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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.


  1. Apart from maybe Nikka from the Barrel, I can't imagine buying Japanese whisky right now. There's not enough value given the astronomical prices.

    1. It's an industry in transition. I think that's nicest way I can phrase it. Every brand wants to be ultra-luxury.