Monday 2 December 2019

Mars Komagatake Limited Edition 2018 & 2019 [Tasted #473-474]

The world of Japanese whisky is a complex one, filled with delicious drams, yes, but also traps for the unsuspecting consumer. Whilst there are many categories (some of which are explained brilliantly in this infographic from Nomunication), including blends, single malts, single grains, blended malts, single cask blends, and even shochu labelled as whisky, in my view you can loosely bucket Japanese whisky today into three broad categories:
  1. "The OG's": The sort of whisky which filled the shelves just a few years ago, but now proves increasingly difficult and/or expensive to find. I'm including in here pretty much all age statement Suntory whiskies (e.g. Yamazaki, Hakushu, Hibiki), age statement Nikka whiskies (Yoichi, Miyagikyo, Taketsuru), closed distillery whiskies like the famed Karuizawa and Hanyu, and even Chichibu single malt (which even though is barely a decade old, definitely falls under the "difficult to find" and/or "expensive" banner).
  2. "Fake" Japanese whisky - aka whisky sold as Japanese, but containing whisky distilled outside Japan. Now to be clear, under Japanese law this is perfectly legal (and to be even clearer, many reputable whisky brands do this with complete transparency - e.g. "world whisky" like Suntory's "Ao" & Ichiro's Malt "World Blended Whisky"), but there are an increasing number of whiskies which seem to try to "fool" the consumer into thinking they're entirely Japanese; and
  3. Whisky distilled in Japan, yet is (relatively) available and affordable. Into this category falls whisky like "Nikka Coffey Malt", NAS Yoichi / Miyagikyo / Yamazaki / Hakushu (which seemed to be slightly more available on a recent trip to Japan), and Mars Whisky's range of single malt "Komagatake", including the two I'm reviewing today.
We tasted several Mars whiskies back in January this year (with President Hombo-san, no less) and this time around have two limited releases under the microscope - Mars Single Malt Komagatake Limited Editions 2018 & 2019.

It's not often you come across a (genuine) Japanese single malt, released in limited numbers, that you can easily buy, yet that's the case with these two, which are still readily available in Hong Kong (in fact I saw the 2019 edition at the airport last week!)

As non-chill filtered genuine Japanese single malts, bottled at a respectable 48% ABV,  they tick a lot of boxes on paper, but how do they stack up as whiskies to drink? Read on...

MARS Single Malt KOMAGATAKE Limited Edition 2018 (48% ABV, NAS, Japan, 1 of 10,000 bottles, $1,300HKD)
Originally tasted back in January this year, this limited release of 10,000 bottles was aged entirely in ex-Bourbon / American White Oak barrels, and is said to include both peated and unpeated spirit, matured in Shinshu.

Colour: Light yellow gold.

Nose: Vanilla and toasted oak, slightly smoky toasted banana bread, oat cakes and faint wafts of smoke.

Palate: Toffee and caramel, then some ripe plum, orange zest, pot pouri. With time, some floral pear notes emerge.

Finish: Long, citrus with a floral lingering smoke.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  88/100. A few new flavours discovered the second time around, but the score remains the same. A youthful, yet enjoyable dram.
MARS Single Malt KOMAGATAKE Limited Edition 2019 (48% ABV, NAS, Japan, $1,380HKD)
2019's release was distilled at Mars' Shinshu distillery and vatted from Bourbon barrels and "several other types of casks" (it literally says that on the box). The exact number of bottles released isn't known, but like its 2018 counterpart, it's a one-off limited release.

Colour: Light copper gold.

Nose: Instant fruit - pear, melons (rockmelon & honeydew melon), green apples and some oak.

Palate: Follows the fruitiness of the nose. Rockmelon, apricot, marmalade, some orange slices and hints of sweet Grand Marnier.

Finish: Apple flan, slight earthy "fruit smoke", peach pie.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  90/100. It's youthful and not overly complex, but it's also delicious and whilst great on its own, I imagine would make a great highball with a slice of apple.

Both 2018 and 2019 Limited Editions are available in HK from AFTrade, who kindly provided these bottles for review.


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