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Whisky Reviews

Mars Komagatake Single Malt (Mars Shinshu Distillery) 2023 Edition, 50% ABV



Nestled within the central Japanese Alps is Mount Komagatake, also known as Kiso Komagatake. The stratovolcano is the tallest peak within its mountain range, with an elevation of close to 3,000 metre. And like many of the tallest mountains in Japan, it holds cultural significance in local folklore and custom, with some believing the mountain to be the abode of powerful deities. It has long been a site for ascetic religious practices and Shinto rites. Practitioners are known to embark on spiritual journeys across these mountains, seeing these treks as paths to spiritual growth and enlightenment.

It is in this realm of high altitude and cool climate that Mars Whisky found the name and inspiration for its flagship Komagatake single malt whisky. The whisky is made at Mars Shinshu Distillery which is situated near the mountain range.

Perched at an altitude of about 800 meters, Shinshu is amongst the highest distilleries in Japan and enjoys a cool, temperate climate of around 8°C on an average through the year, with winter temperatures dropping to as low as -15°C. This cooler climate slows down the whisky's maturation process, believed to lead to a lighter, more refined single malt.



A few days ago, I sat in with Jeremiah, the bar owner of Samsu Huay Kuan, for an insightful guided tasting and masterclass of Mars’s latest range of whiskies. Conducting the tasting session was brand representative Hiroki Nakamura from Hombo Shuzo Mars, who is supported by Joseph from Barworks, the Singaporean distributor for Mars Whisky.

During this session, I got to taste the Komagatake 2023 Edition that was only just released.

According to Hiroki-san, Mars has been working to bring its Komagatake single malt in the direction of a whisky with a smoother, more delicate character. While past editions were made with just ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, the latest edition added Port wine casks to the mix.

Let’s see how this is. 

Mars Komagatake Single Malt (Mars Shinshu Distillery) 2023 Edition, 50% ABV – Review


Tasting Notes

Nose: Approachable and refined, with a very delightful perfumy quality. Very prominent caramel notes, complemented by a burst of fresh apple, pomelo and perfumed lemony scents. There’s a subtle maltiness anchoring the aroma, and most interestingly a slightly salty soy sauce note that adds some umami and depth.

Palate: Very flavourful and very approachable. Opens with caramel and stewed apples turning towards a sweet and mild tang of acai berries. In the background a bit of maltiness, baked pastry, vanilla and cream.

This is notably smoother than the 2020 edition I’ve tried above, with much less heat and a gentler expression of spices.

Finish: Medium length. A combination of cool mint and caramel once again, with an added sweet liquorice note reminiscent of Hacks candy and Chinese herbal jelly. Smooth tannins emerge right at the end with a light leathery note, black tea, dry oakiness, and a subtle hint of aromatic smoke.


My Thoughts:

The 2023 edition of Mars Komagatake does stand out for its exceptional smoothness. This is arguably the most approachable in the series so far – and it seems that the use of Port casks this time around must have made a difference. It also demonstrates a more cohesive blend of flavours than its predecessors.

On the other hand, while it does remain broadly faithful to the classic Komagatake profile with its orchard fruit character, it seems to me that in pursuit of smoothness, there's a noticeable reduction in complexity and dimensionality compared to earlier expressions. A toned-down spiciness would appeal to many drinkers. Personally though, I’m completely fine with a bit more boldness in whisky. This Komagatake edition is great, but to me it appears to lean towards a safer, more predictable experience.

Rating: 7.5/10

Score/Rating Scale :

  • 9-10 : Exceptional, highly memorable, 10/10 would buy if I could.
  • 7-8 : Excellent, well above most in its category, worth considering buy-zone.
  • 4-6 : Good, okay, alright; a few flaws, but acceptable; not bad, but not my personal preference; still worth trying, could be a buy if the price is right.
  • 1-3 : Not good; really did not enjoy; wouldn't even recommend trying.
  • 0 : Un-scored, might be damaged, new make, or very unusual.