Tasting Notes: Suntory Hibiki 12 Years Old

16 Comments on Tasting Notes: Suntory Hibiki 12 Years Old

Right, time is cracking on on Friday afternoon, so I’ll make this brief.  After a splendid tasting by Suntory at TWE Vinopolis on Wednesday night I was rather disappointed that the 12 year-old Hibiki (which I’d tasted at Whisky Live and thought was excellent) hadn’t been shown.  Imagine my delight when the stock turned up this afternoon :).
Suntory Hibiki contains bourbon-aged malt from Hakushu, sherry casks from Yamazaki and grain whisky from the company’s Chita distillery.  Intriguingly, a portion of the whiskies used have been aged in casks that used to hold Japanese plum liqueur (don’t know whether that’s for the malt or grain whiskies, though, or if it’s done after the blending).

Apparently the marriage is left to settle for four months before bottling.  I also heard that there are only 200 cases of this for Europe on this run, with more not available until late autumn.

Anyway, this has been eagerly anticipated amongst the faithful, and I thought I’d better make sure that my initial impressions from my sample at Whisky Live were correct.  So here goes:

Hibiki 12 year old - We Like.

Hibiki 12 year old - We Like.

Suntory Hibiki 12 year old Blend, 43% ,70cl:

Colour:  Aurulent (Gold-Coloured) or Melichrous (Honey-like).  Maybe Luteous (Golden-yellow).

Nose:  Very fruity, with ripe oranges, apple pie, marmalade and plums (would I have still got those plums if I didn’t know about the plum liqueur maturation?  I’d like to hope so).  Fresh honeysuckle and nougat aromas, sugared almonds, sponge cake, icing sugar. Expressive and exciting.

Palate:  Smooth as a snooker ball, with delicious fresh grain, oak tannins and delicately sherried malt.  Some clove, pepper and mixed peel as the sherry comes forward.  The citrus is here as well, if slightly more tart like lemon or grapefruit.

Finish:  Spices, apple peel and the last remnants of the finely-tuned grain.  Nothing dominates, everything in place – the integration and balance are quite remarkable.  The spices seem to build in intensity at the finale.

Comments:  Slips down easier than a greased eel in an oilslick.  This is tremendous.  A hugely impressive feat of blending that proves, if there were any remaining doubt, that Japanese whisky can equal or beat anything produced in Scotland at this moment in time.  Bravo.

Posted in Scotch Whisky, Whisky Tasting Notes


Thanks for the notes Tim. This sounds great! It’s killing me that I just placed an order for Port Askaig 17 and Talisker 175th yesterday for a gathering I’m having. This would have been a great addition. Oh well…next time.


john says:

This is a lovely whisky. I had some at a tasting a few weeks ago. For me, not as good as the 17-year-old, but still top class.

wm. t says:

i have been looking at the Japanese malts, and am baffled and a bit disturbed that there are about 3 bottlings under £30.00. the rest are well over the £30.00 mark with some much much more expensive. My q. is this? Why would anyone wan’t to support a country like Japan, knowing that all you are drinking is tainted, radioactive water? And paying well over the top for an inferior product, when you should be keeping the money and support right here in the land of the malt. And at a much more resonable price, along with taste and quality. It beggars belief that if given a wee sample of something, people must show their gratitude by trying to help a company sell a product. Come on scots, cut the crap and stick with the best. Otherwise, you’ll have the bloody Americans making it. wm.t

Tim F says:

After a short debate with myself, I’ve decided to published the above comment simply so that I may refute it. Normally I would delete something so absurd, but hopefully by responding to this one (the first of its kind, I’m happy to say, and hopefully the last), I can draw a line under it and make plain that I won’t be tolerating this sort of ignorant, offensive jingoistic crap on this blog. Apologies to anyone who was offended by it.

wm. t, where to start? ‘tainted, radioactive water’ – come on, where did you get that one? Are you perhaps referring to the bombs dropped at Hiroshima and Nagasaki? What an unbelievably ignorant, offensive thing to say.

‘paying well over the top for an inferior product’ – certainly some Japanese whisky is expensive. If you hadn’t noticed, so is a lot of Scotch whisky. However, the prices charged for Japanese whisky are in almost all cases justified by the contents of the bottle. Certainly, of the expensive whiskies I’ve tasted in the last couple of years, the Japanese have a far better strike rate of price to quality. I would go so far as to say that several of the Japanese whiskies I had last year have been under-priced for what they were. I can’t think of too many Scotch whiskies I’ve had in the same period about which I could say the same.

In any event, to say that Japanese whisky is an inferior product is laughable, particularly since it is only a year since Japanese whiskies won the title of ‘Best Malt Whisky in the World’ (Yoichi 1987 20yo) and ‘Best Blended Whisky in the World’ (Hibiki 30yo) at the World Whisky Awards. Clearly you would never buy a Japanese whisky as you feel so strongly that you should keep your money in Scotland. That’s your prerogative, but to me it’s also further evidence that you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Going further, I take real exception to your implication that I’m promoting this whisky simply because I got a sample of it. ‘It beggars belief that if given a wee sample of something, people must show their gratitude by trying to help a company sell a product.’ If it beggars belief, don’t believe it. It certainly isn’t true. If I went around recommending any old rubbish, I’d quickly lose my audience and my credibility. I would never praise something I don’t like simply because I value my professional integrity.

I love whisky and I’m not bothered if it’s Irish, Scotch, American, Japanese, Swedish or Indian as long as it tastes good. I feel sorry for you, wm. t, if your own prejudices stop you from tasting some of the best whiskies in the world. Whisky should be about enjoyment and bringing people together, not jealousy and bigoted rivalry.

Incidentally, wm. t, it might interest you to know that the ‘bloody Americans’ are already making single malt whisky, with great success. Stranahan’s and McCarthy’s. They’re very good. You should try them.

Whiskey Canuck says:

Dear Tim. Thank you very much for responding as you did to wm. t as you did. Very well said. You were quite eloquent, firm and logical at the same time. You also saved me from having to reply to him. By the way, wm. t, Hibiki 21 won the World’s Best Blended Whiskey Award at the 2011 World Whiskies Awards. I’m drinking some Hibiki 12 right now. After that, I’m going to have either a Yamazaki 10 or a Yamazaki 12. Scotch? Love that, too. I had an Ardbeg 10 at a bar last weekend, and recently finished a bottle of Laphroaig Cask Strength.

C57 says:

Well said. That was quite possibly the most ignorant thing I’ve read on a blog or a forum in the last 12 months and shows a complete ignorance of what makes a good whisky and who can deliver that (basically, anybody could).

wm. t says:

does anyone have a tissue………….

kallaskander says:

Hi there,

Tim has made a point. I would like to add that ‘in the land of malt’ 95% of the whiskies are foreign owned whereas in Japan it is in Japanese hands. If you want to play the nationalist card you played it wrongly.
The Japanese learned the art of distilling and brewing in Scotland in the 1920s – and the tradition lives on in the land of the rising sun whereas in Scotland the art of distilling is on the list of species under threat of become extinct.

The development in Scotland goes towards quickly and cheaply produced mass whiskies – again – whereas in Japan it is back to the roots. Scottish distilleries grow to sizes which are absurd if you think about the conflict between quality and quantity whereas in Japan distilleries tend to become smaller after the first ones they built were huge.
And again – Japanese whiskies have beaten Scottish mass products easily every year since 2001. If the Scots take umbrage in this there is just one advice to cure that fact one can give to the Scots – go back to makíng better whiskies.
Let people do the work they have to do and not computers. Mature your whisky on site and stop tankering it around country to dilute it with Glaswegian tap water on bottling in the end. Give your whisky time to mature and stop shedding age statements again and again.

If the Scots do this they just might win again against Japan someday in the future.

That said one comment on prices. People I know who have visited Japan tell me that there the prices are not higher than they are over here for Irish or Scotch whisky. It is the long distribution chain that makes them expensive.


Tim F says:

I’ve just been given a bit more detail about the plum liqueur maturation. Apparently it is Yamazaki 12yo that is put into the fresh ‘Umeshu’ casks – for a period of two years before the final marriage.

I wonder if the Nikka white label also had one of its components matured in plum wine casks. That might explain the violets and rosewater that it overwhelmingly tastes of.

Willie JJ says:

While I agree in general with the comments of Tim and Kallaskander (with the proviso that K has turned a bit of a blind eye to those Scots distillers that retain a craft element to their whisky making in order to make his point) I do think that Japanese whisky needs no defending amongst those that have drunk it. It is really only the ignorant that come up with such drivel as wm. t has posted above.

Serge says:

Maybe I’ll follow wm. t’s pieces of advice and stick with cognac as I’m French (biggest market in volume for Scotch, incidentally.) Wait, I’m Alsatian, better drop cognac and stick with white eaux-de-vies. Wait, I know a guy in our valley who makes some excellent old plum spirit, better stick with that and drop other Alsatian spirits. Mmm, on second thought, better distil my own booze in my own garden (while the neighbours are not watching – their booze is so bad!).

butephoto says:

If wm. t doesn’t want any Japanese whisky then that leaves more for me.

I always love a good scrum. I have a few thoughts.

First, the issue of price. I find most consumers are not really educated as to what they are buying and like the baracuda go for the smart looking shiney package without knowing the quality points. Price is not always directly realted to quality and definatley not taste. Taste has no price as it is either spot on or crap for the individual drinker. I would think being in the UK one would welcome a bottle under 30GBP. In the USA bourbon is 1/2 the price as it is in the UK which has everything to do with the cost of importation and taxes and not trying to trying to fool the consumer. Want more inexpensive imported whisky, talk to your PM.

Second, tainted? Not even worth the key strokes

Third, an inferior product? Compared to what? This statement relates to the production process, maturation, and final bottling. Not knowing anything about the poster I will just assume they have no more knowledge than the basic tour as the Japanese have being producing malt whisky for over 70 years. It would take more time than I choose to spend to disucss the various innovations the japanese have employed in there Malt production, but I am sure some distilleries in the UK would give it a go if the SWA was not so strict. Each country produces their own style and type of Whisky produced from Malt. Evaluate it on the merits.

Fourth, support for your national drink. Good for you as it is your right to drink what you want in regards to spirits. I would point out that the UK makes approx 97 GBP per second on the exportation of Scotch Whisky according to the SWA 2008 figures which is up 8% (published Friday May 8, 2009). It probably works out to be 2/3 the GNP of the UK. So, if you venture to a bottle of Whisky not made in Scotland the country will not get into financial trouble.

It is time for me to have a dram of my Nikka from barrel which was given to me from the distiilery manager at Ben Nevis (owned by Nikka of Japan).


Pär Caldenby says:

There’s always someone, isn’t there…?

However, a few observations can be made. One thing is that the Japanese bottlings tend to be relatively pricey – for what they appear to be, on the outside. Another thing is that the inside stuff is usually far beyond the indication taken off of the label. Third, the Japanese seem to have a real problem with their sales of blends and may experience stock issues, i.e. having a lot of ageing malts that they should capitalise on, when their blends are bleeding heavily (on the home market of course – exports are still minute in volume). Fourth, the Japanese whisky industries are now looking to exports in order to compensate for the sad trend in domestic sales. Five, the single casks that we’ve been getting here to Europe, from Nikka and Suntory and a few Hanyus, have been the pick of the bunch – there is no way that this can be the average level of quality, because they have an average quality that is simply stunning. Six, the Japanese do employ a lot of human touch and skills that are now made redundant in many Scottish (but not all) distilleries – and I think they should be applauded for that.

Residue and fallout? Go deep into the forest and stay offline. Please.

By the way, the plum casks sound both interesting and disconcerting…


Steve says:

Just stumbled upon your blog as I was looking for a photo of the Hibiki 12 y/o for my boss. I appreciate your comments back to the commenter about his prejudice towards Japanese whiskeys.

I thought I would share some of my experiences drinking whiskey in Japan. I have been living in Japan for the past 3 years and never drank a Japanese whiskey before moving here. One of the coolest things about drinking whiskey on the rocks in Japan, is the fact that most places will serve it with a single ball of ice that fills the entire glass. I’ve been to the Yoichi distillery in Hokkaido and they offer tours and FREE tastings including Nikka’s Yoichi 17 y/o!

Leave a Reply

Subscribe by email

ArchivesFull Archives »

Scroll To Top

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this. Find out more