Come the morning of the Osaka Whisky Festival, July 15, I was like a big kid full of excitement, who didn’t sleep well the night before, due to the overwhelming anticipation. The official kick-off was scheduled for 11:00am, but like me, many eager people were at the hall at 10:30am, all waiting in line, all beaming with smiles, like kids waiting in a line to buy ice-cream. Perhaps this profound effect was simply due to it being a whisky festival, and the first of its kind in Osaka. Come 10:47am, bagpipes began to bellow to announce the official opening of the event, in which a swarm of people embarked through the doors.
My first impression was that the hall itself was slightly too small and not as big of an event as expected. However, on entering, I realized the place certainly did the job for the array of people that came at various intervals throughout the day. Booths from all the big guns, including Scotch and Japanese brands were cleverly spread out in a maze like pattern; in general the show was an elaborate smorgasbord to be had. My only complaint of the day, tastings whether charged for or free, were given in those horrible little plastic shot cups. I always thought that the admission fees of such an event include a small tasting glass of some sort? Luckily, some of us had thought to bring our own glasses on the day just in case.
Nikka, Suntory, Kirin, Venture Whisky (Ichiro’s malt), and Shinshu (Mars distillery) were all out in force and had reasonable promise. I was surprised not to see the presence of White Oak (Eigashima) flogging their great efforts of Akashi single malt (especially the reasonably new 14-year-old). Perhaps that’s for another time and place.
It was at the Mars booth I decided to start off the day with my first dram, and boy was I excited when I learnt their recent single cask expressions, which have been talk of the town, were available for tasting. The Mars Komagatake Single Cask Vintage 1989 (23-year-old) Cognac cask was first to touch my lips. Sensational, aromatic with assorted fruit jams, wine gums, and musk stick in play followed by the explosion of high grade spice. Like the 1989 American White Oak Single Cask, it was extremely cheap at 200 yen for what appeared to be a 5ml measure (more if you produced your glass), while the 1985 Sherry Cask (27-year-old) only set patrons back 300 yen, a very small price to pay for such pleasures. Although all three expressions were satisfying, it was the cognac cask that won my vote followed closely by the sherry cask. These guys are doing some great things, their efforts clearly highlight that the distillery is producing quality expressions which will only continue. Their new make (white spirit) available on the day, two in fact, one at 50ppm (phenols/parts per million) and a light new make at 3ppm was divine. I’m looking forward to the future of the Mars distillery.
To be continued...