Japanese Whisky: Suntory’s Hibiki 12yr

October 25, 2011 § 26 Comments

To say I’m a fan of Japanese Whisky is a huge understatement.   Unfortunately for me, I live in the US where our options for Japanese Whiskies are very limited.  Luckily, we do have access to a few product by Suntory.

While I’m a bigger fan of their Yamazaki single malts (see my earlier post HERE), I do also try to keep a bottle of the Hibiki 12 on hand, despite it’s somewhat higher price tag (between $60-$70 USD).  The Hibiki series is a blend of more than 30 different single malts and grain whisky from the Chita distillery.  The oldest of the malt being a 75 year old Yamazaki that has been aged in 100% Japanese oak casks.  Once the whiskies have been combined, Suntory finishes them for 1 year in matured umé (plumb wine) barrels.

Ok, let’s get down to business!


ABV: 43% (86 proof)

NOSE: lavender floral, burnt sugar, honey, fresh apple, maturing cask “dust”, a light apple cider vinegar next to the rooibos tea notes

TASTE: Beautifully balanced and changes evenly through the various flavors like the changing of the seasons.  Crème brûlée, caramel apple to lemon peel, then moves into some spiced earthy tea and light wood flavors

FINISH:  Long and lingering, rounded oak, rich earth under the lighter notes, ends with a bit of fresh ground black pepper on the tip of the tongue and lips

Have you tried this before?  What do you think?


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§ 26 Responses to Japanese Whisky: Suntory’s Hibiki 12yr

  • G-LO says:

    Yo WW!

    Totally with you on this whisky and Japanese whisky in general. I’ve had this at the last three Extravaganzas, and The wookie has had a bottle or two around over the past couple years. Just a lovely lovely whisky! I’ve never sat down to fully “study” it, so I can’t comment on your tasting notes, but it’s always a purchase candidate when it comes time to restock the whisky cabinet. And don’t even get me started on the bottle. We’ve talked about making some reading lamps with it on numerous occasions.

    Well done on the review!


    • Hey G-LO!
      Always love when you drop by, thanks! As for a Hibiki Reading Lamp – put me down for one! You BoozeDancing boys are very creative (was it you and The Wookie who were making the glow-in-the-dark bottles and talking about the Whisky Butler service???). Though I do agree with you, the bottle is quite nice. I am not someone who saves empty whisky bottles (something about a tiny New York apartment and being a gal who prefers her bottles filled 😉 ) but the only one I ever kept was, in fact, my first Hibiki bottle. There’s something so old-world masculine about it. It makes me want to sit in a dark glamorous room filled with men wearing velvet smoking jackets holding cigars. As for the whisky, I’m hoping that Suntory will have some of the older Hibiki’s at WhiskyFest NY next week… that would be awesome to taste.

      Thanks again!!

      • G-LO says:

        The Hibiki Reading Lamp and the glow in the dark bottles were all The Wookies doing. He’s quite the tinkerer! I do love that bottle. Think it would be appropriate for a desk lamp at work? 😉

        As far as WhiskyFest NY, (a) totally jealous!, and (b) I thought Suntory was expanding their line-up in the US, so perhaps it will be there. And speaking of Japanese whisky, Nikka is coming! Early 2012 is the rumor.

  • Hey WW! This sounds amazing! perfect holiday gift for my brother who loves whisky, where can i buy some? My local liquor store definitely does not carry anything even remotley like this. If you have any additional suggestions for the whisky folks in my family, please let me know, I’d love to bring some to Thanksgiving and show off my new knowledge! great review, i’m totally going to quote you.

    • Hey Dish Babe,
      Thanks for coming back & commenting! If you don’t mind sharing so I can help give you a bit more direction, what city/state do you live in? If you’re not living in TX (no alcohol can be shipped into the state), you can easily order it online (or visit): Astorwines.com (NY), drinkupny.com, (NY), binnys.com (Chicago), or bevmo.com (CA).

      As for the “what to bring” you really hit me with a big question! 🙂 My fellow bloggers, I invite you to share your opinions here too. As for me, here’s what I can recommend off the top of my head: Staying in the blend theme, any of the Compass Box blends will always impress as will a good bourbon like Black Maple Hill which I just recently picked up from the new (and awesome) Whiskey Shop in Brooklyn. You can always go for a great single malt from Scotland. I find when bringing something to a larger gathering where there are a wider variety of tastes, it’s best to stay away from the more acquired tastes of the heavily peated whiskies like those by Laphroaig and try bringing something that may be a bit more approachable, like Bruichladdich 12 yr.

      I’ll keep thinking about it for you and will be doing a holiday buying guide post a bit later so hopefully that will help too (although you did just get a sneak peak!). Great question! Thank you!

  • Peter says:

    The Hibiki 12 is great stuff. I love it neat but love it even more over ice or better yet with a lot of sparkling water. The whisky was blended to stand-up well with a lot of water and maintain its complexity and character. I’m almost glad this is as expensive as it is (and understandably so) because were it $20-30 less, I’d drink waaaaay too much of it.

    • Hey Peter!
      I have never added sparkling water to this but will certainly give it a try later. When adding water to your whisky, do you often use sparkling? I’m curious to know how that came about. I can see that being a nice way to “Summer-ize” a drink for the warmer months. As for the drinking way too much if this were less expensive, I’m totally on board with you here. Having expensive tastes is HARD (or motivates me to work harder)! 🙂 I am, however, thankful that their Yamazaki 12 is much lower as I really enjoy that to get my almost-daily Japanese whisky fix.

      So glad to have you as part of the conversation!

      • Peter says:

        Well, I think the whole “Scotch & soda” seems kind of old school for us serious whisky nutjobs, but I’ve been told that in Japan it’s still a very popular way to drink it and blends like Hibiki and made to be enjoyed with water/ice/etc. For myself, I tend not to add water to single mats below 45%ABV, and like to at least taste everything neat once, but I usually add a little water to stronger single malts as needed. However, more and more lately, when I’m not being geekily analytical about booze, I turn to a good blend over ice or in a high ball with soda water. Though, now that I say that, we’re coming in to the colder months which means that dark, smoky single malts are the order of the day…

        • G-LO says:

          Totally with you on all counts! I will try it all neat, regardless of ABV. The trouble with dilution is the easy drinking factor. I start sucking them down. No good comes from this! 😀

        • Of course, “Scotch & Soda” – funny how the brain works – “whisky + sparking water” sounded much more adventurous to me!

          While I always like to try my whiskies with a drop of water after I have analyzed them, I do agree w/ you and G-LO; too much diluting = too easy drinking = not the best feeling in the morning!

          I love that the seasons just changed, a cozy sweater, the first fire in the fire place and a beautiful, smoky, dram in my hand … ahhh, perfection. 🙂

  • Hey WW

    couldnt agree with you anymore about Japanese Whisky! Amazing drams they are producing. The Hibiki is a very fine example. I hadn’t realised that i was a blend of 30!! different malts, I was under the impression that it was a blend of malts from Hakushu and Yamazaki, plus some aged grain from Chita?? I do know for sure though that the Hibiki gained top prize in its category at the World Whisky Awards 2010. One taste and it’s easy to understand why.

    I know you said that you have limited options in the US with Japanese whisky but if you can get it give Ichiro’s Malt Hanyu 15 Year Old
    a try.

    Take Care

    • Hey HoG!
      Oh you’re killing me with the Ichiro’s Malt comment. I’ve been watching what Akuto has been doing for years now. Unfortunately, it’s just out of my price range (with having to pay in euros or pounds plus the international shipping & import taxes). Have you been able to try Ichiro’s Malt Chichibu The First yet? I’m really curious about that product too. Oh how I wish I lived in Europe….

      As for the Chita – I’m looking into it but the last time I sat in on a tasting event by Yoshi Morita, he confirmed that it was 100% single malt grains in the blend. I’ll reply here if I find out anything different, though. Thanks for raising a good question! By the way, have you tried the Single Grain Chita? (Not surprisingly, it’s not available here in the US).

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!

    • Hey HoG,
      I just heard back from Yoshi Morita (head of US sales) and confirmed what you suggested to be correct, much to my surprise. Here is his response:

      “…In regards to Hibiki, it is not a single malt [blend] but a [true] blended whisky. The malt whiskies are from Yamazaki and Hakushu distillery [which] are [then] combined with grain whiskies from Chita distillery.”

      Thanks so much for clarifying, Yoshi!
      Thank you, HoG, for questioning!


  • The Hibiki always reminds me of Bill Murray in “Lost in Translation”. It’s worth trying on that basis alone, although your recommendation now puts it beyond all doubt.

    • Haha! Patrick! You totally read my mind – I will actually be posting my favorite clip from that film as a follow-up to this post later in the week. I looove that movie. Thanks for the nice words & for taking the time to comment!

  • […] conclude this week’s post: HIBIKI 12 REVIEW, I thought it best to end with one of my favorite scenes from the movie that inspired so many of us […]

  • Wow! Thanks everyone and WW for the suggestions. I live in NYC so il get to ordering! Now I’m totally inspired to have a movie night of lost in translation and Fine whisky!

    • G-LO says:

      Well… if you’re in NYC, then you must go to Park Avenue Liquors (oddly enough, it’s on Madison Ave. Weird right?)! A bit pricey, but the selection is amazing. They’re very helpful too.

      • Agree 100%. And let me back that up by saying EVERYONE from around the world in the industry goes there when they pass through NY. I’m happy to be a follower amongst experts…

        Dish Babe – glad to know there is another whisky woman in the big apple! Most Monday nights, Ward III in Tribeca does free whisky tastings starting at 8pm (I’m usually there). Also, check out http://nycwhisky.com/ for tasting events (many free!) around Manhattan and Brooklyn.

  • Richard Barr says:

    If you thought the Hibiki 12 yo was good, you should try the 17 yo, which is even richer in flavor, or if you win the lottery, the 30 yo. I was lucky enough to try the Hibiki 30 yo at the Auld Aliance Whisky Bar in Singapore where a HALF dram was something over US$ 30.– but worth every penny. That 30 yo had the same fruity plum nose that Hibiki is known for but the palate was rich, buttery & nutty. Wish I could buy a bottle.

    • Hi Richard,
      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts! As for the 17yr or 30yr, I need to leave the States to get my hands on either of those (which I plan to) ;). And I do agree with you, $30 for a 1/2 pour is ridiculous … BUT, I’d do it in a heart beat. Who needs to buy junky souvenirs when there are exciting whiskies to try? (Early apologies to all of my family & friends who were really wanting that “I visited _________” T-shirt, you’re not getting that from me… but then again, you already know that). Singapore is one of the places on my short list because of the whisky scene that’s going on over there.

      Are the price difference between the Hibiki 12yr & 17yr similar to the price difference between the Yamazaki 12yr vs 18yr? If you don’t mind sharing, in what country do you live?

      Thanks so much!

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