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Issue 92 - There's life on mars

Whisky Magazine Issue 92
December 2010


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There's life on mars

Dave Broom visits on of Japan's least known distilleries which is about to start production again

The late summer sun blazes off the pagoda roofs as I arrive outside Mars, the distillery which can stake a pretty good claim to be Japan's least-known single malt producer. Even though the day is bright there's a crisp edge to the air, an indication that this distillery, nestled tight into mountains that seem covered with crushed green velvet, lies at 800metres in the Japanese Alps, making it the highest in the country.

That accolade doesn't solve any of the mysteries surrounding Mars.

When did it start making whisky?

Why did it stop? Why is it called Mars for goodness sake?

Thankfully all questions are answered by the ever-smiling MD of parent firm Hombo Shochu, Taniguchi-san and, this being Japan and Japanese whiskies a few more layers of intrigue are added for good measure.

I came to find out about one lost whisky distillery and ended up learning about three, all of which give intriguing flashes of an alternative history of Japanese whisky, a story of missed opportunities and plain bad luck..

and also of hope.

Taniguchi-san, it transpires, is the best person to give the true - and slightly convoluted -history of Mars as he was the distiller here, as well as at the whisky distillery which ran, briefly, in Hombo's distillery in Kagoshima.

Hombo first took out a licence to distil whisky (in Kagoshima) in 1949, though for 11 years it simply blended malt and grain from existing producers. In 1960, however, it took the plunge into whisky-making with a purpose built plant...

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