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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