We’re taking a break from the Isle of Arran and heading over to Japan. Suntory is a dominant force in the Japanese whisky industry. Not only are their spirits popular in Japan, they are also gaining widespread demand throughout the whisky drinking world. They can’t produce enough whisky to keep up with demand, so Suntory recently installed four new stills at their Yamazaki distillery which will boost production by 40%. Unfortunately those gains won’t be seen for another 10-12 years since whisky is a time honed craft. Suntory is slowly bringing more and more expressions to the US. The whisky I’m reviewing today is not yet available in the US, but you can buy it’s younger brother – the 12 year old. Next year the middle child (the 17 year) will arrive in the US market. Hibiki 21 is a blend of rare and meticulously selected whisky from Suntory’s stocks. The base of the blend is from Yamazaki’s premium sherry casks. Hibiki 21 has won the world whisky awards (WWA) best blended whisky for three out of the past four years. It’s a legend and I was lucky my friend brought it back from Japan to share.
Nose: sweet sherry notes, slightly floral, rich maple syrup, dark chocolate, citrus
Mouth: wonderfully smooth, sweet dark red cherries, unripe strawberries, slightly tannic, full bodied
Finish: neat, hint of spice, long finish, great coating of thick grape jam, hint of smoke
Verdict: I’ll be completely honest; it’s hard to have no expectations when you’re trying one of Suntory’s best whiskies. Before I review any whisky I try to clear my expectations and let the dram speak for itself rather than listen to hype or marketing. The Hibiki 21 really got me excited because it’s not available in the US and I don’t know when I’ll be able to try it again. The nose screams rich dark sherry. There are some slight floral elements as well as maple syrup and dark chocolate. On the mouth this whisky is wonderfully smooth, but also full bodied and highly expressive. Usually smooth, soft whiskies lack punch, but that was not the case with this spirit. Dark red cherries, green strawberries and oak spice coat your entire mouth in a thick layer of flavor. The finish is neat with a hint of smoke and lasts for a long while. Hibiki 21 is a beautifully balanced dram that exhibits and interplay between smooth texture, intense flavor, sherry sweetness and oak spice. To say that Hibiki 21 is a pleasure to drink is an understatement. This dram is excellent and I’d dare any whisky drinker to argue with that statement.