Mars Iwai Whisky – Distiller: Mars. ABV: 40%. No age statement. Blend: 75% corn whisk(e)y, 25% malt whisk(e)y. Price: $35-40.
Mars Whisky is a Japanese distiller little known in the U.S., but renowned for some very high-quality whiskies in Japan. The Iwai Whisky is a curiosity for several reasons. It’s “bourbon inspired,” as Mars says, made from a grain bill of three-quarters corn and a quarter malted barley, and it costs less not only than every other Japanese whisky on the U.S. market, but less than many quality bourbons: $35-40.
It’s only 40% ABV, but the high corn recipe and the fat pot still it’s made in give it substance and creaminess. The nose is a bit shy: some vanilla toasted oak notes, a touch of melon. Palate: vanilla pound cake and lychee. Short, understated finish.
It won’t change your life, but it’s a simple, pleasant whisky that mixes well at a price far below anything else from Japan. For a step up, try the Mars Iwai Tradition–significantly more satisfying for about $15 more.
Hopefully these two are harbingers of other well regarded Mars releases reaching the U.S. soon, especially the single malts that made the distillery’s reputation at home.
Kanpai, friends! -BO
Buy Mars Iwai Whisky online at Mash + Grape
Producer: Compass Box. Distillers: see below. ABV: 53.1%. Age: 19-40 years. Price: $200-225.
This is going to be fun.
With This Is Not a Luxury Whisky, Compass Box’s marketing game has gotten as strong as its blending. They’re embracing and rejecting scotch whisky’s elite image at the same time–and looking damn good doing it. And I’m happy to report that what’s in the bottle, a 53.1% ABV blend of 19-, 30-, and 40-year-old malt and grain whiskies, is just as good.
With just under 5,000 bottles made, Compass Box’s latest special release combines two single malts and two grain whiskies: 79% of the total is 19-year-old sherry butt-matured single malt from Glen Ord, with the other 21% made up of 40-year-old grain whiskies from Strathclyde and Girvan, and a 30-year-old malt from Caol Ila.
Nose: Pine. Sherry fruits. Raisin biscuits. Amazingly complex interplay of tiny sparkling nuances. Palate: plenty of spice. Chocolate fondue. Dark old oak notes, rich, but the tannins are fully under control. Sweet pipe smoke. Finish: long, mouth-coating, lovely peppery tingle that goes on and on. Utterly drinkable at 53.1% ABV cask strength, but even more bright and vibrant with a drop of water.
Compass Box founder and master blender John Glaser has long since proven himself as one of the best whisky blenders working. He’s done it again. And he’s clearly having fun doing it. Cheers, friends! – BO
Compass Box generously provided a sample for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.
Buy Compass Box whisky online at Mash + Grape
Distiller/producer: Unknown. ABV: 40%. NAS/ Price: $10 for a liter.
We in the Axis are all about the democratization of the world’s finest spirit. The more people know and try, the better the product, says I.
So thanks must be given to Trader Joes. The grocery chain carries a host of affordable spirits ranging from local delights like FEW to their own starter versions of classic whiskies, such as their very drinkable Islay Storm single malt.
However, I insist they can do better with their house blended scotch whisky. A nose of butter and last week’s unwashed fry pan give way to an initial note of dishwater and the glass you meant to rinse yesterday. Thick on the tongue and viscous on the way down, this is one you’ll want to save for the holiday party guest who fails to pick up on your hints as to how late it’s gotten.
You can’t know what’s good if you don’t know what’s bad. – TM