Mars Komagatake Single Malt, 'The Revival 2011’, Shinshu Mars Distillery, 58%, OB, 3 Years Old, 2011
Ever had a birthday message that went “you age well like whisky”? Well, congratulations! The general consensus is, the older the whisky, the better the taste. Now, do allow me a few sentences of exposition, for this is an interesting one. The whole motivation behind ageing spirits is to reduce the harsher ﬂavours that are associated with the raw alcohol, while adding distinct taste (found in the wood of the barrel) to the ﬁnal ﬂavour proﬁle of the spirit. Three years is the minimum maturation period for a whisky, so it is not all surprising for this 3-year-old Mars Komagatake to carry a harsher, more one-dimensional proﬁle. But hey, don’t write off its young age just yet. I promise, there are some really interesting releases with this bottle, at this age.
The name speaks of an interesting history for itself. Limited to 6,000 bottles, Komagatake 'The Revival 2011' symbolizes the official rebirth of the brand Mars Whisky and its Shinshu Distillery founded in 1985 by Hombo Shuzo, a shochumaker based on the island of Kyushu in Kagoshima Prefecture. For the record, this is truly a renaissance since its hiatus in 1992. A little history, with the weakening whisky sales in Japan, Hombo Shuzo decided to stop malt distillation activities in favor of shochu and brandies production back then. It was only until 2011, that the decision to formally restart whisky production was made. Bottled at a high alcohol content (58% ABV), slightly peated and aged in an ex-bourbon cask to preserve the aromatic signature created by Koki Takehira (the new Shinshu's master blender), Komagatake 'The Revival 2011' is the ﬁrst whisky released after the hiatus. Indeed, it is a worthy heir to Mars Whisky's expertise in the production of single malts whiskies.
While Shinshu Distillery might not be the largest whisky distillery in Japan, it compensates for its small size with its unspoken elegance and grace. Housed in a slender, polished bottle, sits the 3 Year Old Japanese whisky painted in a light straw shade. The color, a clear and bold manifestation of its youth.
At ﬁrst nose, it smells a little young, with refreshing notes of vanilla, oak and spices, but the ﬁrst sip was the true indication of its age. On the palate, it came off raw, harsh and true enough, pretty one dimensional: spicy. It taste rich of pepper, bitter lemon zest, and the spiciness clouds most of the other ﬂavours you get on the nose. As expected of a young whisky, the ﬁnish is relatively short and dry.
Now, comes the interesting bit. Adding 1-2 drops of water really opens up the ﬂavour proﬁle for me, and helps temper with the raw intensity. With water, you can catch a glimpse of sweet fruits on the nose, and even a slightly ﬂoral peat if you search for it. On second sip, I savoured the young whisky in my mouth a little longer, as what you would do with a ﬁne red — you let your saliva do the magic. Trust me, this experience is beautiful, like the witnessing of a blossoming ﬂower, a child comes of age. You’ll now ﬁnd the spiciness greatly mellowed down, only to make way for rich vanilla aromas and the sweetness of a pear! Allow the sip to slowly dissipate down the throat, and you will ﬁnd that it no longer burns of mere pepper. It is smooth and the new texture is seductive. While the ﬁnish is still short, there is a distinct development of sweetness. You now witness the shy, fruity sweetness folding the chapter, with light smoke making a brief, ending appearance.
Notably, this isn’t a complex whisky with broad range of ﬂavours, and I wouldn’t consider this a true peated whisky too. Nonetheless, it is an interesting one, if that is what you are going for. It reminds me of my younger self — raw with enthusiasm and piercing energy; bold and imperfect. Much like this bottle of 'The Revival 2011', each one of us has a (blossoming/coming of age) story to tell. And much like our youthful self, it requires patience and openness to savour. Then, and only then, its full proﬁle arrives.
P/S: Perhaps because it is of a Japanese descent or maybe because I had Japanese for lunch, I would recommend this paired with a small dish of tuna belly otoro sashimi with authentic wasabi and soy sauce. I find that the mild floral peat and spice of the whisky compliments the fattiness of otoro and wasabi spice. If you like some crunch, add on a small side of sesame-soy broccolini (the ones at KOMA are amazing)!