Tag Archives: Suntory

Yamazaki 12 Review

Producer: Suntory. Distiller: Yamazaki. ABV: 43%. Age: 12 years. Price: $100+.

Among the many Japanese whiskies that are hard to find these days, Yamazaki 12 is one of the scarcest. Part of the reason may be the halo effect of the sensational (and even harder to find) Yamazaki 18, but the 12 is very appealing in its own right. It’s fruitier and fuller-bodied than the peated Hakushu 12, and it may be a bit more approachable for less experienced whisky drinkers than the Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt 12–though don’t sleep on that Nikka.

(Incidentally, Nikka’s done a far better job than Yamazaki of producing a no-age-statement substitute for their all-but-inaccessible 12-year-olds…the Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt NAS is a stunner, and remarkably close in maturity and complexity to the 12-year-old, while the Yamazaki NAS single malt is raw and unfocused, especially next to its age-stated predecessor.)

On to the main event. The Yamazaki 12 is matured in a mix of ex-bourbon barrels, ex-sherry butts, and Japanese mizunara oak casks. The latter is known for imparting tropical and/or fragrant floral notes, and the Yamazaki 12 has plenty of both.

The nose starts out reminiscent of the honeyed Glenmorangie 10, then adds canned pineapple. Lychee. Fragrant jasmine. Golden raisins and plum blossoms.

The mouthfeel is pleasantly oily, and the palate has golden raisins in a buttery apple strudel. Plum brandy, mild spice, and barrel tannins just sour enough to give balance and backbone to what otherwise might be too sweet an experience. The finish has citrus rind and a bit of barrel char.

Easy-drinking but substantial, unchallenging but satisfying. At just enough of an angle from your everyday Speyside or Highland to keep things interesting. It’s little wonder the Yamazaki 12 was a hit, and a bit of a shame it’s so hard to find now–and so overpriced when it does pop up. At $60, this would be a no-brainer. At $80, I’d raise an eyebrow. At $100+, it’s a try-before-you-buy.

Kanpai, friends! – BO

Hibiki 17 Review

Distiller: Suntory. ABV: 43%. Age: 17 years. Price: $150+.

The Hibiki 17 is a masterpiece of balance–a tour de force by the master blenders at Japanese spirits giant Suntory. I also happen to know it’s also a personal favorite of our friend Mark Bylok, he of of the Whisky Topic podcast, Whisky Cabinet book, and whsky.buzz website.

It’s also devilishly hard to find. Not quite as much as the excellent Yamazaki 18, but close. Don’t break the bank for a bottle, but don’t pass it up at a reasonable price.

The nose has distinct cedar and sandalwood notes. Much bolder than the Hibiki 12 or no-age-statement Hibiki Harmony. Plenty of fresh vanilla. Saltwater taffy. A touch of banana. Anisette toast. Excellent.

The palate achieves that harmony of distinct elements that reminds me of the global Malt & Grain blend by master Ichiro Akuto. A delicate dance of sweetness and spice–fresh ginger and white pepper sprinkled on fresh-cut apple and pear–with a very subtle smokiness. The finish brings that anisette toast back, along with just enough bite to make sure you’re paying attention.

It’s a world away from the ultra-rich and velvety Yamazaki 18, but if you get a chance to taste the two side-by-side, they provide a brilliant study in the range Japanese whisky is capable of. The Hibiki 17 is all balance, the Yamazaki 18 all boldness. Both will bring a big smile to any whisky lover’s face.

Kanpai, friends! -BO


Hakushu 12 Review

Producer: Suntory. Distillery: Hakushu. ABV: 43%. Age: 12 years. Price: $65-100.

Hakushu 12 is one of the few age-stated Japanese whiskies still more or less accessible on the U.S. market. It provides the peated malt for multiple blends by the Hakushu Distillery’s parent company, Suntory, including the new Suntory Toki.

The nose is both grassy and sweet. Lemon-lime and white smoke. A little cedary influence that might be a touch of Japanese Mizunara oak–though brand reps say the distillery uses very little of it in maturation due to the expense. A little salted caramel toward the end. In all, a very appealing nose: crisp but robust enough to stay interesting.

Palate: it loses some ground here. The peat is mild and pleasant, with that sweet grassiness from the nose. There’s some pear gelato, with a vein of lemon pepper too. The weakness is in the body, which is distinctly watery. The finish is something of a letdown too: on the short side, with toasted vanilla and sweet seaweed.

The Hakushu 12 is often called a must-try for Japanese whisky explorers. I’d agree–but it’s best to have a dram at a well-stocked bar before you lay out what most stores will ask for it these days, $100 or close to it.

Kanpai, friends! -BO

Suntory Toki Japanese Whisky Review

Producer: Suntory. Distilleries: Chita, Hakushu & Yamazaki. ABV: 43%. No age statement. Price: $40.

The Toki, a new offering (as of summer 2016) from Japanese whisky giant Suntory, has summer written all over it. It’s a low-priced bottling (by Japanese standards) that’s made primarily for mixing. Given the huge size of the blended whisky market relative to single malts–and the importance of the bartending community–I think that makes it a smart move on their part.

The Toki is a blend of grain whisky from Suntory’s Chita distillery with Hakushu and Yamazaki single malts, and it’s exclusive to the North American market. We don’t know the proportion of the components, but the fancy marketing patter suggests it’s at least half grain whisky:

Traditionally in Suntory blends, grain whiskies have played merely a supporting role, acting as a broth or dashi to accentuate key malts. But the unrivaled sophistication and wide range of grain whiskies produced at Suntory’s Chita distillery led [Master Blender] Shinji Fukuyo to rethink that role. He saw these whiskies, with their exquisite balance of complexity, subtlety and refinement, not as a scaffold for the heroic malt to ascend but as true heroes in their own right.

So much for managing expectations. So how’s the juice?

First impressions: it’s on the bright and honeyed side, though with more substance than I expected. Nose: honey-dipped apple, peach, and basil. A suggestion of that light Hakushu smoke. The palate has apple and apricot, and a fair amount of spice: white pepper and ginger. Very nice balance. Oak, vanilla, and spice on the finish.

Single malt lovers are split on this one, which is no surprise. I think it’s a fine summer sipper, and an excellent mixing option. Suntory, naturally, suggests their classic highball: a measure of Toki with ice, club soda on top, then a twist of citrus or a sprig of mint. A couple of those will make you wish summer lasted all year.

Kanpai, friends! -BO

Hibiki Harmony & Hibiki 12 – Side-by-Side Review

Hibiki 12 – Distiller: Suntory.  Age: 12 years. ABV: 43%. Price: $60 (where available).

Hibiki Harmony – Distiller: Suntory. No age statement. ABV: 43%. Price: $60.

Hibiki Smackdown! The increasingly scarce 12-year-old vs. the new NAS Harmony. Been wanting to try these together, both from pure curiosity and because the Harmony is the apparent replacement for the 12-year-old, which is being discontinued–like too many other fine aged whiskies–to keep up with demand.

Both are blends of malt whiskies and grain whisky from multiple Suntory distilleries, aged in various casks, including, interestingly, ex-plum liqueur casks.

Both are light, golden, honeyed, and beautifully balanced. The word “hibiki” means “harmony” in English, appropriately enough. Both have lovely subtle noses, great delicacy, a kiss of sherry, floral elements, and too short a finish.

What about the differences? It’s very much like comparing Nikka’s Taketsuru 12 and the new Taketsuru NAS side-by-side. In both cases, the 12 is a touch darker, rounder, smokier, and more composed. The NASes are a little brighter and wilder, and in the case of the Hibiki Harmony, there’s an extra candied citrus note and a bit more spice.

Both Hibikis are delicious–for lovers of whiskies lighter side, or as first drams. Don’t try these after you’ve had a Stagg Jr. But do try them. There’s plenty to like in both. Kanpai! – BO

Buy Hibiki Japanese Whisky online at Mash + Grape