The Essence of Japan: Nagano-Based & Artisanally Made
Hombo Shuzo Mars Shinshu Komagatake “Limited Edition 2020” Single Malt Japanese Whisky (750ml) ($199.99)
“This is the complete package, and a prime contender as one of the year’s tastiest new Japanese whiskies. ” — Whiskey Advocate
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Japanese whisky has been taking the world by storm, and demand always seems to outpace supply. So, when we have one in stock in any quantity, it’s time to shout it from the rooftops. The Hombo Shuzo Mars Shinshu Komagatake “Limited Edition 2020” Single Malt Japanese Whisky is the real deal. While many other brands bring in spirits from other countries to bottle as Japanese or use a rice base to bump up production levels, this bottling is distilled and matured as a single malt in the small village of Miyada in Nagano prefecture. The quality here is unimpeachable, and with Whisky Advocate giving it a strong 94-point review and our own spirits buyers singing this whisky’s praises, there’s no reason for you to delay experiencing this unique bottling for yourself.
94 points Whisky Advocate: “Prunes, forest honey, vanilla seeds, dark chocolate cookies, and Brazil nut, with hints of chocolate orange and ground pepper: Im hooked. Cocoa, Whoppers, baked orange, jellied peel, jumpy peppery spices, tamarind bark, and milk chocolate pralines on the palate, and chocolate, stewed fruits, and walnut once the strength dies down. This is the complete package, and a prime contender as one of the years tastiest new Japanese whiskies. (JM, Winter 2020)”
K&L Notes: The history of the excellent Mars Distillery is long and complicated. The special stills that now sit at the high-altitude distillery near Nagano were hand-built to the specifications of the preeminent grandfather of Japanese Whisky, Masataka Taketsuru. In the 1950s, Taketsuru-san’s mentor Iwai Kiichiro, who had commissioned his famed voyage to Scotland, designed and built two pot stills for Hombo Shuzo in Yamanashi using Takesturu’s original specifications. The stills were moved to Kagoshima not long after production started and eventually moved again to Nagano in the early 80s. For another decade, Mars Whisky operated their old pot stills from their mountain home, but lackluster demand for whisky caused Hombo to cease operations completely at the plant in 1992. But renewed interest in the late 2000s for Japanese whisky compelled the owners to relaunch the brand and recommission the old pots at Mars Shinshi in Nagano. Now Mars Whisky consists of two distilleries, this one and another at the Mars headquarters on Kumamoto called Tsunuki. Production is tiny compared to their next largest competitors, Suntory and Nikka, but Mars’ single malts have become renowned for their extremely high quality. The 2020 LE is bottled at 50% ABV and aged in primarily ex-bourbon barrels combined with some sherry influence. An excellent example of what the future of craft Japanese whisky looks like and one of the more collectable and unique offerings on the market today.
David Othenin-Girard | K&L Staff Member | Review Date: March 02, 2021
The absolutely splendid Komagatake series is finally coming online in a serious way. For the first time in a year, we’ve been given access to significant quantities of their limited edition offerings. While Yamazaki and Nikka get all the hype, Mars Distillery is quietly making some of the best whisky in Japan, and only the real geeks are really tuned into how special these offerings are. Not only is this “real” Japanese, in that it was completely distilled at the Mars facility in Nagano, but it’s also absolutely delicious and polished in a way that many other up-and-coming Japanese brands are not. The excellent malts from the Nagano facility are distilled on two antique copper pots that were built by hand in the 1950s. The resulting spirits tend to offer tons of depth and complexity, and their access to high quality wood, with this release a mix of ex-sherry and American Oak both new and used, creates the perfect opportunity to highlight the wonderful quality coming off those stills. Let’s taste it! The color is pale gold. The nose exhibits obvious dried fruit aromas, stone fruits, and other orchard fruits, plus some twang of new, fresh American oak – cinnamon, vanilla, creamy caramel, etc. On the palate, it continues in this inviting direction with dried plums, complex floral honey, roasted cacao, earthy malt, and hints of menthol. The new wood is nicely balanced by the sweet flavors of the sherry here, and the rich texture keeps it interesting. Extremely drinkable at 100 proof. This is just really fun to drink, and while it’s likely collectable with only 15,000 bottles worldwide, I hope our customers take the chance to taste this special bottle while they can.
Andrew Whiteley | K&L Staff Member | Review Date: February 27, 2021
So much of the modern Japanese whisky available in the United States is full of controversy. The majority of new brands are taking Japanese-made rice spirit and labelling it as whiskey for the American market (rice is a grain after all and therefore qualifies for the term in the USA, but such a spirit cannot be called whisky in Japan itself) or they are importing Scotch to Japan and shortly thereafter exporting it as Japanese Whisky. Most American consumers don’t realize that the premium bottle they purchased is in no way Japanese except for maybe the writing on the label. Not so with the Mars distillery. Right on the front of the label it is clearly written: “Distilled and Matured in Miyada, Nagano, Japan.” No questions there. No vague ‘Japanese whisky’ claim to parse. With its origin firmly established, let’s turn to the whisky itself. The 2020 Limited Edition is bottled at 50% ABV and aged in a blend of sherry casks and American white oak casks. It’s a rich nose of over-ripe peaches, vanilla bean custard, and Manuka honey with a faint nod towards the earthy/fruity complexity of fine agave spirits. The palate is lithe and zippy, like a featherweight prizefighter. Orange blossom and cracked peppercorn box with roasted cocoa nibs and jackfruit. The finish is of a medium to long length. It’s intense at first, but moves to a drawn out, almost ghostly impression of the whisky that lingers for a very long time. A very impressive whisky that is poised and complete without ever being heavy handed.
Also available from Mars Distillery:
Hombo Shuzo Mars Shinshu Komagatake “Yakushima Aged Limited Edition 2020” Single Malt Japanese Whisky (750ml) $299.99 View