It's clear the people behind the Whisky Festival in Tokyo - that would be Mamoru Tsuchiya and his Scotch Whisky Research Centre - are doing something right. More and more people seem to find their way to the festival every year, and while many of the same whisky makers and retailers show up year after year (but - I hasten to add - always with new and interesting products), there are always a few whisky producers making their debut. The surprise of the day for me was Box Whisky, a Swedish distillery I'd heard a lot about but not seen or tasted any whiskies from. Of the three different cask styles available at the festival (ex-bourbon, ex-sherry and Hungarian oak - and each of these had a peated and a non-peated expression), I thought the Hungarian non-peated oak expression showed incredible promise. It was only a few months old, but I can easily imagine what a beauty this will be a few years down the line.
I was happy to see the wonderful people from Mars distillery again. They had brought their 3rd "New Pot" release (which will be available from tomorrow). Last year, they'd put out 2 "New Pot" bottles, to show people what they'd been doing since they re-fired the stills after a 19-year hiatus: those two were lightly-peated (7.9 ppm) and heavily-peated (19 ppm) respectively. This year's offering is a really-heavily-peated one (50 ppm) and just like the other ones, it was distilled in the winter (i.e. the first months of the year) and then kept in a stainless steel tank for 9 months, so it really is "new pot" and not matured new-make spirit. If you're not into that kind of stuff (whisky-in-progress, or whatever you want to call it), reconsider now! This heavily-peated new pot spirit is of such an incredible elegance that I'd buy up the entire stock in the blink of an eye - if they'd let me... which they won't, because there's not much to go around. They produced only about 1,800 liters of this 50 ppm spirit this year (just 3 batches) - and put most of it in American white oak ex-bourbon barrels, some of it in virgin oak (which I predict will work very well!), a bit in a port pipe (an experiment of sorts) and the rest in 1099 little 200ml bottles, and that's what you can try now! The idea with these little 200 ml bottles of new pot spirit is to give the consumer the chance to keep "monitoring" the progress. Each type will get a follow-up when the whisky reaches 3 years, and then more later, so don't finish everything... or buy a few of these little bottles, because this is really a unique chance to see how distillery character and wood influence change over time. If you're a fan of Mars distillery's older output (i.e. the pre-hiatus casks), start saving up for February. The master distiller and his team are currently choosing some new single casks to be bottled soon: one has already been selected and there may be one that will surprise more than a few people, so watch this space. They also had a new bottling for the local market - for people to take home as souvenirs - which isn't really a new bottling, as it is basically the same as their "7&3" blend. It's reassuring to see they're pretty busy up there in Nagano.