky spent all 18 years in American oak, while the other 30% spent 15 years in American oak and 3 years in "Spanish Oloroso" casks. I'm pretty sure "Spanish Oloroso" is redundant, but it may be a way to distract from the likelihood that the Oloroso-seasoned casks were also made out of American oak. I really cannot make it through a single paragraph without this cynical flatulence, can I?

Yes, I can. See.

Distillery: Glenmorangie
Ownership: Louis Vuitton Moet-Hennessy (accents and umlauts still not included)
Region: Highlands (Northern)
Age: at least 18 years
Maturation: see above
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chill-filtered? ???
Colorant added? ???
(Thank you to Monsieur Brett for the sample!)

Hmmmm, a happy >1 ratio of spirit to wood in the nose. Dried apricots, peach candy and a little bit of lawn. Very moderate vanilla. The subtle sherry element is MUCH better integrated than Lasanta. In fact it's a mild nutty thing that weaves amongst the rest of the characteristics. The nose improves with time, picking up more lemon, apple, honey and grapefruit.

The palate starts off with tangy citrus and tart stone fruit. The sherry wood is toasty, as opposed to grapey. A peppery oomph makes the whole thing a little brisker than expected. Apples, pears, a whiff of flowers. Its citrus side expands with time.

Its finish has a tart, but not acidic, bite. White fruits and almonds. Limes and grapefruits.

Gotta say, this is tremendously pleasant. And well made, especially compared to almost everything else by Glenmo. It also fits in with the other two Big Glens, Fiddich and Livet, whose 18 year olds are (or at least were as of three years ago) the best part of their regular ranges. If you don't go into this whisky expecting bags of complexity, you may just find it terribly nice.

Availability - Nearly every specialty Scotch retailer in the known world
Pricing - $85 - $125
Rating - 86

Friday, March 23, 2018

MAO Mix: Tomatin Cuatro flavour

MAO mao mao mao
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MAO mao mao Mao
MAO Mao mao mao
MAO mao mao mao
MAO mao mao mao
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MAO Mao mao mao

I'm going to get so many clicks now! That's how SEO works, right?

Upon opening a parcel recently sent to me by Comrade My Annoying Opinions, I found this:

Oh, and also this:

For those who've drifted on to more pleasant non-whisky pastures (such as brandy, rum, politics, carving out your eyeballs with a teaspoon, etc.) since 2014, Tomatin distillery simultaneously released four (cuatro!) 12 year old single malts, with each having spent nine years in ex-bourbon casks and 3 years in a specific type of sherry cask. Fino, Manzanilla, Oloroso and Smuckers Pedro X each received its own release.

MAO took a hit for the team and bought all four. He reviewed them. Then he mixed them. And reviewed his mix (see Blend A). Now I will review his mix.

MAO Mix: Tomatin Cuarto flavour - 46% abv
1:1:1:1 (Fino : Manzanilla : Oloroso : Pedro Ximenez cask releases)

At first the sherry is quite reserved in the nose, letting the malt stand out. There's also hint of something smoky and industrial. The sherry element grows with time, showing up as both nutty and (berry) jammy. Fresh pears and white peaches. Those fruits pick up a funky fermenting note after the whisky sits in the glass for 30 minutes.

Some moderate fruity sherry in the palate, which is more sherried than the nose. Tart fruits and raisins. A hint of woody bitterness that gradually turns into an almost eucalyptus-like zing. There's a dark, almost tarry, note underneath.

On the finish it's raisins and star anise, then hints of bitterness and sweetness. A solid salty note. A good length.

I'd choose this 12 year old Tomatin mix over the official Macallan 12. Of course, that's not as hot of a take as it would have been five years ago. But let that not be a strike against this MAO Mix, which is a well-balanced combo with good fruit stuff that reins in the excitable oak. It's a good winter drink, someone should bottle it.

Rating - 元元元习 (3 yuan and 1 Xí)

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Mission: Mars concludes

Here are the Mission: Mars whiskies I reviewed:

--Shinshu 12 year old 1986, cask 452 - 43%abv - Rating: 90
--Shinshu 12 year old 1992, cask 1125  - 43%abv - Rating: 88
--Shinshu 20 year old 1989, cask 618 - 58%abv - Rating: 82
--Tsunuki New Pot Heavily Peated new make - 60%abv - Rating: 63


What Was versus What Is

At first glance, it appears as if the scores are saying, "The stuff from back in the day was better." But that's not necessarily true. The current era of Mars whiskies are barely legal, while the malts I tried from the previous era had much longer maturation periods (and were unpeated). Also, that 20 year old single cask was overoaked and uninspiring.

The last four whiskies were substantially peated, so the era was different, the maturation periods were different and the spirits themselves were different. That being said, I am not motivated to try any current Shinshu/Tsunuki whisky until it gets 8+ years on it. It's nearly impossible to produce an excellent 3 year old whisky, but Mars does get respect points for not oak-doping these whisky toddlers. But will any of us be able to afford 8 year old Shinshu, because...

These whiskies are crazy expensive

My conservative estimate for the price of the first seven bottles is $3000. Yes, some of that pricing is due to the secondary market. But if you think Mars is going to sell their upcoming single casks for less than what they know they can get, then I want to give you a smooch because you're adorbs.

Perhaps the "Nature of Shinshu" series provides a good estimate of Mars's current pricing plans. Those whiskies range from $150-$200 or so, and they're almost entirely 3-5 year old stuff. Though the company claims there's some 25+ year old malt in the mix, I doubt it's more than a sprinkle. Unless those old casks fell below 40%abv, they're tremendously valuable. Do you know what 25-30yo cask strength Japanese single malt is worth? If you don't, that's okay because it barely exists in the present market. Those would be multi-thousand-dollar bottles.

Speaking of cask strength

My favorite whiskies of the bunch were bottled at 43%abv. My least favorite whiskies were 60+%abv. Part of that probably has to do with my current palate. But, again, I'm comparing Satsuma plums to Satsuma oranges here.

By the way, Satsuma oranges aren't actually from Satsuma. They're from Zhejiang, China. They acquired their name because the fruits were originally exported to America through Satsuma. A Satsuma (or unshiu) variety is now grown in Gulf states, like Louisiana and Florida. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.


Is there hope?

Probably not.

Oh, you mean for the current era of Mars whiskies? Maybe. The "Nature of Shinshu" Kohiganzakura was decent, and the Komagatake Sherry & American White Oak was very good. By producing four kinds of malts at each of their distilleries, Hombo Spirits is bound to find at least one or two successful combos. I just hope they give their casks some time. And then underprice Chichibu. Please.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Tsunuki New Pot Heavily Peated new make

The Mission: Mars whiskies:

So this is where the most recent reviews were trending: new make. And, as a wee surprise, this stuff is NOT from Shinshu distillery, but rather from Tsunuki distillery, Hombo Spirits's new Mars facility.

photo from Kagoshima's official tourism website

While Shinshu distillery perches up in the Japanese Alps in Nagano, Tsunuki was built in Satsuma (in Kagoshima prefecture) at the southern tip of Kyūshū. While it's not technically on the coast (about 10 miles away), it does sit in a basin near sea level. And it's at the same latitude (32ºN) as Algeria, Morocco, Texas, Sonora and Punjab. So yeah, it can be warm down there.

Tsunuki was built on the former site of Hombo's Kagoshima distillery, which closed in 1984. Production started at the new distillery in late 2016 with the intent of having a single malt ready in time for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Just like Shinshu, Tsunuki distills four new makes, from malted barley with peating levels of 0ppm, 3.5ppm, 20ppm and 50ppm.

In 2017, Mars released a four Tsunuki spirits: non-peated new make, heavily-peated new make, 47 days aged and 244 days aged. I'm ending this series with a review of the heavily-peated unaged spirit.

Brand: Mars
Distillery: Tsunuki
Ownership: Hombo Shuzo Co. Ltd.
Region: Japan, Kagoshima Prefecture
Age: 0
Maturation: none
Distilled: May 2017
Peat level: 50ppm
Bottle size: 250mL
Bottles: 4000
Alcohol by Volume: 60%
(from a purchased sample)

Color? None. One rip at the nose and WOO! Peat eau de vie. Burnt earth smoke. Wet sheep. Gunpowder and the old charred bits stuck to the grill tray. New sneakers. Ocean-soaked stones. The palate is indeed peaty, but less punishing than the nose. It has the nose's sulphuric note, though it's more like struck matches. Salty and savory. A hint of sweetness. More fabric and rubber than earth. It finishes peaty and salty. Peppercorns and cigarettes.

Gonna water it way down,

DILUTED TO ~40%abv
The nose loses none of its violence. Mostly the same notes as before. More focus on rubber, metal and saline. Intensely salty peat on the palate. A sharp bitterness. Clove cigarettes and struck matches. Maybe some sweetness. The finish is salty, bitter and smoky.

Well, it ain't whisky. Keep that in mind when you see the score. New make that rates over 60 is a success, since it's already preferable to cheap blends. New make that hits 80 is super duper because it's more complete/complex/delicious than most matured whiskies. Anyhoo...

I really enjoy new make, though I prefer the unpeated sort. This particular spirit shows why peated new make can be a bit difficult, even ugly at times. It's close to new Ledaig, but it's also close to Lost Spirits's whisky-ish things. Though its sulphuric edge is fascinating, it doesn't fatten things up like some sulphuric Scotch new make, rather it sorta makes things more......chancy? I can see this Tsunuki spirit turning into some socko crazy single malt some day. It certainly won't be a diplomatic beverage in 2020.

Availability - Japan, maybe
Pricing - the 250mL bottle was around $20
Rating - 63 (again, it's new make)

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Shinshu Mars 3 year old 2013 Tsunuki Aging, cask 5108

The Mission: Mars whiskies thus far:

Tsunuki distillery, opened by Hombo Spirits in 2016, was built at sea level on the Kagoshima coast, far from its sibling distillery, Shinshu, up in the Japanese Alps. Hombo established some warehouse space near Tsunuki before the distillery was complete, and has been maturing some casks there.

More on this in the next post. Right now lemme see how this 3 year old — distilled at Shinshu — fares after spending its life near the sea, as opposed to on the mountaintop.

Brand: Mars
Distillery: Shinshu
Ownership: Hombo Shuzo Co. Ltd.
Distillation Region: Japan, Nagano Prefecture
Maturation Region: Japan, Kagoshima Prefecture
Age: 3 years (September 2013 - February 2017)
Maturation: ex-bourbon barrel
Peat level: ???
Cask #: 5108
Bottles: 210
Bottled for: Yamakataya
Alcohol by Volume: 58%
(from a purchased sample)

Its color is light gold, though it's darker than the previous 3yos I reviewed. The nose frames everything with light sugary peat. Apple-y calvados, lychee gummy candy, vanilla, soil and brine sit in the middle. The palate is HAWT. Jeez. It's fruity, though. Sweet white fruits and very tart berries. Puckeringly tart. Ocean water (don't drink ocean water, people) and cinnamon. More salt than peat, really. Lots of ethyl heat in the finish, as well. It's mostly salt, bitterness and char.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv
Ah, the nose is very pretty, all fruits and flowers. Bananas, plums and apples. The palate is much more approachable at this strength. Pepper, salt and sugar. Pears and vanilla. Donut glaze. Not much peat. Some of the pears remain in the warm, peppery, sweet finish.

I'm sensing a theme here. Three consecutive 3 year old peated whiskies that all smell and taste like 3 year old peated whiskies, no matter where they've matured. This is the hottest of the three, but once diluted down to 46%abv, it's the best of the trio. While the nose has its delights, the whisky's palate (like the previous two) is limited by its youth. As I've said before, I'd be interested in tasting this stuff when it hits eight years old. At that point, I wouldn't doubt if it gives Hakushu a run for its money. Speaking of money, this thing is priced all over the map (as it were).

Availability - Japan, Europe and USA
Pricing - Japan: around $80 if you can find it; Europe: $200ish; USA: $200-$250
Rating - 81 (with water only)

Friday, March 16, 2018

Shinshu Mars 3 year old 2013 Blackadder, cask 1647

The Mission: Mars whiskies thus far:

Like yesterday's whisky, this is a peated three year old Martian. I don't know which of Shinshu's three peated distillates were used here, but since it's supposed to be noticeably peaty, I'd say it's either the 20ppm or 50ppm spirit.

This time it's not an official bottling, but rather one from the independent company, Blackadder. Though, curiously, the official bottle shape was used.

The cask description makes me smile: "first refill bourbon barrel". So.....is it a second fill? On a side note, "first fill" is a misleading term because technically a "first fill" ex-bourbon barrel's real first fill is bourbon, not single malt. A true "first fill" would be a virgin oak cask, meanwhile a virgin oak cask is no longer "virginal" once it's been filled. And you have now wasted five seconds of your life reading this paragraph.


Brand: Mars
Distillery: Shinshu
Ownership: Hombo Shuzo Co. Ltd.
Region: Japan, Nagano Prefecture
Independent bottler: Blackadder
Age: 3 years (May 2013 - September 2016)
Maturation: "first refill bourbon barrel"
Peat level: either 20ppm or 50ppm
Cask #: 1647
Bottles: 239
Alcohol by Volume: 61%

Oooh, there's fruit in the nose. I mean, it's subtle but there be peaches and pineapple here. There's also very polite peat and concrete. Sugar cookies and cinnamon candy. And the ocean/beach note found in many of these Martians. The palate has peppery peat, dried thyme, charred beef, berry syrup, brown sugar and little bit of heat. There's sweet peat, salt, pepper and heat in the finish.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv
Twix bars and cinnamon candy on the nose. Ocean. The peat has gotten quieter but ashier. Not much happening in the palate. Peppercorns and fresh ginger. Tart lemons and mild peat. Peat, ginger and pepper in the finish.

The nose is a lot of fun but the palate is a snooze. There are no outright flaws here, unless bottling a whisky before it's ready equates to a flaw. The heat is calmer than I expected from a 3yo 61% whisky, and, again, the sniffer's fruit is much appreciated. I'm leaning towards this being a second fill barrel holding the 20ppm spirit.

Next week, the tour takes another turn, thank goodness. No the whiskies don't get older, but they do get different. As for this whisky:

Availability - ???
Pricing - ???
Rating - 78 (neat)

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Shinshu Mars Komagatake 2012 "Super Heavy Peated", cask 1492

The Mission: Mars whiskies thus far:
--Shinshu Komagatake Nature of Shinshu - Kohiganzakura (Wednesday)
--Shinshu Komagatake 2012 "Super Heavy Peated", cask 1492 (today)

Now we're entering Shinshu distillery's current whisky era. So that means things are going to get quite young and probably quite peaty. Komagatake Kohiganzakura delivered more than a hint of youthful stuff yesterday, but it wasn't slathered with peat pancake makeup, which masks a whisky's flaws with a stratum of phenolic cover.

But, enough flirting. As Greta Garbo said, "Gimme a whisky."


Distillery: Shinshu
Ownership: Hombo Shuzo Co. Ltd.
Region: Japan, Nagano Prefecture
Age: 3 years (2012-2015)
Maturation: probably American oak
Peat level: either the 20ppm or 50ppm spirit, though probably the latter
Cask #: 1492
Bottled for: Isetan
Alcohol by Volume: 58%
(from a purchased sample)

It has a very pale color. The nose leads with clean ocean-y peat, flower blossoms and cinnamon candy. Simple syrup. A whiff of hot asphalt. Green veg, think arugula and seaweed. Yes, the palate's peat is heavy (ashy and sooty), but it's also sweet. Mild tingly alcohol heat. Acidic citrus, and no oak to be found. The still tingly finish has the oceanic peat smoke with a small hit of bitterness and a bigger acidic note.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv
The nose is cleaner, politer. Lots of florals. Menthol, burnt marshmallows and chalk dust. A hint of balsamic vinegar. Tangy and smoky peat in the palate. The bitterness and sweetness have become gentler, though there is a new edgier metallic side. It finishes tangy and sweet. Smoke and metal.

This does a good job imitating peated Scotch, while also including its own pretty floral notes. It's a fine work in progress, and probably offers a good look at Shinshu's heavily peated new make. And I do appreciate the absence of woodwork. I can't wait to see what it would be like at around 8 years. But with this 3yo selling for $500 (yup), I doubt most of us will ever find out what its older brethren will taste like.

Availability - Secondary market and a few retailers in Europe and Asia
Pricing - over $500. Because.
Rating - 80

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Shinshu Mars Komagatake Kohiganzakura

The Mission: Mars whiskies thus far:
--Shinshu Mars Komagatake Nature of Shinshu - Kohiganzakura (today)

The tour of Mars continues...

The first three whiskies (1986, 1992 and 1989) from this set of reviews were distilled during Shinshu's first whisky distillation era which began in 1985 and ended in 1992. The pot stills then sat silent until 2011, and have been running ever since.

Today's whisky is from the recent "Nature of Shinshu" series, which combines casks from this new period with casks from the old era. Sort of a Mars Uigeadail thing.

Specifics and guesses

Additional specifics of the (so far) three "Nature of Shinshu" batches are a bit confusing since different retailer sites say different things, and sometimes even jumbling the batch names (Kohiganzakura, Rindo and Shinanotanpopo). At least one of the batches has a portion of wine cask whisky and at least one has some lightly peated stuff in the mix. Some might have sherry casks, all probably have American oak casks.

Details about the cask ages from these two periods are also scrambled. But at least some data are known. This batch, Kohiganzakura, was bottled in 2016. The first era ended in 1992. So the old casks aren't younger than 23-ish years unless they were put into steel or glass before 2016, nor are they older than 31 years. The current distillation period began in February 2011, so the newer whisky element is between 3 and 5 years old.

The young stuff likely makes up the vast majority of the mix. But this makes for a nice transition as I progress toward the brand's current single malts.

lovely Sakura label
by Yoko Nomura
photo source
Brand: Mars
Distillery: Shinshu
Ownership: Hombo Shuzo Co. Ltd.
Region: Japan, Nagano Prefecture
Age: young stuff (maybe 3-5 yrs) + old stuff (maybe 23-31 yrs)
Maturation: ???
Bottles: 5275
Alcohol by Volume: 52%
(from a purchased sample)

Its color is light gold.

Its nose is the maltiest of the group thus far. There are also flower blossoms, lemon zest and pie crust. Canned peaches and pears. Also a nice ripple of seaweed underneath. With a few drops of water it gets maltier. Lemon cake, orange marmalade and cinnamon bread.

The palate has gentle aquatic peat. Malt, apples, pears, a hint of caramel candy. Ginger beer and root beer. It's mildly sweet. Spirity, but not rough. Kinda pretty. With a few drops of water it gets bitterer, rougher, reading very young. There are some quiet florals and green apples in there.

It finishes warm, lightly sweet and tangy. Salty. Flower blossoms and caramel. With a few drops of water it gets rawer, like the palate. Maybe some citrus and vanilla.

Well, that was curious. Mars may have found the money spot at 52%abv. The nose is very pleasant throughout, but the palate is MUCH better without water. Yet, even at "MUCH better" it shows no sign of the older casks. It's young whisky. That's not a crime, but this whisky does cost three figures, and it could really use some more balance or calming from the well-matured element.

Overall, I like it. Heck, I think I prefer it over yesterday's 20yo. This is something I'd buy, but at half (or a third) of its current price. (FWIW, I enjoyed another Komagatake much more when I tried it last June (thanks to Will at Buffalo Tap in Ikebukuro).)

Availability - Europe and American specialty retailers
Pricing - US: $150-$180, Europe: $130-$160
Rating - 83 (neat only)

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Shinshu Mars 20 year old 1989 single cask 618

Here's the list of the Mission: Mars whiskies thus far:
--Shinshu 12 year old 1986, cask 452 (last Tuesday)
--Shinshu 12 year old 1992, cask 1125 (yesterday)
--Shinshu 20 year old 1989, cask 618 (today!)

The first two were sherry cask single malts reduced to 43%abv. Today's whisky was bottled at 58%abv. The internets say it was from an American white oak cask, and now that I have tasted the whisky I can confirm it is INDUBITABLY from an American white oak cask. But how big was that cask?

A weird cask

American oak casks tend to be bourbon barrels (approximately 180 to 200 litres) or hogsheads (250 litres). There are plenty of American oak sherry butts out there (~500 litres), but bottlers tend to brag about the "sherry" part as they puff up the price. But there's no reference of this being a sherry butt, and there ain't no sherry action in this whisky.

I note all this because 378 bottles multiplied by 720mL (bottle volume) equals more fluid than a hogshead can hold. Even if it were a random ~275L hogshead, that would mean no whisky evaporated over the 20 years of maturation.

That leaves three possibilities for this strange single cask:
1.) The cask was a bizarre size.
2.) The cask was a butt that was never seasoned with sherry.
3.) It was a hogshead, and a lot of water was added to a very high ABV whisky. Thus it's not cask strength.

So.......what is it?

If it were option 3, and there was ZERO evaporation, then the whisky was 63.1%abv at full strength. But because chemistry is real, evaporation did occur during those twenty years. If they somehow kept liquid evaporation as low as 1%/year, then the whisky was 77.2% at cask strength!

So maybe it's option 2? That seems difficult to believe because this whisky is outrageously oaky, as if it were from a tiny cask, not like it was from a huge vessel.

Then option 1? I have no idea.

Please share your theories in the comment section below.

Brand: Mars
Distillery: Shinshu
Ownership: Hombo Shuzo Co. Ltd.
Region: Japan, Nagano Prefecture
Age: 20 years (April 1989 to April 2009)
Maturation: American white oak
Cask #: 618
Bottles: 378
Alcohol by Volume: 58%
(from a purchased sample)

Its color is the darkest of all my Mars samples.

The nose leads with dusty basement and eucalyptus. Cherry candy and cherry syrup. Honey. Cinnamon candies and mint candies. A whisper of wood smoke.

The palate holds lots of sticky sweetness. Cinnamon candy, cherry lollipops and bubblegum. Salty corn chips, sawdust and that hint of wood smoke.

The sweet finish is full of bubblegum and oaky vanilla. Plenty of heat and tongue-drying tannins.

DILUTED TO ~43%abv
The nose is a bowl full of hard candies. Also vanilla and toffee. Freshly split wood. Vanilla. A hint of salty ocean air. A little bit of new make. And vanilla.

The bubblegum and lollipop notes have receded in the palate. Now there's super-tart citrus and lots of pepper. Brown sugar and burnt anise. The bitter oak feels almost smoky. And then there's the vanilla.

The finish remains quite sweet and tannic. Vanilla, bubblegum, black pepper and tart citrus

It feels like an American single malt that was Kentuckified (matured in Kentucky; yes, Kentuckified Whisky) for 8-10 years, such is the hefty oak influence. While the previous two (diluted) sherry casks showed much maturity in a short time period, this mystery cask shows much oak, period.

It's not a bad whisky. In fact it should appeal to American whisky enthusiasts. But it's too oaky for me to recommend to those who desire whisky in their whisky. I mean, I'd happily consume it again, and further tinker with dilution. But this damn thing sold for $1050 last month. WTF? No, seriously. WTF.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - really friggin' high
Rating - 82

Monday, March 12, 2018

Shinshu Mars 12 year old 1992 single cask 1124

Okay, I'm back. I think.

Just to protect my innards, I'm consuming the 1992 (bottled at 43%abv) before the 1989 (a cask strength 58%abv). This works nicely because the 1992 has the same age, cask type and ABV as last Tuesday's 1986 single cask.

Though it was bottled exclusively for the Shinanoya shops, this release represents only half of the cask's contents. The other half was bottled for Espoa, at the same age and strength. (Curiously, the whiskybase grades for these two are quite different: see here and here.)

If you're in Tokyo, I recommend stopping by one of the Shinanoya stores. Their prices can be a bit high sometimes, but there's usually an impressive selection of whiskies from both Asian and European indie bottlers. As for Shinanoya's recent exclusive single casks, I've had only one but it was a whisky that wove tales that I'm not sure how to tell.

Because the 12yo Shinshu sherry cask from last Tuesday was so excellent, my expectations are up for this Martian.


Brand: Mars
Distillery: Shinshu
Ownership: Hombo Shuzo Co. Ltd.
Region: Japan, Nagano Prefecture
Age: 12 years (1992-2004)
Maturation: Spanish oak sherry butt
Cask #: 1124
Bottled for: Shinanoya
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
(from a purchased sample)

Its color is a deeper gold than the '86, but not nearly as dark as the above picture illustrates.

The nose is full of lovely almond things (cookies, extract, marzipan, etc.). There are also notes of orange oil, Carpano Antica and wet sand. My groovy Armagnac cherries (which I need to make again). Soft grape and raisin notes. A hint of milk chocolate.

The palate has a gorgeous herbal bitterness. Dates, figs and a lot of funky honey. Campari, lemon peel and a hint of dunnage. The whole thing has a cask strength intensity.

It finishes earthy and herbal, with not much sweetness. Dried fruit essences. Hints of dunnage and citrus peels.

While this whisky's charms are mostly due its cask, that was one heck of a cask. It's like Kavalan's sherry cask whiskies, but better, because Kavalan doesn't slug like this at 43%abv. In fact, it's tough to find any sherried whiskies at 12yo/43%abv with the richness of these first two Shinshus. How on Earth did they do this?

Availability - Secondary market, if you're lucky
Pricing - sold for £180 and £330 at auctions in the past twelve months, so who knows
Rating - 88

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Shinshu Mars 12 year old 1986 single cask 452

My daughter's preschool class is learning how to share, which is GREAT now that they've given me their stomach virus. Thanks, kids!

Mathilda's ability to pull off the boot-and-rally is truly admirable. I, on the other hand, have seemed to misplace the past 24 hours, and a considerable amount of bodily fluid along with it.

Luckily, all the tasting notes below were typed two days ago (or was it three?). And there's a possibility that the Mars sequence will now last three weeks rather than two. Yay!

Speaking of which, the first Shinshu Mars whisky from my Mission: Mars series is the earliest of the bunch, a single sherry cask from 1986. It was diluted to 43%abv. Will that be an issue?

photo source

Brand: Mars
Distillery: Shinshu
Ownership: Hombo Shuzo Co. Ltd.
Region: Japan, Nagano Prefecture
Age: 12 years (December 12, 1986 - ???)
Maturation: ex-sherry cask
Cask #: 452
Bottled for: Espoa
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
(from a purchased sample)

Its color is light gold.

The nose opens gradually. It starts off with pipe tobacco and hot cocoa. Then there's plums, jelly rings and dried apricots. Then damp forest and lime zest. With 30+ minutes in the glass it gets more candied: grape gumdrops, orange slices and candied ginger. An ocean/briny note lingers throughout.

The palate starts off salty and savory, but not meaty. More like umeboshi. It's also a bit earthy. Some bitter chocolate and dried berries. Hints of oak spice, mint leaves and cabernet sauvignon. The mouthfeel is enormous for its ABV.

The finish has a good length to it. Tart and tangy citrus. Sea salt and mint leaves. Fresh tobacco. Blackberry syrup. Oolong tea.

I'm not sure what's more remarkable, the nose's depth or the palate's expanse. Would anyone would guess this was a 43%abv 12 year old if it were tasted blindly? My expectations were foolishly set low for this magical wee thing. The rest of these whiskies have their work cut out for 'em.

Availability - Secondary market, if you're lucky
Pricing - sold for £195 at auction last year, though whiskybase estimates a higher value
Rating - 90

Monday, March 5, 2018

Mission: Mars. Two weeks of Shinshu whisky!

Plenty of digital ink has been spilt over Suntory's and Nikka's whiskies on this blog and others. Chichibu's single malt has garnered raves from everyone who can afford a bottle of the magical baby whisky. And then there are the Japanese whiskies that are actually sorta kinda Scotch whiskies that have left plenty of people a grumpy shade of nonplussed.

All that noise covers up the fact that there are other functioning Japanese whisky distilleries. Some of which produce quality products. One of these active facilities is Shinshu distillery.
Photo by whiskymizuwari
Hombo Spirits, who also produce shochu and plum wine, have taken a few swings at whisky production:

  • Yamanashi Distillery: opened 1960, closed 1969
  • Kagoshima Distillery: opened 1978, closed 1984
  • Shinshu Distillery: opened 1985, closed 1992
  • Shinshu Distillery: opened 2011
  • Tsunuki Distillery: opened 2016
While you may not have heard these names before, the Hombo distilleries' whisky brand name might just be familiar — Mars.

Located in the Japanese Alps, Shinshu is the highest distillery in Japan, a full 400 feet up from its neighbor, Hakushu. Shinshu produces four distillates, with peat levels of 0ppm, 3.5ppm, 20ppm and 50ppm.
Photo by Spirits Business
Hombo opened Tsunuki distillery (Japan's southernmost whisky facility) in 2016 and intends to have a single malt ready for Tokyo's 2020 Summer Olympics. Though the Tsunuki produces the same four distillates as Shinshu, it (and its warehouses) are near sea level and experience warmer weather.

Thanks to a set of samples sold by Whiskybase Shop, I'll be taking a little tour of Mars. I'll start with a few sips from Shinshu's first era, then gradually proceed to more current offerings. My Martian experience is limited, so this is a great Opportunity to satisfy my Curiosity about whether there is life on Mars.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Killing Whisky History, Episode 10 - Paddy Irish Whisky from 1950s and 1960s

Join me for some early St. Patrick's Day action during this month's Killing Whisky History episode. I open up some Paddy Irish Whisky (no "e") and get a big surprise from one of the bottles!

Watch me drink in front of you! Or you can always drink along...