Introduction to Hibiki Whiskeys
Hibiki is one of the most renowned whiskey brands from Japan. Due to a demand supply imbalance, it is also one of the most expensive whiskey brands in the world. This blended whiskey is created by the Japanese beverage company Suntory.
The name “Hibiki” conveys two meanings. It refers to Suntory’s corporate philosophy of “resonating with people and nature“. And it also refers to the classical music composer Brahms’s Symphony No. 1st 4th movement.
Hibiki whiskeys are made up of spirits produced by enormously prestigious Yamazaki, Hakushu and Chita distilleries in Japan. Even die-hard single malt fans admire Hibiki blends, which adds tremendously to its popularity. As a result, they are a rarity today, and they have become somewhat of a collector’s item.
They are produced in variations both without age and with ages of 12, 17, 21 and 30 years. The availability of the brand fluctuates quite a lot. If you want to get a bottle, you should grab it quickly when stocks are available!
What does Hibiki taste like?
Hibiki is a prime example of the fine, flowery, almost perfumed Japanese whiskey style.
Through the use of sherry barrels, this character is supplemented by a number of fruit and spice notes. This makes it a complex and sophisticated premium blend.
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How is Hibiki produced?
Hibiki whiskeys are a blend, i.e. a mixture of different whiskeys from Japan from different distilleries.
The master blender blends the malt whiskeys from famed Yamazaki and Hakushu Distilleries, and the Chita Distillery’s grain whiskey to give the Hibiki a distinctive fruity, sweet and subtly smoky taste.
In the same distillery, different malts and aging barrels are used to make different types of blended whiskeys. For example, the same spirit from the Yamazaki Distillery maybe aged in sherry barrels, and some in bourbon barrels. This is done to create a complex and elegant taste and aroma.
Hibiki’s blending technique has its own recipe that is handed down to Suntory, and is mastered by Master Blend. From over 800,000 barrels that lie in the storage, the whiskey is blended using only the selected barrels in good condition.
The high-quality bottle from Hibiki shows 24 facets. These are intended to symbolize both the 24 hours of the day and the 24 “small seasons” of the Japanese calendar. The label is also of a particularly high quality made from four-sided specially printed paper.
Glimpse into the History of Hibiki and Suntory
The Hibiki brand was developed by Suntory and initially launched in the Japanese market. First Hibiki to be sold was its 17-year-old whiskey.
In 2003, the brand became even more famous through the film Lost in Translation, with Japan as the setting. The scene in which actor Bill Murray shoots a commercial for Suntory in which he speaks the words: “For a relaxing time, make it Suntory time” remains unforgettable. The film by Sofia Coppola, daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, won an Oscar and several Golden Globes.
In 2007, the 30-year-old Hibiki was declared World’s Best Blended Whiskey at the World Whiskey Awards.
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In 2014 Suntory also cracked the single malt category awards with the Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013. This blend was also declared the best single malt in Jim Murray’s Whiskey Bible 2015. 2014 also saw the merger of Jim Beam and Suntory to form Beam Suntory. This made the company the third largest beverage manufacturer in the world.
Shortly afterwards, the Hibiki Japanese Harmony came on the market, a whiskey without an age specification, matured in ex-sherry barrels and Japanese Mizunara oak. At the end of 2018, a special edition of this particular whiskey was released on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the brand in 2019. It was called the Hibiki Japanese Harmony limited edition with Tabane-Noshi pattern.
The success story of Japanese whiskey can no longer be disputed today and Hibiki as a brand is at the forefront.
The Hibiki Lineup
Hibiki Japanese Harmony
This is a NAS (No Age Specified) whisky from Hibiki. It was created with the concept of the four seasons of Japan, the delicate sensibilities of the Japanese people, and a whiskey that combines the skills of Japanese craftsmen.
The alcohol content is 43% and it is a smooth whiskey that you can enjoy it straight.
It has the scent of pears and citrus, and a deep and soft characteristic sweetness.
TIP: Adding a little water to it lends the drink a refreshing acidity. So you may want to enjoy the change while adding a few drops after trying it neat.
Hibiki 12 Years Old Whiskey
The Hibiki 12 is a blended whiskey made from 30 different sweet and flowery Japanese malt and grain whiskeys.
Its release marked the 110th anniversary of Suntory in 2009.
It has a fruity and intense aroma that has shades of peach, watermelon and pineapple.
This light and sweet whiskey has notes of peach, watermelon and other tropical fruits in its taste. Towards the finish it has hints of citrus and oak.
Hibiki 17 Years Old Whiskey
This was the first Hibiki bottle released in 1989 to commemorate the 90th anniversary of Suntory.
Select long-term aged malt and grain whiskeys with age of over 17 years are blended together and matured further. It can be said that it is a bottle that takes time and effort to produce.
Hibiki 17’s aroma stands out for caramel, vanilla, and sandalwood incense from the oak barrel that is unique to malt produced at the Yamazaki Distillery. However, the fresh scent of roses, jasmine, and peach can be felt when you swirl it in your mouth.
When you taste it, first comes the sweetness like caramel or custard cream, followed by the notes of green apple, pear, plum, and so on.
Hibiki 17 is a bottle with an exquisite balance in a number of flavors.
Hibiki 21 Years Old Whiskey
The Hibiki premium line is carefully blended with malts that are aged for 21 years or more.
The biggest feature of Hibiki 21 is the Yamazaki’s sherry barrel malt. It gets its reddish brown color from this constituent malt.
Hibiki 21 has a deep aroma reminiscent of tropical fruits such as cacao and dried mango. With long-term aging there is hardly any alcohol edge present. Upon tasting this blend, notes of raisins come first, followed by mangoes and honey.
At the same time, you can feel the gara and sandalwood incense that is peculiar to Mizunara barrels.
If you add a hint of water to Hibiki 21, the bouquet opens further, giving off oriental notes. Taste-wise the flavors of mango, pear and cinnamon also appear.
Hibiki 21 has won the most awards in the entire Hibiki portfolio of whiskeys.
Hibiki 30 Years Old Whiskey
This is a rare limited quantity product of which only a few thousand bottles are produced in a year.
Hibiki 30 is a blend of select malt-based whiskeys that are over 30 years old, and mature grain whiskeys that are also over 30 years old. All these whiskeys come from Suntory’s treasured barrels.
The biggest feature of Hibiki 30 years is that all this blending work is done manually.
It’s aroma is reminiscent of rich mango, cacao and apricot. The palate has a rich sweetness with notes from ripe mango, apricot, honey and strawberry jam.
In the mouth, you can also feel the aromas of sandalwood and oak that leaves a long and lingering finish.
Suntory’s suggested selling price is 125,000 yen or about $1150. But because of its scarcity, Hibiki 30 is selling above $5000 a bottle in the USA.
Hibiki Blender’s Choice Whiskey
This is a bottle made with malt and grain whiskeys with an average age of about 15 years. It also uses malts aged over 30 years, so you can enjoy a deep flavor with a rounded taste.
Hibiki Blender’s Choice has a sweetness and depth that comes from a blend that has been aged in white oak and further ripened in a wine barrel.
Since the price of Hibiki 17 has skyrocketed, this bottle has the feeling that it was released as a successor to fill the gap left by the rising cost its sibling.
This whiskey is not sold to the general public but to restaurants. Therefore, it is also a difficult product to get at the stores.