On my recent trip out to the mitosaya Botanical Distillery in Chiba, I picked up a souvenir bottle of marinara-flavored eau de vie. Let's give it a try!
Marinara certainly isn't a flavor profile you expect to see in a spirit. While this one definitely isn't the world's only spirit to use tomatoes, the berries aren't featured very often since it's not something most drinkers look for. If you want tomato, you generally add it afterwards, like in a Red Eye or Bloody Mary.
The tomatoes used in 018: Marinara are from the town of Otaki, and are called "Koi suru tomato." Loving tomatoes. That's probably because the mini-tomatoes are extremely sweet, with a sugar content of around 10%, while normal tomatoes are around 4%.
To be dubbed a Koi suru tomato, the tomato must contain at least 10% sugar. Since not all the tomatoes grown are able to make it to the full 10%, there are some tomatoes -- still very sweet -- that are leftover. Those tomatoes are what are used in 018: Marinara.
"This only makes me think of pizza for some reason," writes Eguchi-san. The choice to add basil and oregano seems only natural.
So how does it actually taste?
Review: 018 Marinara, mitosaya Botanical Distillery
Nose: Cinnamon and oregano
Palate: Thick, oily, but sweet and spicy.
Finish: Oregano and cinnamon lasts us the rest of the night.
Price paid: 2000 yen / 100ml / 44% abv
We've all had flavored vodkas and similar drinks, but this is not what's going on here. If actual marinara sauce is--let's just say?--90% tomato and 10% spices, this eau de vie takes the same ingredients but changes the ratio to maybe 20% tomato and 80% spices. In some ways, this bottle challenges the barrier between "tastes like booze" and "tastes like food." In a good way -- it's doing so without using anything that seems phony, overbearing, or cloying.
Standing alone, this is hands down one of the most accomplished spirits I've had all year. It was crafted to meet a very specific flavor profile in mind, and mitosaya absolutely nailed it.
Unfortunately, standing alone is likely all this bottle will do at my bar. Eau de vie is not an easy category to work with, since it's essentially "the brandy that doesn't use grapes." Perhaps a cocktail is in order?