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Whisky Reviews

Paired Review: #01 & #02 Mars The Y.A. Blended Malt Japanese Whisky, Yakushima Aging Cellar

 

  

While Komagatake single malt made at Mars Shinshu Distillery exhibit more subtlety and elegance, the single malts matured at Mars Tsunuki Distillery exhibit a heavier, more robust profile, with intensified wood influence and a richer flavour palette.

This isn't mere happenstance. Over the decades, Hombo Shuzo, the parent company of Mars Whisky deliberately built its distilleries in different maturation environments, sat back, and monitored how its spirits matured into single malts with distinct regional character.

Yet, another one of Mars Whisky's significant projects that underscored the importance of climate to Mars was the Yakushima Aging” project (or Y.A. Project). The company built an aging warehouse on Yakushima, a subtropical and heavily forested island situated about 60 km south-southwest of mainland of Kagoshima. 

 

 

This island is designed by the United Nations as a World Natural Heritage site due to its exceptional natural beauty and ecological significance. In particular, the island is renowned for its ancient cedar forests, some of which contain trees that are over a thousand years old.

It is also home to unique animal species, many of which are endemic to the island, such as the Yakushima snow monkey and Yaku deer that are only found on the island. Think of them as rare Pokémon that cannot be found elsewhere in the world. No bringing them home though!
 
 
Puzzlingly, Yakushima macaques have been found to repeatedly engage in sexual behaviours with the Yaku deer, for reasons that are not yet clear. Researchers hypothesised that this arose from the monkies riding deer for fun before discovering another function of deer riding. But let's not digress. (Source: NPR)

 

Here, the climate gets even more intense than at Shinshu and Tsunuki. The island sees very mild winters, hot summers and high humidity all throughout the year.

Now, the Yakushima Aging or Y.A. line of blended malt whiskies are blended from both Shinshu and Tsunuki malts, that are then shipped off and aged in the humid subtropical climate of Yakushima.

The Y.A. line is intended to showcase the unique influence of the island's humid subtropical climate on whisky aging, This method is believed to intensify the cask's interaction with the whisky, allowing it to develop a more intensely flavoured profile with a unique maritime, sea salt notes due to the proximity to the sea.

 

Yakushima is a world heritage site near Kagoshima with a humid subtropical climate. (Image Source: New York Times)

 

As a side note, I'm slightly puzzled by the name of this series because because it’s a bit unclear to English speakers how you’re supposed to call for it when you order it at a whisky bar.

The first Y.A. expression (Y.A. #01) was released last year - that would be the label with the mosaic of yellow and orange colours, while the second expression (Y.A. #02) has just been released this year.

We'll be doing a side-by-side review and comparison of them.  

Mars The Y.A. Blended Malt Japanese Whisky #01, 52% ABV – Review

 

Tasting Notes

Nose: Fruity with quite a bit going on. It starts off quite punchy and prickly - ginger candy, supported by honey, orange blossoms, and more orchard fruits of apricots, mandarins, cooked peaches, yuzu, red apples, with a backdrop of vanilla cream, clove and pepper spices, and also some bread-y notes, with hints of banana candy too. There’s a little bit of chocolate, mulled wine and clove as well.

Quite the classic honey and fruits profile with a side note of Christmas-y flavours. 

Palate: Complex and quite flavourful. More of that orange blossoms, orange marmalade, lots of honey, with a sprinkle of white pepper, there’re some bits of dried pineapple and apple, with a layer of camphor or tea smoke which comes off as being somewhat leafy. It’s also quite umami and a little reminiscent of tea-smoked duck with orange sauce, a bit briny, meaty and medicinal.

Finish: Clean and fairly short. Spiced honey, caramel custard, here it’s a little sweeter and brighter, but with some cold smoke and bitterness of wood tannins.

 

My Thoughts:

This was quite an interesting expression and definitely covers a wide spectrum of the flavour palette, with a lot of complexity to offer. Yet at the same time, it does start off rather punchy and prickly, with the flavours of the palate going in slightly different directions. There’re lots to unpack but at the same time it can at times feel like a mash up of multiple wildly different profiles.

This is definitely worth giving a shot, in which case, some time for the whisky to open up is key here. At the same time, opinions could be quite varied - you either enjoy it or dislike it all together. If you’re big into funky Jamaican rums you might enjoy this alot more than you’d think! Definitely quite a departure from your standard whisky that’s for sure.

This is part Komagatake, part Tsunuki, but a whole different beast altogether.

Rating: 6.5/10

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.

Mars The Y.A. Blended Malt Japanese Whisky #02, 49% ABV – Review

 

 

Tasting Notes

Nose: Super smooth and approachable with its mellowness. A subtle sweetness from honey, complemented by some vanilla cream and sugary candy floss, with just a hint of incense.

Palate: Somewhat thick, yet the flavours are very mellow and light. The palate gently unfolds, revealing vanilla, crème brûlée, fresh green melons. As it develops, there's a gradual shift towards a grassy bitterness.

Finish: Relatively short and subtle. Honey, vanilla cream reappear, though it leans towards a more herbaceous quality complemented by cold ash and a touch of dry oak.

 

My Thoughts:

This is surprisingly subtle and mellow, and highly approachable. While it doesn't really have the same complexity of the #01 expression, it’s subtle, mellow and very clean, which has its own appeal.

For all that has been said about the influence of the hotter and more humid Yakushima climate, those influences seem to be quite understated here. I can’t quite find the expected fruitiness or maritime notes I was told to expect in it. The flavours are somewhat shy and take time to emerge.

In terms of easy drinking, being light on the spices and being clean-tasting, though, it excels as a blended malt whisky. This is one for people who prefer a much more delicate and clean spirit. It would also be an excellent choice for food pairing or crafting complex cocktails, thanks to its unobtrusive character.

Rating: 6/10 

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.

Afterword

My preference leans towards Y.A. #01. This expression stands out for it complexity, offering a more complex and more flavourful profile. The thickness and punchiness also makes it more engaging and challenging. 

But I'm also really taken aback at the stark contrast presented by the Y.A. #02. It’s much more mellow and smooth, with a subtlety and approachability that would appeal to many, but could be perceived as shyness in flavour. This also makes it seem that it doesn't quite capture the distinctive impact of Yakushima's climate as well as the Y.A. #01 does. This doesn't detract from the fact that it has great cohesiveness and a more well-integrated character, making it a good choice for those who seek a more refined and gentle whisky experience. 

While both expressions bring something to the table, in my opinion, it is the Y.A. #01 that seems to better encapsulate the spirit and the environmental impact of the Yakushima aging process. 

@CharsiuCharlie