During a visit with a good friend in Japan we were chatting about how much I like Japanese Highballs (whiskey and soda) that are popular around Japan. The conversation then led into whiskies in general and the differences in whisky vs whiskey, single malt vs blended, etc… So, of course, I asked him for his recommendation into the single malt arena that is perceived to be for high rollers and black credit card globe trotters. To my surprise he did not recommend anything that starts with Mc or the name of some moor in the high lands, stuff that he has enjoyed in the past. Instead, he quickly spoke Japanese to me, “Hibiki” (heebeekee). “Well that’s a new one!” I exclaimed with the thought of maybe three single malt whiskies that I knew.
On my way home I stopped by a liquor store and bought two large sample size bottles of Hibiki 17 year, and two bottles of Yamazaki Single Malt, because it was there and it said 17 year old, single malt. When I got home I waited for the unpacking excitement to subside, since we brought home many snacks. Then I began my first tasting to see what the big deal was with my friend’s immediate call for Hibiki…. Oh damn…. it was immediate love at first sip. The flavors and characters were there without the rough edges on the palate that whiskies (with the “e”) have left in the past. In the following months I compared the whiskies that I had drank with confirmation that I must go back to Japan to buy more. So I returned.
On this next trip I picked up a regular size bottle of Hibiki 17 year old, because the 21 year old was a bit pricey, stupid me. As the months passed I sipped with appreciation to the flavors dancing in symphony. The Hibiki also made for some sublime evenings chatting with my wife who also enjoyed this brand.
On my next trip I found out that Suntory has a family of whiskies and you can visit their plants. But where to go? It turns out the whisky brands by Suntory are named after the towns that produce them and these towns are the major contributors to the unique tastes of each brand – spring waters, soil conditions, air, etc… The nearest plant to us during this visit was the Yamazaki Distillery in, where else, Yamazaki Japan.
The visit was great. The plant was clean and in a scenic little town with an easy walk from the train station. Just follow the signs. Upon arrival at the visitor’s center we were met by our friendly guide who gave us a brief history before we started out trek within the well kept grounds and buildings. The tour ended with a generous sampling of some of the Suntory whiskies, crunchy rice snacks, and dark chocolate that enhanced the flavor experience. Now, my wife and I are not shoppers of tour souvenir shops. But here we made an exception with whisky, rice snacks, and the chocolate. But to our misfortune it had turned out that Hibiki and Yamazaki have been the big winners for many years in coveted awards, and they did it again in 2016. This was a misfortune for us because the plant was sold out of Hibiki. I was lucky enough pick up a few bottles of 7 year old Yamzaki which was also sold out at many stores in Osaka. Even an employee told me that there will be no more Hibiki with years stamped on the label for several years. WOW! Darn tourists! If you want to go on the tour check out their Suntory Yamazaki Distillery tour http://www.suntory.com/factory/yamazaki/, or any other locations.
Please note this post is not sponsored my Suntory or any affiliate. I’m just sharing something my wife and I really enjoyed. Cheers!