Bartender’s choice: Mars Whisky

Lets talk about Mars whisky from Honbu Shuzo. Fans of Japanese whisky usually know Suntory and Nikka, Honbu Shuzo is the third largest whisky maker in Japan.

If you have been reading this blog then you probably know Masataka Taketsuru, the father of Japanese whisky, he dedicated his whole life to make whisky, there has even been a TV drama based on his life and because of this drama, his name has become a household name in Japan.

In 1918 Taketsuru was, by the appointment of Settsu Breweries sent to Scotland to study the manufacturing process of Scotch. When he returned in 1920, he wrote and submitted a report to his boss on what he had learned. Later this report came to be know as the “Taketsuru notes.” Settsu Breweries was experiencing economic difficulties at the time so it was unable to start making whisky as it had once planned. Because of this Taketsuru resigned from Settsu, and after working a decade for Suntory, he established Nikka.

However, Settsu Breweries kept the Taketsuru notes as although they were experiencing some difficulties at the time Taketsuru’s boss at Settsu was passionate about making whisky and soon after, a friend of his recruited him as an advisor to Hombu Breweries. In 1949 the company acquired a license to make whisky, and then in 1960 a whisky division was created. His name was Iwai Kiichiro and he is often called the father of Mars Whisky. By using the information from the Taketsuru notes he supervised the building of a whisky distillery.

This distillery, built in Yamanashi however, closed down after only 9 years, it turned out that the heavy and smokey Scotch like whisky produced there wasn’t really popular with Japanese consumers at the time. By the 1980s when Japan experienced a whisky boom the Yamanashi distillery had been converted into a winery. And because of this, Mars opted to open a new distillery in Kagoshima. This distillery used a very small pot still, and the company stubbornly continued to make heavy and Smokey whisky, trying to capture the Scotch taste. The more sweet taste of Suntory Reserve and Suntory Old did however continue to be more popular with Japanese drinkers.

In 1985 the company changed track, it opened up a new distillery named the Shinshu Mars Distillery which produces a milder, sweeter whisky which the Japanese like so much. However this was 19 years after Kiichiro left this world. Mars whisky did also not receive attention until many years after his death, so he never got to try out his whisky.

Last week a cocktail maker I hold in great esteem passed away, he had been making cocktails for over 20 years and even had an online site with a “cocktail of the day” column. In my view, his best cocktail was St. Andrews which usually has Scotch in it, but he always preferred using Mars whisky. So, I want to introduce it.

Mars Whisky: 20ml

Drambuie: 20ml

Orange Juice: 20ml

Fill a shaker with Ice cubes, shake, pour into glass and enjoy!