Mars Iwai Traditional Blended Whisky 40%

At various international airports, I’ve spotted Iwai Traditional and its cousin Mars Maltage “Cosmo” a few times… And not to scoff at reasonably priced blends, it just never quite made it into the final “cut” to come into Mumbai, India.

Which is why it was a welcome appetizer at a recent Whisky LadiesContributor’s Choice” evening…

Photo: Nikoulina Berg

Mars Iwai Traditional Blended Whisky 40%

  • Nose – Very sweet, banana, caramel, candied green apple, raisins, a bit dusty, soaked fruit. However rather than opening up to reveal more, as it aired took on an almost ‘flat’ quality, settling into a sweet rum or apple juice
  • Palate – Clearly quite a bit of grain in the blend, pineapple rum cake, cardboard, no body at all, came across as a bit raw and young, a slight hint of charcoal peat
  • Finish – Bit of a spice burn and that’s it
  • Water – Not quite sure why but it was attempted. Just don’t. All it does is bring out sharp alcohol and adds nothing to the equation

Now our Whisky Ladies are accustomed to higher strength drams, so it is no surprise several remarked that this seemed to be quite “watered down.”

We expected a pleasant appetizer whisky like Akashi Red Blended Whisky which we had dubbed the “apple cider” whisky. Yet somehow that had no pretence of being more and hence was somehow more enjoyable in its uncomplicated way.

What do we know about this whisky? Not much… except that it is apparently a blend of sherry, bourbon and wine casks with a bit of peat. Alas, I could not track down official tasting notes in English…

The Mars Hombo company is not new to the spirits industry and added whisky to their repertoire in 1949. In 1985, they opened their Shinshu distillery – producing whisky under the Mars label. This distillery at Shinshu, Kuyshu Island, Nagano Prefecture is thought to be the highest in Japan (even more so than Hakushu). More recently, the company is opening a new distillery in Kagoshima, Tsunuki.

What else did we sample in our “Contributor’s Choice” evening?

Interested in reading about more Japanese whiskies tasting notes? Check out the Asia Whiskies page.

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Whisky Ladies Contributor’s Choice – Mars Iwai, Glenrothes, Glenmorangie, Bunnahabhain

You would think having one Whisky Ladies session in January would be sufficient… and we certainly had a merry evening combined with the gents to explore Douglas Laing blends with a bonus!

However we decided to skip our February session in favour of a late January one to welcome back for an evening a member who now resides in the US.

We went completely random in whisky choices… only knowing who would be bringing a contribution… nothing else.

So what did we sample in our “Contributor’s Choice” evening?

Photo: Rashmi Dhawani

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“Super Nikka Whisky”

After spending time exploring the Nikka “From the Barrel” at our Whisky Ladies “Diwali Drams” evening, we compared it with a revival of an earlier incarnation of their standard “Super Nikka Whisky”.

What did our Whisky Ladies think?

Super Nikka Revival Whisky 43% (Limited Edition for Europe, 2015)

  • Nose – Candy floss, that Hallowe’en candy corn of brightly coloured kernels of yellow, orange and white tips, caramel nuttiness, a sweet almond paste, cola that has gone flat, then from somewhere an unlit charcoal, slightly musty, a hint of chocolate? A dash of pine?
  • Palate – Deceptively sweet, well rounded, light smoke to counter balance the sweet, was there a hint of sea salt too? Regardless of the different elements, they all merged together harmoniously
  • Finish – Lovely finish, cinnamon sweet though a bit abrupt – here then gone.
  • Water – Interestingly, this is the one we tried with water… it nicely reduces the sweetness, adds a dash of spice like a spice guava, making it overall even more enjoyable

And what do the folks over at Nikka have to say about Super Nikka?

One of Nikka’s classic brands, the Super Nikka was introduced to the market in 1962. Its luxuriant aroma, gentle hints of peat and scent of vanilla and chocolate are all in harmony, and its flavor is smooth, rounded and well-balanced.

Believe it or not, a fellow whisky aficionado in Mumbai has one of the original’s from the 1960s… I’m sensing we just may need to track down one of the ‘new’ avatars and do a comparison one of these days…

And the results of our “head to head”?

The Nikka Super Whisky was the most popular – for its sociable character in keeping with the mood of the evening. And yet there is no doubt the “From the Barrel” is a fine dram that demands attention.

And yes… I was caught blathering on about context being everything in choice… whisky preferences for me, at least, are highly mood, setting and company dependent. What I love in one context I may not care for in another and vis-a-versa. But that is another tale for another day…

The “Super Nikka” we sampled had recently been opened and tasted at our October 2017 Mumbai session, last seen on Master of Malt for $55 (sold out).

Whiskies sampled in our Diwali Drams evening included:

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Nikka’s “From the Barrel”

Last in the Whisky Ladies “Diwali Drams” evening was a “head to head” comparison between two Nikka blends – their cask strength “From the Barrel” and a revival of an earlier incarnation of their standard “Super Nikka Whisky”.

Most would know that Nikka, the company, uses “Nikka” as the brand name for their range of whisky blends which are either:

Both our whiskies fall into the “blend” category… What did our Whisky Ladies think?

Nikka From the Barrel 51.4%

  • Nose – Coconut, like sweet honey nectar, fruits like pears, a bit of acetone, then coriander (or cilantro or… there was a debate on the different varieties!). After a sip, the nose gained some oil and nuts, then shifted into marshmallow and candied nuts.
  • Palate – We found it was like melted caramel, dense and buttery like a maple butter tart, some sweet raisins too… quite thick on the palate
  • Finish – Last and last and lasts.

Some absolutely loved it! Appreciating how it is bursting with character, a complex drink, one where a little goes a long way.

Words like “Fabulous!” and “Mmmm” could be heard. The finish in particular was described as a “Fabulous, fantastic finish!” And exclaims of how well it could pair with certain food too.

And yet for some, this was almost too much… in its sweet aromas, its dense concentration of flavours and long finish.

What do the folks at Nikka have to say about “From the Barrel”?

This is a blend of multiple types of malt and grain that Nikka reserves. Nikka From the Barrel was created to deliver full flavors and richness of whisky “from barrels” which only blenders can sniff and taste. As the whisky contains so many characteristic components at a higher alcohol of 51.4%, it is essential to let the liquid “marriage” in used casks for 3-6 months for it to stabilize and harmonize. The concept of the unique short squared bottle is “a small lump of whisky”, which perfectly visualizes the rich and strong taste of the whisky inside.

PS – There may be added colour i.e. caramel.

So then how did it stack up against the “Super Nikka”? Read on soon….

The Nikka “From the Barrel” is a 50 cl bottle, sometimes found in duty free for around $50-75 and was opened during our session.

Whiskies sampled in our Diwali Drams evening included:

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Diwali Drams – Hakushu NAS 43%

First up in the Whisky LadiesDiwali Drams” evening was the once elusive Hakushu… part of Suntory’s trio of distilleries:

Of the Suntory stable of whiskies, the Hakushu 18 year was an early favourite of mine… however as the price tag rose and availability plummeted, my attentions wandered in other directions. Since then Hakushu launched this NAS and one can sometimes also find the Hakushu 12 year – including at another Diwali party in Mumbai!

But on to the Whisky Ladies experience…

Hakushu NAS 40% – Distiller’s Reserve

  • Nose – Apples, pears, peach schnapps, honey, very refreshing with a ‘happy whisky’ character, settled into a delicious apple sauce, then basil, then shifted to caramel apple
  • Palate – Light peat, fennel and aniseed, again that cooked apple with a dash of cinnamon, toasted pine nuts, light tingle of citrus orange peel. Interestingly, all the fresh green fruits dancing on the nose initially could not be discerned on the palate… as it opened up further, the green apple just kept returning, with a hint of green tea
  • Finish – Light yet long finish, with a peak of pepper becoming sweetly spicy at the end

To be honest, there was a mix of responses… Some found it eminently drinkable but a bit “flat”… Some enjoyed the apple and light peat whereas for others… Let’s just say that they remained a bit indifferent. 

However, even those who were initially not terribly impressed, found that as they kept sipping, it somehow subtly wooed one over, one sip at a time.

Overall we concluded it has a nice interplay between hint of peat, lovely freshness on the nose and very light on the palate. Nothing to challenge you, but nothing to distress you either. Quite the opposite, it is quite a decent dram if you set aside any expectations in line with its exquisite age-statement avatars of old.

Those who are curious to compare tasting experiences, another Mumbai tasting group sampled the Hakushu NAS 43% in January 2017 as the start of an “East to West” themed evening.

This whisky was purchased from Frankfurt airport for around £45, tasted from a closed bottle in October 2017, Mumbai.

Whiskies sampled in our Diwali Drams evening included:

PS – By the end of the evening a Yamazaki also entered the fray… so in truth, we had three sets of “competitions” going… with a tremendous range of preferences – as it should be!

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Whisky Ladies Diwali Drams from Japan + Bhutan

Gathering bedecked in their colourful finery, the Whisky Ladies came together to enjoy some interesting Diwali Drams… specifically from Japan and Bhutan.

And while we didn’t gamble at cards, we did pit together different whiskies to see which prevailed!

What all did we sample as part of our Diwali celebrations?

Whisky Ladies Drams (Photo: Nikoulina Berg)

Just click on the whisky links above to read more about what we discovered…

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A perfect partner… Suntory’s Toki 43%

After our rather interesting evening exploring Rampur from India, Royal Lochnagar 12 year and the remarkable aged grain Girvan 28 year…. we had an opportunity to pick anything from our hosts floor to ceiling whisky cupboard…

My eye spied Suntory’s Toki… like Hibiki,Toki is made from Yamazaki, Hakushu and Chita.

Suntory’s Toki 43%

  • Nose – Cheese, lemon miringue pie, light peaches or crisp apples, simple
  • Palate – Exceedingly smooth, very drinkable, think custard, hint of ginger, light citrus, fresh and clean
  • Finish – Short, sweet, a little spicy, simple yet pleasing

Our immediate reaction is this would pair well with a cheese and fruit platter – think a nice range of old cheddar and applies. Or desert – something light not heavy. Or even an arugula salad with blue cheese and caramel walnuts.

I brought the glass with us for the dinner… our desert was a baked lagan nu custard. And the Toki paired with it? perfection! Just the right interplay between the different elements and an ideal way to close the evening.

Here’s what the folks at Suntory have to say:

  • Color – clear gold
  • Nose – basil, green apple, honey
  • Palate – grapefruit, green grapes, peppermint, thyme
  • Finish – subtly sweet and spicy finish with a hint of vanilla oak,
    white pepper and ginger

Also from our evening:

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What a range! Rampur, Royal Lochnagar, Girvan 28 year

What a range! From Rampur, Uttar Pradesh to nearby Balmoral Castle to a unique aged grain Girvan, our original Mumbai tasting group had quite the June session.

Here is what we we explored:

Our main sampling was followed with a bonus…

Just click on the links above to read more…

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Whisky Archives – Cracking open the cabinet…

Another from the tasting archives… this time from Sept 2011. Rediscovering these notes brought a flood memories of my previous Mumbai flat… that had a fabulous cabinet in which all my whisky was stashed… now replaced in our current home by a larger storage space waaaaay up high in our kitchen pantry.

We broke with tradition and merrily abandoned all pretense of blind tastings… instead settled down for a sampling of various bottles. It became a  popularity contest between different regions and geographies as small pegs of multiple whiskies were sniffed, swirled, swallowed, savoured and yes – much discussed!

Samplings from earlier sessions - all quaffed at one occasion!

Speyside‘s dominated the evening with:

  • Aberlour’s cask strength Abu’nadh batch 32 (sampled earlier) and batch 31 were compared. Batch 31 was a clear winner and a hit of the evening! Bold yet with an extraordinary warm finish… with layers to discover and enjoy.
  • Aberlour 10 year held its own with slight smokiness and butter, however was overshadowed by it’s cask strength cousin.
  • Cragganmore 12 year was softer on the palate and a nice contrast to the Abelours
  • Glenrothes 12 year (also sampled earlier) gained appreciation for its smooth fruity aroma, sherry note and oak, medium slightly spicy finish.

Islay‘s were represented by a few familiar friends:

  • Bunnahabhain 12 year 40% is a regular favourite with several folks
  • Caol Ila is also well-known and after the last drop of one bottle was polished off, another was opened… Need one say more?
  • Lagavulin 16 year was also a familiar friend but neglected with all the other options…

Highland

  • Dalwhinnie from the highest distillery in Scotland was a delightful gentler ‘everyday’ favourite

Japan

  • Suntory’s Hakushu 18 year…. In a class of its own with hints of forest, moss, nuanced, with a divine finish – simply exquisite. It remains one of my favourites!

Canada

  • Crown Royal from Gimli, Manitoba (my home province) certainly added a different element with rye, however alas outclassed by single malt companions

Naturally what’s expressed here is only one interpretation based on snippets of conversation and personal bias. Would love to hear others opinions on any of these whiskies…

Slainthe!

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Ladies Choice – Appetizer whisky aka Akashi Blended Whisky 40%

First up in our “Ladies Choice” evening where the Whisky Ladies hosted the Bombay Malt & Cigar gentlemen, was a whisky we introduced as an ‘appetizer’ to the main meal… the Akashi from Japan.

Photo: Team Table

Photo: Team Table

And our 1st guest writer is a newer member of the Whisky Ladies of Mumbai, Nikoulina Berg.

Niko knows her stuff. Experienced in the F&B industry with a career that has spanned Germany, US, Spain, China, Singapore and now India, Niko has a certain flare for food and fine spirit and wines.

Currently based in Mumbai with The Table & Magazine Street Kitchen as Vice President Operations of Food Matters, she has a hand in crafting special evenings of food and fellowship.

She immediately fit into the Whisky Ladies – in her inaugural session she just so ‘happened to have’ a Bavarian whisky (Slyrs) to augment our European whisky evening

Here is what she has to say about the Akashi Blended Whisky 40% (also sometimes referred to as Akashi Red for the red stamp on its label).

  • Colour: Pale, Light gold
  • Aroma: Sweet, Cereals, Honey
  • Palate: Mellow and very light body – everything but harsh – sweet on the palate, smooth with a hint of caramel and hazelnut
  • Finish: Leaves you wanting more – more texture, more intensity – almost disappears instantly after a quick hit of spices
  • Water: After adding water it becomes almost sweeter than before and it has a surprisingly longer finish, with hints of marshmallows, pear and pineapple

Most of us have a favorite style of whisk(e)y and it is very easy to dismiss this one after a quick taste – not finding the ‘usual’ intense aromas and tastes with a more complex structure.

Take a second look or sip and it might not be so bad after all.

Turns out this Akashi is a great ‘aperitif’ – not too complicated or intense – it’s simplicity creates an appeal in itself, maybe best described as a ‘table’ whisky.

It pairs well with cheeses, charcuterie, antipasti because it does not overpower them but is rather complementing.

After our tasting with the cigars being lit, the Akashi pretty much turned into the favorite of the night with it’s easy-sipping qualities. Hence, it is not just a decent aperitif, but an evenly good ‘digestif’ or maybe just a very ‘sociable whisky’.

Table for One

Table for One

Here are the ‘official’ notes on Akashi:

Akashi whiskey subtly blends malt and oak. Compared to traditional whiskey, Akashi is easy to drink, with less peat and smoke flavors. The flavor is mild, soft, and retains a strong malt aroma, characteristic of Japanese whiskeys, which are approachable, smooth and soft. It is recommended to add ice and soda water for a more delicate and smooth taste.

• Nose: fresh orange peel, very light smoke, ginger, pepper, honey
• Palate: oily, pepper, sweet cake, citrus fruits, vanilla
• Finish: middle to long, light honey, sweet aftertaste

What else did we sample in our “Ladies Choice” evening for the BMC gentlemen?

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