Soon, Suntory Hibiki will no longer be lost to whisky drinkers in the United States.
The story line of the 2003 movie Lost in Translation has Bill Murray memorably hawking the blended whisky for a Japanese TV commercial with the line "make it Suntory Time." Now it is that time, as the whisky is finally coming to America as Hibiki 12. The October release will coincide with that of the single malt, Suntory Yamazaki 1984.
Both are vivid representations of the quality of Japanese whisky.
The latter whisky marks the 25th anniversary of the Kamazaki brand and comprises malts distilled in 1984 and aged in a combination of American, Spanish and Japanese oak casks. The former is a blend of 30 whiskies. Hibiki, which also includes a 17- and 21-year-old, is the original blended label of Suntory, which was established in 1899. Hibiki 12 debuted in the United Kingdom in May of this year after being named best blend by a prominent British whisky magazine.
The whiskies are similar in character to Scotch whiskies, but are made and aged in the Asian island nation, using local water sources as well as special barley strains, yeast and peat levels. Lengthened fermentation of the wash is meant to create a creamy character.
The Yamazaki 1984 (96 proof, $550-$650) is partially aged in mizunara casks. Mizunara is a local type of oak that is especially moist—mizu meaning water. Initially prone to leaks, it imparts an incense fragrance upon lengthy aging.
Hibiki 12 (86 proof, $55-$60) is intended to mark the 20th birthday of the brand as well as Suntory's 110th anniversary. It includes malts from Suntory's Yamazaki and Hakushu distilleries as well as grain whisky. Some of the malt is extra aged in Umeshu casks, formerly used to age plum liqueur. All of the blend, malts and grain whisky included, is at least 12 years old. A small portion is as old as 30 years. The whisky is also filtered in bamboo charcoal.
The Hibiki bottle has 24 facets that represent both the hours in a day and the divisions of the ancient Japanese calendar. The material used for the label recalls a traditional Japanese paper-making technique.
The name Hibiki apparently has several meanings. The one the company calls out is harmony. Alternatively it means echo, a translation that might be familiar to fans of the Japanese television superhero Kamen Raida Hibiki (or masked rider echo demon). It's understandable that Suntory isn't trumpeting that one, but the echo part kind of works when you consider the whisky's long finish.
Appearance: Light, bamboo to straw color
Nose: Candied honey with some caramel and some woodiness.
Palate: Very sweet, rich honey flavors, vanilla and a measure of plum with slightest bits of peat and Stilton cheese.
Finish: The honey goes on and on, joined by toast and nuts.
Appearance: Amber color verging on the greenish tints of olive oil.
Nose: Pure candy and fruit, flirting with rich, toasty peat.
Palate: An immediate dose of hard candy that softens into honey and vanilla, then a range of spices—with ginger, cinnamon, basil, tarragon, slight pepper and licorice.
Finish: Very long with pronounced licorice, nuts toasty, a slight grittiness and rich woodiness. Persistently sweet and honeyed.