The history of Mars Whisky dates back to 1949 when the Hombo family, owners of Mars Whisky, first took out a license to distil but it was not until 1960 that they started making whisky at a plant in Yamanashi.
It was run by Kiichiro Iwai, who had been Masataka Taketsuru’s immediate superior who had sent Taketsuru to Scotland in 1919 to learn about whisky production. He used Taketsuru’s specifications to make his whisky which was too heavy and smoky for the Japanese palate. Iwai was also responsible for the design of the pot stills and is considered a pioneer in the history and development of pot still whisky in Japan.
In 1984, production was switched to Mars Shinshu Distillery in the Japanese Alps, chosen for its altitude to encourage slow maturation and the availability of soft water. This brought a change of style to the whisky, being lighter and more approachable but the timing was wrong with the beginning of Japan’s whisky crash so Mars closed in 1992 and reopened in 2011.
Mars Whisky consists of two distilleries, Mars Shinshu Distillery and Tsunuki Distillery, and three ageing sites at Shinshu, Tsunuki and Yakushima.
Mars Shinshu Distillery is located high in the Japan Alps and is the highest distillery in Japan at over 800m above sea level. The distillery is surrounded by South Alps and Central Alps with 120m of underground water running through granite rocks which gives a soft water character with low in minerality at 26 ppm. Shinshu experiences four distinct seasons with a short but hot summer and long cold winter.
Mars Tsunuki Distillery is the southernmost distillery, opened in Kagoshima in November 2016. It produces richer and heavy malts with a salty air influence.