The Extraordinary Hibiki
Hibiki whisky, which has been prevailing over twenty years, is so much popular that people sometimes forgot it was a blended whisky actually. Shinjirou Torii, the founder of Suntory, has contributed hugely in the development of blended whisky. In 1989, the 90th anniversary of the company, Suntory released the first HIbiki range, with their outstanding technique and aspiration of quality. The 24 facets on the bottle embody 24 hours in a day and 24 solar terms in a year. The character”響”on the label was inscripted by Tansetsu Ogino, famous Japanese calligrapher while the label itself is made of “Echizen Washi” paper. After acquiring US top whiskey producer Jim Beam in recent years, it has become one of the largest whisky producer on Earth, which owns those top Scottish distilleries such as Bowmore, Laphroaig, Ardmore and Glen Garioch.
Currently what we often see in duty-free shops is the Hibiki Harmony Master’s Select NAS, which is aged in sherry cask and remains its identity of a blended whisky. In fact, the current supply of Japanese whisky are far from enough to fulfill the demand of the market, especially those highly sought after vintage whisky. As an alternative, there are more NAS (Non Age Statement) whisky in the market, saving those reserves for further ageing. The phenomenon is not only seen in Japan but Scotland, which is a result of the surging demand in Asia.
Hibiki aspires for the quality of harmony, so it didn’t include much reserve whisky at the beginning, but focus on building detailed layers using whiskies of various ages. By regulation, the labelled age statement must not be larger than the youngest components in a blended whisky, they decided not to include any age statement instead. “Hibiki 12 years”is based on those whisky which has been matured in ex-plum cask and grain whisky, both are at least 12 year-old. The blend is prosperous and exudes peculiar fruity aromas exclusively found in Suntory. Afterwards Hibiki 17 and 21 years were released while the former become the most popular one in the series.
Hibiki 17 years is known as the symphony of malt, which encompasses 36 kinds of barley. You may find in the market the initial version of Hibiki 17 with gold label and red stamp at the neck of the bottle, but with no age statement on the label. It was released in the 90s and I found it exceptional, even comparable to 21 years, which is completely different from the prevalent version (rumored only 30 kinds of barley). What we often find in Duty Free shops at airport nowadays is the Hibiki 17 “The beauty of Japanese Nature Special edition”, in which the bottle is engraved with beautiful patterns and the whisky has an amber hue. It has a milky texture and even sweeter than the original version.
As for the more sophisticated “Hibiki 30 years”, it is a result of 32 year- Sherry cask ageing of premium malts. It is beautifully sweet in aromas and rich in palate with an unforgettable lingering finish. It has also won “the best blended whisky”in 2007 and 2008 and commands a price of over HK$20,000 now. Knowing that some drinkers biased against blended whisky, I just agreed that it was over-priced due to the crazy speculation, but the price will never degraded the exceptional quality nor the breathtaking story of the whisky.
三得利Suntory酒廠的「響」已生產廿多年，一直廣受歡迎，甚至有時已經忘掉原來是Blended調和威士忌。由創辦人鳥井信治郎發展的調和技術是有目共睹，於1989年即鳥井信治郎創立酒業90週年紀念，三得利以最優秀技術和追求最高品味精神，推出「響」調和威士忌系列。瓶身上24切割面代表了一天24小時和一年24個節氣，由日本著名書法家荻野丹雪親筆提予「響」字在高級越前和紙酒標上，包裝上絕對是一絲不苟。近代Suntory收購了美國最大的威士忌生產商Jim Beam，成為世界最大威士忌生產商之一，麾下包括著名蘇格蘭蒸餾所如Bowmore，Laphroaig，Ardmore和Glen Garioch等，以後日本威士忌的路途看來相當樂觀。
現時在免稅店通常找到「響」沒年份Harmony Master’s Select，採用山崎雪利桶陳年，保留調和威士忌身份。其實日本各威士忌廠商現時生產遠遠不能滿足市場需求，尢其是舊年份的原酒，取而代之是推出更多無年份NAS(Non Age Statement)威士忌，以保留高品質陳年酒，也有待更多新酒陳熟。這現象並不止於日本，就算蘇格蘭也生產愈多NAS，全因近年市場(尢其亞洲) 需求激增。
免稅店也找到21年「富士風雲」特別版，單看包裝就是收藏家精品，價錢不貴才怪。「響21年」在2017年擊敗蘇格蘭威士忌，再獲Whisky Magazine選為世界最佳調和威士忌大獎，加上之前榮獲2013和 2011年世界威士忌大獎最佳調和威士忌，這已是第三次勇奪殊榮。