Whiskey Review – Iwai Tradition

Okay, I am making a concerted effort to get some tasting notes posted over the next several weeks, and I have some real motivation to get it done! Why the urgency? Well, some of you already know, but for the rest of you – the Mrs. and I are in the process of moving to Alicante, Spain!  Here’s a photo of where we’re headed! The building with the angled roof is the Mercado Central and the beige building just behind it is where our apartment is located! Pretty cool!

Anyway, I have a number of open bottles that must be finished before we leave because they can’t be shipped. Facing this predicament, what else should I do (besides hold a big party, which we did, and I want to post about soon) than to put up some  reviews as I work through the remaining open bottles! Yes, I know, it’s a difficult, dirty, and dangerous job, but it’s my kind of job!

And given my predilection for verbosity, (of the written sort) in order for me to get through these reviews with greater frequency, I’m going to have to make a Herculean effort to keep them short, or at least short-ish! 🙂 

So, to get the ball rolling, today’s review is of the Iwai Tradition, a blended whiskey from the Mars Shinshu Distillery. The Mars Shinshu Distillery is in the Nagano Prefecture in the Japanese Alps. At just over 2,600 feet above sea-level, Mars Shinshu is the highest distillery in Japan. 

The Iwai Tradition, along with its sibling, the Iwai Whiskey, began showing up on local shelves in early 2016, perhaps late 2015 in some stores. Mike D and I came across this one, and he actually bought this bottle for me as a thank you gift for putting up with him (and his very lovely wife) while they stayed with us for a few days. Thanks, Mike!


Review: Mars Shinshu Iwai Tradition, Blended Whiskey, 40% abv


Color: Mahogany/bronze (I can’t confirm it, but I suspect is has caramel coloring)

Nose: First impressions are of a rather bourbon-esque nose with a mix of sweet vanilla and ripe red fruits. There is a good dose of maraschino cherry and Jolly Rancher cherry candies. I also get a little toffee and some raisins, which hint at some sherry cask-matured component whiskey. Behind those notes I get some signs of the underlying youthfulness of this whiskey; with hints of wet cardboard/newspaper, and slight feinty notes of nail polish remover. There is also some fresh oak, a dusting of cinnamon, and some fresh ginger. WIth time, these youthful notes gain more power, pushing the subtler fruit, raisin, and vanilla notes into the background a bit too much for me.

Adding water, even just a couple of drops as I did, just brings out more of the disappointing notes of cardboard and newspaper, along with more of the sharp and bitter oak notes. The sweetness of the vanilla and toffee, and the fruit notes almost disappear entirely and it becomes quite unappealing.

Taste: Starts out with a soft vanilla/toffee sweetness. Then the cherry and raisin fruity notes show up. After a few minutes, though, I get a rising vegetal aspect, which, while interesting, is a bit odd. Then, sadly, the oakiness takes center stage – sharp, woody, and not entirely appealing, and growing more bitter with time. The body is a medium density, hinting at a good proportion of malt, but it also seems to become thinner with time in the glass.

As with the nose, adding water, does this whiskey no favors. The bitter vegetal and oaky notes become more dominant, and it further loses its body. 

Finish: Um, yes, it does finish. It has a bit of the vanilla, the oaky bitterness, that odd vegetal note, a hint of the cherry, then more oak. Thankfully, it is short, and with water, even shorter.

Overall: I have to admit, the Iwai Tradition was one of my least favorite whiskies, to date. It seemed to lack balance, had some off-putting notes, and struggled to find any real personality. The published specs sheet tells us that there is a wine cask component, but I didn’t really get anything particularly wine-y in this whiskey, unless that is where some of the bitterness comes from. The companies tasting notes also talk about a hint of peat, but that totally escaped me in this one. Water just kills it, which is kind of interesting because of the Japanese fondness for serving whiskey in highballs.

After my tasting, I did read a couple of other reviews (there aren’t many) and some of them liked this much more than I did. Given the various impressions, this is one that I would definitely tell you to try a glass somewhere before plunking down your money on a full bottle. 


Rating 70

Region: Japan (Nagano Prefecture)

Distillery: Mars Shinshu Distillery

Type: Blended Whiskey

Age: No Age Statement 

ABV: 40%

Maturation: Sherry, Bourbon, and Wine Casks (I could find no details about ratios) 

Price: $60 +/-

Availability: Readily available locally (Specs, Total Wine, True Spirits)

Sample Source: My own (gifted) bottle



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