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Mars Iwai Tradition Japanese Whisky Review

Mars Iwai Tradition Japanese Whisky – Distiller: Mars. ABV: 40%. No age statement. Blend: 75% malt whisky, 25% corn. Price: $50-60.

The Mars 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

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Mars Iwai Whisky Review

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

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GlenDronach Cask Strength Review – Batch 3

Distiller: GlenDronach. ABV: 54.9% No age statement. Region: Highland. Price: $80-100.

My GlenDronach adventure started a while back when I stopped in K&L Wines Hollywood looking for something to fill the void of a Macallan Whisky Maker’s Edition I’d fallen for but couldn’t find outside the duty free.

The great David O-G offered the ‘Dronach 12 as a rough substitute. It hit the spot from the first dram. Lush sherry and oak in a balance worthy of the Macallan 12. GlenDronach’s been doing exciting things since being acquired by BenRiach in 2008, and the 12’s one of many good examples–not to mention an excellent value among single malts.

Recently I dove into the GlenDronach Cask Strength line with a bottle Batch 3. (There are 5 so far.) They’re all no-age-statement releases, and this one rings in at 54.9% ABV. It’s matured in a combination of Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez sherry casks.

It’s a wild dram, even next to sherry bombs like the great Aberlour A’Bunadh. The sherry’s there of course, but the profile is more dark and funky than the rounder, fruitier flavors of the Macallan Cask Strength or Glenfarclas 105.

It starts with a nose of dark dried fruits, creme brulée crust, and winey red grape must. The palate’s murky, wild, and tannic, with a dense mouthfeel. All sorts of good stuff emerging with water, so take your time and try different amounts to get what you want from it. Carrot cake with walnuts, savory notes–Moroccan olives? Even, oddly, a little watermelon. The finish is long and dark, with black tea, burnt toast, and roasted mushrooms.

GlenDronach’s stock is rising fast these days, and the Cask Strength series is one more reason why. Sláinte, friends! – BO

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Hibiki Harmony & Hibiki 12 – Side-by-Side Review

Hibiki 12 – Distiller: Suntory.  Age: 12 years. ABV: 43%. Price: $60 (where available).

Hibiki Harmony – Distiller: Suntory. No age statement. ABV: 43%. Price: $60.

Hibiki Smackdown! The increasingly scarce 12-year-old vs. the new NAS Harmony. Been wanting to try these together, both from pure curiosity and because the Harmony is the apparent replacement for the 12-year-old, which is being discontinued–like too many other fine aged whiskies–to keep up with demand.

Both are blends of malt whiskies and grain whisky from multiple Suntory distilleries, aged in various casks, including, interestingly, ex-plum liqueur casks.

Both are light, golden, honeyed, and beautifully balanced. The word “hibiki” means “harmony” in English, appropriately enough. Both have lovely subtle noses, great delicacy, a kiss of sherry, floral elements, and too short a finish.

What about the differences? It’s very much like comparing Nikka’s Taketsuru 12 and the new Taketsuru NAS side-by-side. In both cases, the 12 is a touch darker, rounder, smokier, and more composed. The NASes are a little brighter and wilder, and in the case of the Hibiki Harmony, there’s an extra candied citrus note and a bit more spice.

Both Hibikis are delicious–for lovers of whiskies lighter side, or as first drams. Don’t try these after you’ve had a Stagg Jr. But do try them. There’s plenty to like in both. Kanpai! – BO

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White Oak Akashi Single Malt Review

Distiller: White Oak. 46% ABV. No age statement. Price: $90.

The Akashi NAS single malt (not to be confused with the Akashi Blended Whisky) is a lovely, Speyside-y malt that combines the White Oak distillery’s 7, 5, and 4 year old malts.

Founded in 1919 by Eigashina Shuz–which makes it Japan’s oldest distillery, beating out Yamazaki by four years–the White Oak distillery is in operation for only one month a year, which leads to their combining various vintages to produce bottlings like this one.

Would that more no-age-statement whiskies were this good. The nose leads with honey and orchard fruit, followed by a palate that has more honey, then oak, pear, and ginger. The finish is spicier than I would have expected for a young NAS, and longer.

Unlike the Askashi Blended Whisky, which is both underpowered and underflavored at 40% ABV, the Akashi Single Malt is solid and satisfying. All in all, a damn fine drink. Cheers, friends! – TM

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Bruichladdich Scottish Barley ‘Classic Laddie’ Review

Distiller: Bruichladdich. 50% ABV. No age statement. Region: Islay. Price: $50-60.

Couldn’t have more respect for Bruichladdich, but the Scottish Barley “Classic Laddie” does not show the distillery at its best.

The name recalls the much-loved Laddie 10 it replaced–a modern classic if there ever was one, and an amazing deal while it lasted–but the comparison does the current offering no favors.

Very dry nose, with barley and wet hay. The palate is medicinal, with iodine and band aid notes that mimic the entry of certain heavily peated Islays such as Laphroaig or Bruichladdich’s own Octomore, but the Classic Laddie is unpeated, leaving you with just enough of a reminder of the familiar Bruichladdich malt to leave you yearning for their better offerings. Long sourish finish. Water and time do little to sweeten the deal.

Sad to say, but my advice is to give this one a miss. Incidentally, if you’re anywhere near Greece, I’ve heard rumors the Laddie 10 is still on the shelves there. Maybe time to plan a trip? – BO

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