Hibiki is Suntory’s premier line of blended whiskies. It’s not entirely clear from the description of the lineup on their website if there is grain whisky in the blend. They say, for example, that “[N]umerous types of pure single malt whiskies ageing in various types of casks, including Mizunara, a very rare Japanese oak, all combine to create a full orchestra of flavors and aromas.” No mention of grain. However, a Suntory press release from the IWSC 2013 specifies that this whisky “is blended using carefully selected malts aged over 17 years, and ripe grain malts of the same age”. What “grain malts” are is anyone’s guess but it would appear that this is indeed a blend of malt whisky and grain whisky. What the sources of the components are or are likely to be I have no idea.
The Hibiki 17 is not available in the U.S. The 12 yo is (a review of that one will appear tomorrow). That one is part matured in casks that have held plum liqueur; as I see no such mentions for the 17 yo I assume that’s not true of this one.
Hibiki 17 (43%; from a purchased sample)
Nose: Quite reminiscent of the Yamazaki Bourbon Barrel. Polished wood, honeyed malt and some citrus (oranges). With time there’s some wood spice and hints of pine. With more time there’s some brine and also a grassy note below the surface. With a drop of water the polished wood and citrus integrate and expand and there’s a hint of ripe banana too.
Palate: Starts somewhat blank but then there’s a rush of brine and citrus and spicy wood. Tastes hotter than the abv would suggest and is also not what I expected from the nose. With water the bite lessens and, as on the nose, while nothing new emerges what there is gets better integrated
Finish: Long. Tingling wood/cinnamony spice. With more time the brine hangs around as well and the wood expands (not tannic though) and there’s some sweetness too. With water a little bitterness at the end.
Comments: Doesn’t taste particularly grainy. I wonder what the malt/grain ratio is or if it fluctuates from year to year. Quite nice but I was expecting more. The nose is the most elegant part; there’s not a terrible lot happening on the palate.
Rating: 84 points.