Distiller: Mars. ABV: 40%. No age statement. Blend: 75% malt whisky, 25% corn. Price: $50-60.
The Iwai Tradition is the second offering on the U.S. market from the highly respected Mars distillery in Japan. The first, simply called Mars Iwai Whisky, is a $35 blend, by far the lowest-cost Japanese whisky on the U.S. market by quite a bit. It’s a blend of 75% corn whisk(e)y and 25% malt, and has surprising substance and flavor at 40% ABV. It’s closer to a mixer than a sipper, but what it lacks in delicacy, it makes up for in value.
The Iwai Tradition is a step up in every way: depth, clarity, flavor, and maturity. Price too, but it’s still quite reasonable at about $50-55. It flips the proportions of its predecessor, being a blend of 75% malt whisky and 25% corn.
It has a beautiful coppery color in the glass. The nose is meaty, with sweet barbecue and cinnamon. Deep syrupy bourbon notes without a bourbon’s heat. Some dark sherry fruits: prunes and raisins. Buttery malt biscuits and a little milk chocolate. A comforting nose, somehow.
The palate is a slight letdown after so promising a nose, but still has plenty to recommend it. Some Amrut-y tropical fruits, particularly ripe banana. Whoppers malt candy. The finish adds tannic sautéed mushroom flavors–maybe with a touch of char.
In sum, the Iwa Tradition is not quite my go-to recommendation for those new to Japanese whisky–that’d be the Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt–but the Tradition is head and shoulders above its predecessor from Mars, and is well worth the extra $15-20. Close to a daily drinker.
Kanpai, friends! – BO