Bottle & Ash Review: Suntory Whisky – Hibiki Japanese Harmony

Classification: Japanese Whisky

Released: Active

Proof: 86

ABV: 43%

Color: Amber

Type: Blend


From the Manufacturer

Suntory Whisky Hibiki® is a harmonious blend, blessed with the riches of Japanese nature and craftsmanship.  “Kanzen” or complete, Hibiki® Whisky is a harmonious blend of innumerous malt and grain whiskies which are meticulously blended to create a full orchestra of flavors and aromas. Seductive, blossoming and enigmatic, Hibiki® Whisky celebrates an unrivaled art of blending, fine craftsmanship and a sense of luxury from the House of Suntory.

Hibiki® was launched in 1989 to commemorate Suntory’s 90th anniversary and has ever since been embraced as the paragon of The Art of Japanese Whisky, the very product of Japanese nature and her people. Hibiki® Whisky is not only Japan’s most highly awarded blended whisky, but among the most prestigious and honoured whiskies in the world.

Introduction

Commercial production of whisky in Japan can be traced back to the 1923.  In that year, the country’s first distillery, Yamazaki was formed.  This distillery is owned and operated to this day by Suntory.  Within this facility three primary variants of Yamazaki whisky are produced. Yamazaki Single Malt 12-Year-Old whisky, Yamazaki Single Malt 18-Year-Old whisky and Yamazaki Single Malt 25-Year-Old whisky. The parent company Beam Suntory also owns some familiar brands that you may be surprised to learn such as Canadian Club, Jim Beam, Knob Creek, and Makers Mark.

Suntory Whisky currently operates two additional distilleries, Hakushu in the Yamanashi Prefecture and Chita (the grain distillery) in Chita, Aichi.  Visitors can tour both the Yamazaki and the Hakushu facilities on guided tours.

This brings us to the Hibiki.  Suntory uses a blend of ten different whiskies that have been aged in five different types of oak barrels with the malt whisky coming from Yamazaki and Hakushu and the grain whisky from Chita.  Also notable regarding the oak aging, one type of barrel used in the process comes from the Japanese Mizunara.  These barrels are quite rare, which makes them very expensive costing in excess of $6,000.  In order to make a Mizunara oak cask the tree must be around 200 years old before it is felled.  Competition to obtain these rarities is fierce and it is typically the larger producers that have the resources to acquire them. Recently Angel’s Envy released its first Bourbon aged in these prime casks, as did Chivas Regal.  I hope to review these in the future.

For those that remember the movie Lost in Translation, Bill Murray plays an actor named Bob Harris.  Harris is in the twilight of his career and begrudgingly agrees to go to Japan to shoot a commercial for Suntory’s Hibiki 17.  If you follow pro-am golf you may hear Murray’s gallery yell “Suntory Time!” post tee off.

The Hibiki 12 and 17 are no longer produced as the demand now outweighs the production capacity.  In their place is the Hibiki Japanese Harmony which we shall dive into now.

The Appearance

The color is a pale gold. Very pretty, clean and clear.  Even lighter than Dewar’s White Label.  It reminds of the color of my friend’s Ford Expedition, White Gold.  Better writers than me would make a comparison to a flower in a meadow or something more poetic.

The Smell (Nose)

The manufactuer lists; rose, lychee, hint of rosemary, mature woodiness and sandalwood.  I will admit to my observation skills being not yet as refined as I hope them to become, I will say I can detect the rose and lychee.  I am not quite sure how to define “mature woodiness” and I do not think I have ever smelled sandalwood on its own.  However, this spirit possesses a very light and delicate nose that makes it very approachable. 

The Taste (Palate)

The Japanese Harmony has a very subtle sweetness reminiscent of honey. I also get a little citrus flavor, maybe orange or lemon and a touch of vanilla.  All of the flavors are light which is pleasant to drink but makes it a bit harder to describe as nothing jumps out at you and no one flavor dominates the rest.  I take it this is where they arrived at the name Harmony.

The Finish

As noted in the earlier descriptions of the nose and palate, the finish is just as gentle.  Tastings are very subjective and each person will have their own individual experience with each and every spirit they try.  That is what makes the process so much fun.  I disagree with the manufacturer here regarding the finish which they describe as long.  My experience wrapped up quickly and quietly which is not at all a negative criticism.

The Wrap-Up

I really enjoyed the Suntory Whisky Japanese Harmony.  I picked up this bottle for $86 USD which seems on par with my online shopping comparison.  I did find a gorgeous 2018 Limited Edition 30th Anniversary bottle and box for $1,000 USD.  Congratulations to the owners of that baby.  My bottle came packaged in the lovely box you see above and a beautifully textured bottle with a cream and black label with rose gold foil printing.  This was the only the second Japanese whisky I have ever tried, but I hope to explore the rest of the Suntory catalog.  I believe this is a good entry in quality whisky and first-time whisky drinkers would be very lucky to try this before some of the more “famous” whiskies ruin the experience for them.

I hope you enjoyed my review.  I would love your advice on how to improve in order to create great content for you.  Please send all your tips, tricks, fan letters and hate mail.  I promise to read it all.  If there is a particular spirit you would like me to review, please send that as well.  Domo arigato, どうもありがとう.

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