The Half Dram

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Karuizawa Cask 3692 - 28 Year Old Sherry Butt; 61.6%/1 of 359

My God. I have had a few Karuizawa in the past and they are all above average, if not supremely delicious. But rarely do I sit with a dram and think to myself: “I understand why people pay a small fortune for one of these.” This was one of those whiskies.

I understand why people pay a small fortune for one of these

Note that I bought this at a fraction of the price that it currently sells for online or in auction - because the label was torn. To someone that is collecting only, this bottle would immediately be looked over - a large portion of value is held in aethesitcs, so a torn label is a no-no. However, for those that actually drink their whisky, cosmetic damage = value. And thus, I had no qualms opening up this baby.

However, for those that actually drink their whisky, cosmetic damage = value

I would be remiss to not point out that I am opening this particular bottle to celebrate a major milestone of my life: the birth of my first child, my first daughter - Arya Stark. She is my beautiful baby girl, and I could not have picked a better whisky to honor her creation.

On to the notes!

Nose - Christmas cakes, molasses, sherry, earthen mushrooms, marinated meats. A plethora of notes, all delicious. My mouth was salivating!

9/10 - everything I would expect

Palate - Tobacco, earthy mushrooms, sticky toffee pudding, sherry, sherry, sherry, molasses, chinese herbs (especially the woody bark type), oak spices, very savory with lots of dried red fruit, creamy and oily. At the transition of palate-to-finish, there are notes of balsamic.

10/10 - amazingly complex, no sulphur notes, perfectly oaked, and just the right amount of sherry

Finish - Super duper long, mouth coating, sherry, sticky dates, oaky spice and then 5 minutes later all of that again. A continuous sherry note 5 additional minutes later. After maybe 20 minutes and a re-dram, I noticed a hint of sulphur, but nothing egregious (although it stopped it from being perfect).

9/10

Total: 28/30 - Try this wherever possible! I noticed some tasting notes online that said it was too sulphury, but I disagree.

A relatively unknown distillery in the US, Mars has very few offerings outside of Japan. The notable releases to the US have been the mixer-fodder “Iwai” and the sub-par “Iwai Tradition,” both of which I would recommend staying away from. However, recently the US has gotten some more interesting releases:

  1. Komagatake Nature of Shinshu Rindo, which is a cask strength release (52%) aged in Japanese wine casks, about 3 years old and had 8200 bottles released. In the US this should run you around $180, while in Japan I think I saw this around $80.While I have not tried this one personally, it is a decent value for a young Japanese release, and if you are willing to pay a little more for the Chichibu stuff thats a similar age, I definitely think this is worth a go.
  2. The Lucky Cat - Ash ‘99, which is a blend of whiskies aged in bourbon and sherry casks (at 43%). Only 4300 bottles produced, and has a cute picture of the distilleries cat on it. US pricing was roughly $115, while in Japan I recall seeing this for around $50.
  3. The 30 year old 1986 Komagatake, aged in Mars’s specialty - American White Oak. Limited to 1137 bottles and bottled at cask strength (a hefty 61.0%), this beast is as expensive as it is delicious. K&L here in California is selling this bad boy for $1799, less taxes (I also here there were only ~60 bottles released in the US). In Japan, I was able to pick a bottle up for ~$850. This one, if you ever see it, is worth picking up or at least trying if you can afford it.

While I have only had #3 on the list above, I can tell you from the other Mar’s offerings I have tried that they make some interesting and complex whisky. While not as beautifully put together as some of the Ichiro’s Malt Chichibu releases, the Mars releases have a more raw, unfiltered quality to them that I quite enjoy. If you see any of these bottles lying around, I highly recommend grabbing them.

A (semi-cheap) hidden gem among (really) expensive Japanese whiskies

Also, as a bonus, I was digging around the internet and noticed awhile back Mars released the 2011 Komagatake “The Revival” for around $200, which is one of the first releases from the re-started distillery. This was lightly peated, aged mostly in ex-bourbon barrels and had 6000 bottles released.

And finally, the other earlier Mars US release I could find was the excellent Mars Maltage 3 Plus 25. I have tried this bottle a few times and also own one bottle, and this is up there with the 30 year old 1986 release, aka you should try/buy if you can. I would search around your local whisky stores for this one as this came out before the Yamazaki sherry cask hype so it may be hiding in a dusty shelf! To add to the pedigree of this bottle, it won “world’s best blended malt” at the 2013 WWA (world whisky awards), so you know its got some serious flavor. Its a blend of malts distilled at Mar’s old Kagoshima and Yamanashi distilleries and aged for 3 years, then transferred to their current location in Nagano-prefecture where it was aged for an additional 25 years. This one was sold for $400 in the US, and nowadays sells between $800-1500.

As far as I can tell, these are the only bottles to hit US shores. If you know of any more let me know, and i’ll update this page as the distillery expands its US offerings. Kanpai!