Hombo Mars have finally announced the release of the first single malt whisky produced at their Tsunuki distillery – Mars Tsunuki The First.
Tsunuki is the newest of Mars distilleries, built in 2016. Until now no Tsunuki single malt has been released, but you may have seen the name appear on some whiskies distilled at Mars’ other distillery, Shinshu. That’s because the Tsunuki cellars have been used to age Shinshu whisky on a number of occasions, but now, we’ve finally got a first Tsunuki single malt to explore, and it’s just as good as we’d hoped.
Kagoshima To Yamanashi And Back Again
The Hombo Shuzo Co, the owners of Mars Whisky, have been producing spirit in Japan since way back in 1872, when they specialised in making shochu and plum wine. It wasn’t until 1949 that they gained a license to produce whisky at their Kagoshima plant, but even then, they only used it to produce blends from whisky sourced elsewhere.
Another decade would pass before they started to make their own whisky, however, they chose to do that at a new plant in Yamanashi. Kiichiro Iwai, an advisor at Mars who had been the great Masataka Taketsuru’s supervisor at Setsu, built the distillery armed with Taketsuru’s famed notebook, allowing him to incorporate many of the techniques and skills that the “Father of Japanese Whisky” had picked up throughout the years.
Despite successfully building the distillery and producing their own whisky, things weren’t to be for Mars in Yamanashi. The market simply wasn’t ripe for whisky, with Shochu dominating spirits sales around the country, and so in 1969 they stopped production. The plant is still there today and is used for wine production, but whisky is longer distilled there.
Not quite ready to throw in the towel, Mars tried again in 1981, this time back in their home of Kagoshima. This attempt lasted just 3 years, before it was closed down in 1984, with operations being moved to the newly built Shinshu distillery, located in the Nagano prefecture. Shinshu operated uninterrupted until 1992, but yet again, demand for Japanese whisky was simply not there and so they could no longer continue production.
Despite closing the doors, Mars were still not ready to give up on whisky production and, after the Japanese whisky boom of the early 2000s, production was started up again in 2011. Since then Shinshu has produced some incredibly impressive expressions, mostly sold under the Mars Komagatake label, a couple of which have even won World Whiskies Awards.
In 2016, after getting a taste of success at Shinshu, Mars decided that the time was right to go back to their roots, and so they opened the Tsunuki distillery in Kagoshima.
Tsunuki The First
Until now, Tsunuki was yet to release their first single malt whisky and the hype and excitement has been building. Thankfully, the brand new Tsunuki The First does not disappoint.
Distilled in 2016/17, this superb expression was then laid to mature in bourbon barrels. The distillery workers would have tasted the whisky along every step of the way before deciding that they had it just right for bottling in 2020.
It comes in at 59% ABV and brings citrus fruits, vanilla and fresh bread on the nose, followed by more sweet fruits, grassy notes and gentle spices on the palate. The finish is of medium length with a soft sweetness and cracked black pepper.
It’s a truly memorable and exciting new whisky that highlights the expertise and knowledge of those working at Mars, though with them having so much experience in the industry that’s hardly surprising.
The First kicks off the Mars whisky range in style and given it is literally ‘the first’ whisky from the distillery, we expect a lot more to come from them in the coming weeks,months and years, as they look to carve out their own portion of the Japanese whisky market.
Will they manage to become as successful as Shinshu? We’ll just have to wait and see, but more distilleries producing good quality Japanese expressions is surely a fantastic thing for both the industry and whisky-lovers everywhere.
To be one of the first (no pun intended) to get your hands on the outstanding Mars Tsunuki The First, simply order online today and we’ll deliver direct to your door. Worldwide delivery is available, so no one has to miss out!
Bottles begin shipping in the first week of May.