It’s been a bitterly cold week here in Edmonton, with the windchill hovering around -30 C. So what better way to keep warm than to have a wee dram of whisky?
When you think of whisky, countries like Scotland or Ireland most likely come to mind. Japan probably wouldn’t even register in the top five countries you would name for its whisky production. But Japan has come a long way since the days of only being known for sake.
Whisky production started in Japan around 1870. But they have only been in the whisky business commercially since 1923, when the first single malt distillery opened in Yamazaki. The industry chugged along steadily until the 1970s, when domestic whisky exports increased drastically. Even some sake distilleries turned to making whisky to get in on the action. This boom was short-lived though. In the 1980s, Japanese alcohol taxes spiked, while prices on imported Scottish and American whiskies dropped, making them the more desirable choice.
Then, something happened to turn things back around. In 2001, for the first time ever, a Japanese whisky won a major award. At the Whisky Magazine awards, Nikka’s 10-year Yoichi single malt won the “Best of the Best” title. Since then, Japanese whiskies have been winning awards and “best of” titles through blind tastings and competitions all over the world. These awards helped put Japanese whiskies on the map.
Today there are 9 whisky distilleries operating in Japan, making them the third largest producer of whisky in the world. And we brought one of these whiskies back from our recent trip to Japan for a review!
This is Mars Maltage Cosmo Whisky.
Mars Whisky company originally opened in 1949 in Kagoshima. It remained there until 1984, when the distillery ceased operation and moved to the Mars Shinshu Distillery in Nagano Prefecture.
Here are the tasting notes of Mars Maltage, as described on the box label:
Japanese whisky is modelled after Scottish whisky. So if you like Scottish blends, it’s a sure bet that you will enjoy Japanese whiskies as well.
As you can tell from the level in the bottle, we’ve been enjoying this one frequently since our September trip! Just look at that gorgeous amber colour reflecting in the snow.
The fragrance is pleasant and sweet, with a definite smoky note. If I didn’t know it was a Japanese whisky, I would almost swear that it was a Scottish peat giving it that smokiness.
Flavour-wise, it burns going down at first, but this turns into a nice warmth. That smoky note really comes to the forefront, with the honeyed notes of dried apricot and other fruits soon following. If you’re not a fan of smoky/peaty whiskies, this one might not appeal to you. But personally one of my favourite whiskies is Talisker, which is very peaty, so Mars Maltage is a definite winner in my books.