Mars Iwai / Mars Iwai Tradition

Thanks to my buddy John for sharing these as part of a tasting we had in summer.

Japanese whisky. Wait, wait, I’m not about to gush all over it. As I never really have. Also I’m not going to hate on it either.

So if I’m not here to bury or praise Caesar (or Tojo, in this case), then what am I here to say.

Why the same thing I always say when I review Japanese whisky: You gotta know what’s going on.

Case in point: Multiple whisky makers in Japan have seen demand outstep supply. As such drams are getting blended, younger, and more watered down.

So when your uncle or aunt brings up how Japanese whisky is amazing because some crazy person said so and Scotch is dead to the world, you can reply that the crazy good Japanese whisky was back when it was cheap, had an acceptable demand, and had stars amongst the highballs.

Enter a world whisky tasting we’re having. Most people at it had never had the chance to try Japanese whisky. So when Japan came up, they were excited. This was “it”. “It” was going to change their lives.

Let’s see how that went, shall we?

Mars Iwai is up first. Mars Shinshu distillery was founded in 1949 and started making whisky in the Japanese Alps in 1985. They take a cue from American whiskey makers and use ¾ corn and ¼ malt in their blend.

On a different track they use ex-bourbon casks to age it.

So we have an American inspired whisky that doesn’t use the same type of casks and almost follows a Canadian method, all in a higher altitude aged.

Odd. Let’s see how it tastes, shall we?

Price: $59.95 CAD at the LCBO

Region: Japan

Cask Type: Ex-Bourbon Casks

Abv: 40.5%

Colour: 7.5Y 9/6

Nose: Cereal, melon

Pretty simple. You got a light nose. Looking around me, people are sticking their noses so far into the glasses it’s nearly pornographic.

And that’s the nicest thing I can say.

Taste: Caramel, watermelon, mint, oak

Alright, kinda growing here. It’s.. uh, well it’s fruity, and I think I noticed something like acid in there. Mint? Oak? Did I accidentally eat a fly? Who knows where flavours come from.

Finish: Pepper, oak, peach

Hot, generic fruit, and oak. Maybe. Who cares, this certainly didn’t.

Conclusion: Way too easy drinking. It’s basically water with some cereal and caramel flavour. And less healthy. And it makes you gigly.

I get it: Some things are made for highballs. More power to you. This isn’t even up to snuff.

All I can say is it didn’t burn and feel bad. That’s… about it. People are starting to become as disenfranchised as others when they try a bad Japanese whisky. But we’re not stopping there.


Mars Iwai Tradition is a departure from before. More malt, sherry and ex-Bourbon (and maybe wine casks, I found conflicting accounts).

So we’re seeing good things here. More malt. Mix of casks. A tiny, tiny bit higher alcohol.

But how does it taste?

Price: $93.95 CAD at the LCBO

Region: Japan

Cask Type: Sherry and ex-Bourbon (and maybe Wine) casks

Abv: 41.1%

Colour: 2.5Y 8/8

Nose: Rose, nutty, corn

Alright, some nice strong floral, nutty, and corn notes. The sherry is coming out.

That said, this is still puckeringly hard to nose. People ended up with glass marks on their faces trying to get to it.

Taste: Heather, char, anise, corn

More floral, more char, and some corn and spice. Alright, nice. Baby steps, I guess. Slowly getting there. It’s not nice to taste.

Finish: Cola, nutty, caramel, earth

Sweet, molasses, sweet, and nutty. Some earth. It ends really quickly.

Conclusion: Bit more, but we’re still having a dram that will make people not trust that Japanese whisky can be good. And trust me, it can be. The only issue is that whisky doesn’t leave rich people’s shelves or the Island. Because there’s only a bit of it.

This was an upgrade, however frankly Mars Iwai is going to have to get a lot better before I can recommend it in any way. It’s just… boring and simple, really. So skip this and save up for the better stuff, you’ll be a lot happier.


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