This Japanese ‘bourbon’ has high alcohol content and a subtle sweetness

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This Japanese ‘bourbon’ has high alcohol content and a subtle sweetness


The bottle

Mars Iwai 45 whisky, $36

The back story

We think of bourbon as an all-American affair and rightly so. For a spirit to have the classification, it must be made from a mix of grains that includes at least 51% corn and it must be produced in the U.S.

But there’s nothing that says a spirits company outside the U.S. can’t produce a corn-based sip. Hence, we now have Mars Iwai 45, a Japanese “bourbon.”

The Mars distillery isn’t the biggest name in Japanese spirits (that honor goes to producers like Suntory and Nikka). But it has been making whisky since 1949 and has certainly taken part in the booming demand for Japanese-made sips of late. The company says it has been seeing at least 30% annual growth in the U.S. over the last years.

The recently released Iwai 45 is heavy on the corn — it makes up 70% of the mix of grains (or “mash bill), with malt being the other 30%. The company says it was created with cocktail-making in mind — this is a whisky, particularly with its slightly higher alcohol content of 90 proof, that is designed to go into such classic drinks as an Old Fashioned or Manhattan that favor bourbon or rye. That isn’t necessarily the case with Japan’s traditional Scotch-like whiskies, however popular they are becoming.

What we think about it

No question about it, Iwai 45 is bourbon-like, with a subtle sweetness that speaks to the corn that goes into it. The higher alcohol hits you, too — it may not be a cask-strength whisky, but it’s a sip that shows some muscle.

How to enjoy it

You can sip this one neat, though we suggest taming it with a little water and/or ice. But like the brand suggests, it’s-tailor made for cocktails. Perhaps a Japanese Manhattan is in your future.



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