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A Discovery of Japan's Landscapes Through Mars' Three Komagatake Single Casks

(Image Source: LMDW)

Mars - a pioneer of the Japanese whisky category in its own right - has been firing on all cylinders, extensively and expansively bulking up its capacity to produce a greater variety of whisky styles, with the addition of a new distillery in the more temperate Kagoshima, the Tsunuki Distillery, as well as an aging cellar in the UNESCO heritage site of Yakushima Island, which features a more humid and subtropical climate. This is in addition to the existing Shinshu Distillery in the colder Nagano Alps.


Mars Shinshu Japanese Whiskies: High-Altitude Fire And Ice - Quill & Pad

The Shinshu Distillery in the colder Nagano Alps. (Image Source: Quill & Pad)


The geographical spread of its three aging locations gives Mars great breadth in terms of the sort of climate its whiskies are matured in - which in turn bears a significant influence on the ultimate flavors of the whisky when finally bottled. Fans have been ignited in tasting the differences between expressions matured in various facilities, which is in part what has led to a real serious upswing in Mars' popularity - that is their excellent display in creativity.


A Guide to the Otherworldly Island of Yakushima - The New York Times

The UNESCO heritage site that is the intensely humid, subtropical island of Yakushima. (Image Source: New York Times)


"Mars has in recent years become better known for its incredible creativity. It boasts a considerable advantage when it comes to exploring the potential of Japan’s geography, with three production sites located in three very different climates."


To answer what the fans have been clamoring for, French distributor La Maison has bottled three single casks of Mars' whiskies, all produced at the Shinshu Distillery, but each matured at one of Mars' three aging cellars - Shinshu, Tsunuki and Yakushima, all of three of which were nonetheless matured in bourbon casks. The trio will finally allow fans to explore precisely the differences each climate can create with Mars' whiskies. 



The more temperate Tsunuki Distillery in Kagoshima. (Image Source: Tokyo Weekender)


The bottles feature calligraphed labels that symbolically depict their respective landscapes at each of the unique maturation sites, with the planet Mars looking out across Shinshu's mountains, the flat plains around Tsunuki, and the seaside forestry or Yakushima. Each single cask will also feature variations in the levels of peating.


Komagatake 5 Year Old 2016 - Tsunuki Aging

Japan, Single Malt, 61% ABV - Single Cask #5183, First Fill Bourbon Barrel


The Tsunuki-aged Komagatake was matured in the warm and humid climate of Kyushu and is peated to 20 ppm. 

"Over the course of the tasting, with great charm, it reveals a series of particularly eloquent and original herbaceous, floral and vegetal sequences. The notes of peat and smoke found on the first nose that reappear in the dried extracts of the empty glass delicately underscore the softly empyreumatic character of the flavour and aroma palette."

This expression was bottled at 61% ABV from Single Cask #5183, a first fill bourbon barrel, yielding 200 bottles.


(Image Source: LMDW)


Official Tasting Notes


Bright gold.


Refined, distinguished.

On the first nose, very delicate smoke and peat rise to the surface of the aroma palette. Just-as-present notes of vanilla, fresh fruit (William’s pear, Golden Delicious apples) and heady florals (carnation, honeysuckle) bring an energetic riposte.

Allowed to breathe, orange blossom fragrances colour the nose with an especially ethereal oriental feel.


Svelte, lively.

On the attack, a shower of barley grains strikes the palate. Save for a slight hint of earth, smoke and peat are absent. Instead, the flavour palette is focused on a beautiful vegetal, floral and herbaceous register. This brings out notes that include green liquorice, verbena, broom, dandelion and watercress.

At the end of the palate, a handful of spices (cinnamon, ginger) and nuts (almond, cashew) find their way into this luscious sequence.


Long, delicate.

With a marvellously velvety texture, the start of the finish invites us to enjoy vegetables from the garden (turnip, courgette, squash). With time, pineapple flavours add a very subtle hint of exoticism to the end of the finish.

The rich yet refreshing retro-nasal olfaction reveals notes of vanilla, cut hay and tarragon. In the empty glass, a very present peat seasoned with malted notes brings back a pleasant memory.



Komagatake 4 Year Old 2017 - Shinshu Aging

Japan, Single Malt, 61% ABV - Single Cask #3705, First Fill Bourbon Barrel



This expression was matured in the Nagano Alps at an altitude of 800m, at the Shinshu Distillery, which was renamed Komagatake, with a cool climate that has the effect of slowing maturation of the single malt.

"This version distilled and aged on site reveals lots of minerality on the nose in an especially full expression. On the palate, its very sophisticated mouthfeel, exotic fruit, herbaceous freshness and honeyed softness all offer highlights in a tasting that reaches the heights of elegance."

This expression was bottled at 61% ABV from single cask #3705, a first fill bourbon barrel, yielding 193 bottles.



Official Tasting Notes


Deep gold.


Rich, concentrated.

The very complex first nose reveals notes of vanilla, exotic fruit (pineapple, banana), aromatic plants (bay leaf, sage), coconut milk and candied ginger, each more intense than the next.

Allowed to breathe, with remarkable purity and minerality (schist, basalt), the palette of aromas becomes more medicinal (mustard poultice) and camphoric. Gradually, a very pleasant sensation of fruity fullness (pear, peach, greengage plum) floats in the air.


Full-bodied, delicate.

Like the nose, the attack reveals a delicious vanilla character. Citrus fruits (lemon, grapefruit) then make a very dynamic entrance. The rich mid-palate (milk tart, coconut) is a rare delight.

Next, the flavour palette unveils a magnificent herbaceous sequence (clover, lucerne, crisp mangetout peas). The end of the palate is gently honeyed (acacia).


Long, invigorating.

The start of the finish accentuates the rich character of the palate (vanilla flan, bêtise de Cambrai mint sweets). Gradually, a fine sandy layer coats the taste buds, underscoring the grainy texture of the very elegant mouthfeel. At the end of the finish, a melting pot of different fruits (canary melon, fresh walnut, banana) combine their flavours with those of aromatic plants (wild thyme, chive, chervil).

On the retro-nasal olfaction, delicious notes of lavender honey envelop the palate. The empty glass returns to the nose’s medicinal temperament.



Komagatake 5 Year Old 2016 - Yakushima Aging

Japan, Single Malt, 61% ABV - Single Cask #2063, First Fill Bourbon Barrel


This expression was aged in the intensely humid and subtropical climate of the UNESCO heritage site of Yakushima Island in the south of Japan, and was peated to 50 ppm, featuring peat that is "rooty, salty, empyreumatic and very compact".

"Its sunny and accomplished palette of flavours and aromas shows the single malt produced at the Mars Shinshu distillery in a particularly extroverted light, reflected in wonderfully delicate floral sequences, a honeyed softness and a fruity freshness."

This expression was bottled at 61% ABV from single cask #2063, a first fill bourbon barrel, with a total outturn of 193 bottles.


(Image Source: LMDW)


Official Tasting Notes


Vibrant gold.


Refined, distinguished.

The delicately powdery first nose (rice, cocoa) reveals a rare elegance. Allowed to breathe, the aroma palette is enriched with beautiful medicinal notes (marmot ointment).

Candied citrus fruit, a radiant rooty peat, fresh fruit (Louise-Bonne pear), a few grains of salt and white florals (lily of the valley, lily, lilac) are then gradually placed on the palate.


Concentrated, rich.

Like the nose, a rooty, salty peat lies at the heart of the attack. Its influence nonetheless becomes more intense. On the mid-palate, acacia honey and the sweet, tangy juice of a pear spread very softly across the taste buds.

Luscious flavours of barley, green liquorice and moss then bring lots of freshness to the end of the palate.


Long, elegant.

Closely linked to the palate by an incredibly dense block of peat, the start of the finish is also composed of dried twigs, lemon zest and agave flavours that delve into the world of mezcals.

At the end of the finish, a few medicinal (mustard) and camphoric notes further accentuate the flavour palette’s empyreumatic character (eucalyptus). The peaty and herbaceous (parsley, dill) retro-nasal olfaction is also incredibly milky (coconut, almond). The empty glass is at once peaty, smoky, lemony and spicy (ginger, clove).