Back to the roots of Japanese whisky: the blend.
Today let's discover two beautiful productions from HOMBO SHUZO and its famous MARS distillates.
The YA#1 and The YA#2. But don't worry, I'll explain it all to you.
First of all, you certainly know if you are used to reading me, I love to bore you with some notions of history and a little reminder is in order.
The HOMBO SHUZO group (founded in 1872) produces various productions including shochu (Japanese liqueur), but especially whisky since 1949.
Real malt production really began under the control of Kiichiro Iwai (former disciple of a certain Taketsuru anyway) in Yamanashi in the Chuo region (in the center of the archipelago) in 1960. However, a few years later, wine production took over and whiskey production was moved to Shinshu-Komagatake, then closed!
Tenacious, the group insisted and, in the 1970s, opened a new distillery in Kagoshima on the island of Kyushu in the tropical south of the archipelago this time. The result is the same: closure!
Don't you know Japanese stubbornness? 10 years later, he created the Shinshu-Komagatake distillery in the Nagano region in the heart of the Japanese Alps. This shot seemed to be the right one and in 1985 the production was there and its quality seemed up to par.
On the other hand, as fate seems to persist, Japanese whisky suffers a crisis and sales do not follow. The distillery closed in 1992.
But the crisis is not definitive and Japanese whiskys are regaining consumer taste.
Put on hold, the Shinshu distillery has been producing again since 2011. For the record, in 2014, its two historic stills (created by Kiichiro Iwai) were retired in favor of two new ones made in Japan. If you are lucky enough to go to the Japanese Alps, you can see them in the middle of the distillery courtyard (the highest in Japan) and especially its Komagatake single malt..
This is the story of the group’s first distillery. But since 2016, a second distillery has been opened: TSUNIKI
As we have seen, the HOMBO SHUZO group is tenacious and likes to take on challenges. Also, he decided to set up his new distillery on the very site where the adventure failed in the 1970s: Kagoshima.
Above all, it is here that a large part of the adventure was launched because on the site is the family home of the original creator (I suggest you go and enjoy tasting the TSUNUKI Single Malt Edition 2022 to find out more more).
Tsunuki is thus the southernmost distillery in the Japanese archipelago. We are located on the island of Kyūshū next to the town of Kaseda, on the Satsuma peninsula. We are in the middle of lush forests and along the river which carries pure water from the Choya and Mount Kurata mountains and which is used to create its distillate which is located.
That's it for the dates. They are important because the blends that I am going to talk to you about today are the result of their blending (with different proportions and aging of course but we will come back to that).
The objective of YA distillates being to highlight the quintessence of the know-how of the HOMBO SHUZO group, a third element must be integrated here: the aging cellar.
The group has several available, but the one that it decided to highlight is located on the island of Yaku-shima, the tear of Japan located in the south of the archipelago: the Yakushima Aging (if you follow the YA it speaks to you NOW ?)
His particuliarity ? It is located not far from lush forests populated by cedars more than a thousand years old (some are even 7000 years old) and above all in a tropical climate with an average humidity level of 75% and 300 days of rain per year (some even say that it rains 35 days a month).
In other words, a paradise for the angels but a plague for the stock manager!!
Here we are, the elements are there:
- 2 distilleries with two different distillates: The Shinshu distillery (and its Komagatake) which produces unpeated whisky (but sometimes makes peated), and Tsunuki is a distillery that produces peated whisky (but sometimes makes unpeated). You are now informed!
- 1 Yakushima aging cellar which mainly contains 80% bourbon barrels and 20% sherry barrels (it is also said that there are Japanese wooden barrels or barrels from Portugal lurking in the bottom of the cellar but don't repeat it it's a secret).
The first YA distillate which was offered by Mars is intended to be very lightly peated (so more Komagatake) and has been aged in bourbon and sherry barrels. It still has 52% ABV. It has a deep gold, very slightly amber color.
The nose is very fruity with soft notes of pineapple and juicy oranges.
We then detect notes of vanilla and candy sugar all with a very finely spicy touch.
The peat is really very discreet and shows a very slightly iodized side and above all hidden behind the fruity notes.
If you slip some distillate into the palm of your hand, it will not be smoky notes that will emerge but orange notes.
In the mouth it remains soft and sweet. Then, it refreshes with the small hint of peat and dries up with certainly a sherry effect, but overall remains with sweet and fruity notes.
While a few spices tickle the tongue, it has a very soft and dense side on the pineapple which almost makes us think of the waterlogged moss which doest the ground in the thousand-year-old forest just behind the winery.
On the way down, it brings back a hint of peaty and iodized but returns to fruit and a slightly woody side.
The empty glass remains frozen on a mixture of barley, strawberries and peanuts. On the other hand, it will be he who will reveal the most of the peat of YA #1.
On the nose, at first pass it is also very fruity, with notes of sun-drenched orchard fruits and flambéed banana.
It is during the second pass that it will reveal its peat with a background of cold smoke, rather marine. We can also detect spices there which awaken the eyelashes of the nose.
On the third pass, the peat smoke thickens and takes on the appearance of vanilla crème caramel.
Confirmation of the presence of more marked peat is validated by the palm of the hand. The distillate delivers clearly smokier notes.
In the mouth, it is also soft with a plum taste, but it reveals iodized notes more quickly. With more pronounced spices than the previous one (notes of pepper) it will be more lively. It then leaves with honeyed notes. It is at the end that the impression of peat smoke slightly brings out an iodized freshness.
On the way down, it leaves a more velvety side in the mouth and seems a little less persistent than its predecessor. On the other hand, it releases more marked peaty notes.
The empty glass will also retain notes of smoke but really more marked than #1 and peppery notes.
Overall, whether we position ourselves on #1 or #2 we remain in a world of softness and voluptuousness. Of course when our name is PEATDREAM we have a slight penchant for the second, but we won't mind diving back into the first! Come to La Maison du Whisky or your favorite wine merchant!
I strongly say The YA #3 which may or may not be peaty!!
If you are curious I suggest you take a look at the official website of the Honbo sake brewery (hombo.co.jp) or take a look at the little video right there!!