It’s week three of World Whisky Month and this week we’re focusing on one of Japan’s premier whisky producers who now operate two distilleries, produce some of the country’s best expressions and are picking up awards with increasing regularity. Of course, it’s Hombo Mars.
As an added bonus you’ll be able to make big savings on all Mars bottles throughout this week!
The History of Hombo Mars
Founded in 1872, Hombo Mars, or Mars as they are more commonly known, started out producing Shochu, much like many other whisky producers around Japan.
It wasn’t until 1949 that they acquired a whisky license, but production didn’t actually begin until 1960, a whole 11 years later. At this time, the Mars distillery was based in Yamanashi and it was managed by Kiichiro Iwai, one of the lesser known legends of Japanese whisky.
Iwai was a close friend and colleague of “The Father of Japanese Whisky” and founder of Nikka, Masataka Taketsuru. He was responsible for the design of the Japanese pot stills used at the Mars distillery, basing his blueprints off of information that Taketsuru had brought back from his travels to Scotland, housed inside the now famous “Taketsuru Notebook”.
In the early days, uptake of Mars whisky was confined to the local area, with only a small number of those from further reaches having even heard of the company.
In 1978, Mars closed their Yamanashi distillery and moved all operations to a new location in Kagoshima. They were searching for a place with the perfect climate to produce outstanding liquid and at the time, they thought that this was the answer. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.
After just 6 years, they closed their Kagoshima distillery and moved once again, this time into the Japanese Alps in Nagano. Here, they found a home with the perfect climate and the now world-famous Shinshu distillery was built.
Despite finally settling on an amazing location, it wasn’t all plain sailing from there. Due to a lack of demand for Japanese whisky, they were forced to close their doors in 1992.
As those around Japan, and indeed the world, began to rediscover their love for the “water of life”, this time in much greater numbers than before, Shinshu was reopened in 2011 and started producing whisky once more.
At this stage, Mars started to experience some real success, with their expressions being lapped up by both locals and foreign visitors. It wasn’t long before they started exporting some of their finest expressions and receiving some fantastic feedback from experts in Scotland, the US and a number of other places around the globe. Anyone who tasted whisky made at Shinshu had something nice to say about it.
In order to build on their successes, and go back to their roots, Mars decided to revive their Kagoshima distillery in 2006. The area was previously known to be a Shochu powerhouse, making it hard for whisky from the region to stand out and be recognised. But Japanese whisky had experienced such growth that Mars felt it right to start distilling in the region once more. The Tsunuki distillery was built.
Here, a richer and heavier variety of malt whisky is produced, allowing the company to add variance to their expressions, much like Nikka do with their Yoichi and Miyagikyo distilleries.
Over the years, Mars have released some brilliant whiskies that have been met with acclaim from drinkers and critics around the world. They have a number of different ranges to choose from, including the Komagatake single malts, which bring well-balanced, award-winning flavour profiles. The most obvious example is the Mars Single Cask Komagatake 1990 Aged 27 Years No. 1040, which won “Best Japanese Single Cask Single Malt” at the World Whiskies Awards 2020.
They have now also released several bottlings from the Tsunuki distillery, starting with a number of new make expressions and leading to the Tsunuki The First and Tsunuki The Peated, the distillery’s first single malt whiskies.
Both expressions delivered an exhilarating tasting experience, leaving everyone excited to see what comes next from Tsunuki.
With two distilleries now in operation, there’s undoubtedly plenty of incredible Mars whiskies to look forward to over the next couple of years and that’s a fantastic thing for Japanese whisky and its loyal fanbase.
The winner of “Best Japanese Single Cask Single Malt” at the World Whiskies Awards 2020, this fine whisky brings notes of seaweed, citrus, peat, mushroom and cereal to the table, all topped off with more peat and smoky bacon. It’s a rich and full expression and one that’s rare on today’s market.
The long-awaited first release from the Tsunuki distillery was distilled in 2016-2017 and aged for around four years before bottling in 2020. It brings citrus fruits, vanilla and fresh bread on the nose, followed by more sweet fruits and gentle spices on the palate. It’s a brilliant creation and one that makes us excited for the future.
The The Lucky Cat series has garnered something of a cult following in recent years, with annual expressions wowing drinkers around the world. Each whisky in the range is a world blended expression created by Mars’ Master Blenders, who have years of experience in the industry.
Created from a combination of both Japanese and imported malt and grain whiskies finished in Port Pipes, it brings baked apples, brown sugar, maple syrup and gentle cinnamon on the nose, before the palate arrives creamy vanilla, butterscotch and hints of raisins. The finish is long and sweet, with milk chocolate blending seamlessly with hints of vanilla.