Color: pale amber
Nose: caramel, vanilla, cloves
Taste: smoke, cane sugar, black tea
Value: a lot of cash for mild returns
You all know by now that I love bottles that fit in my home bar cabinet. This diminutive bottle tucks away nicely, even on squat shelves.
Straight to the “let’s not mince words” department: this Japanese whiskey tastes like it’s trying too hard.
Hibiki is a Japanese blended whiskey. I’m sure you’re all familiar with blended whiskeys. Among other reasons, they’re blended to ensure a consistent taste across multiple years. I’m guessing Suntory blends for a different reason: bringing the best of multiple worlds. The flavors in Hibiki 12-year are too complex to be achieved in a single barrel.
The flavors in Hibiki 12-year are too complex to be achieved in a single barrel.
Dry tea, slight floral notes, caramel, vanilla, cloves… all take a backseat to the smoke. Even in Scotch Whiskeys, I’m not a fan of prominent smoke. I like my hints of wood to come through in vanilla, cinnamon, and spice. For me, the heavy hand with the smoke is what makes this Japanese whiskey taste like it’s trying too hard.
Japanese whiskeys are known for their understated, yet complex tastes. And while Hibiki 12 is a direct hit in the complex department, it misses in the realms of understated for the smoke. I don’t know if the smoke is a signature of being aged in Japanese oak, but if it is, I’m unimpressed.
Now that I’ve mildly slandered this pricey booze, I can recommend it with ice. Neat, the smoke is cloying. But once the ice begins to melt, the smoke mellows and Hibiki becomes a subtle sipping whiskey. Also, the fact that it’s offered above 80 proof and is still amazingly smooth serves up major points.
Points where points are due: Hibiki 12-year is a smooth, respectable whiskey. And, as I am a man who enjoys booze that announces its presence, Hibiki 12-year gets points for proclaiming: I HAVE SMOKE! Too bad its main attraction is the very thing I hate about it. It’s why I don’t rate Scotch whiskey up here, it’s TOO subjective.
If you’re looking for a silver lining here it’s this: Hibiki 12 is the perfect whiskey for a Burnt (Smokey) Martini. Go with 2.5 ounces of Bluecoat American Gin or Jewel of Russia Vodka, and a splash of Hibiki. I’ve posted the recipe. Tasty.
But, it’s a very thin silver lining as Hibiki is difficult to acquire and needlessly expensive. (Update: Suntory doesn’t even bottle Hibiki 12-year anymore; supply and demand has them now offering “Harmony” instead… a no-age-stated whiskey.)
Bottom line is: this whiskey is nice, but doesn’t compare to its older siblings.
Final Rating: 86 out of 100
Hi, nice article and review. I live in Japan and I also tasted Hikibi. I understand your feelings about Hibiki, but I think the smokey flavor is its fine characteristic. Well, I guess it is just my own taste preference. I also think it is very pricey and I would never purchase a large bottle of it. I tried it as a small sample bottle for about $5. But I think you should try some Yamazaki 12 or 18 year old, or Hakushu 12 year old single malt whiskey. Some very tasty whiskies, but they’re also expensive.
I think the smoke is both good and bad, but that’s just my opinion. Do most Japanese whiskies have that much smoke?
I think Hibiki in particular has the “smokey” flavor. I think it may come from the charcoal filtering process, but it may be both the charcoal and the barrel that gives it that smoke. I don’t find Yamazaki 12 year to be as smokey, but it has more of an Oak flavor, maybe a hint of some fruitiness, but overall mild and mellow. It may remind you of scotch. I’m not sure, but it may go through a charcoal filtering process as well. I’ve tried a Suntory brand which was also mild, but earthy or oak taste.
There are several others which I have not tried yet such as the maker NIkka. I will try some more Japanese whiskies, but I’ve been reminiscing with Jim Beam. When I try some different ones I’ll let you know.
Anyway nice article and give Yamazaki or Hakushu a shot.
Thanks for the reply! I know I can get Yamazaki… I’ll keep an eye out for Hakushu.