Saturday, August 11, 2012

Review: 21 year old Hibiki Suntory Whisky

Finally, after repeated invitations from my first cousin (HD), I managed to visit him and his family in the New York City area.

My family likes food.  Probably the understatement of the century!

I mean food is a real part of our culture.  Food and hospitality.  It is ingrained in our DNA. We can't help it.

You land at my house, I am offering you a drink, sweets and a sincere demand you stay for dinner.  It's a Middle Eastern thing. Well, more than a Middle Eastern cultural phenomenon.  My extended family is drawn from many different cultures stretching from Canada, through the Middle East, Srilanka and all the way to Japan.  So, when I landed at HD's casa, dinnertime appetizers looked like this:

At the top centre is a tray of sushi, in front of it is a bowl of pistachios and in the bottom left is a plate of kibbeh nayyeh.  Can't see it that well, ok, here's more food porn:

Is that the culinary version of the United Nations or what?

In any event, HD's plan was for all of us to enjoy a splendid meal and then finish the evening with a special treat: Hibiki 21 years Suntory Whisky

Trouble was this incredibly enjoyable meal went on for hours and I lack self-control, as I have never met a food I didn't like.  Plus, there was lamb to follow.  Oh, I didn't tell you about the lamb?  Here it is:

By the time I and the rest of the clan worked through some lamb, accompanied by Stag's Leap, we were stuffed.  Couldn't do the Hibiki.  She had to wait for another evening.

. . .

We finally tackled the Hibiki on another day, and this is what I came up with for a tasting note:

Nose (undiluted)
Concentrated notes of citrus, orange, coriander and malt.  Very floral, immaculate, the epitome of sophistication.  You just know the master blender spent just as much time trying to achieve these great scents as he did with the flavor profile.

Palate (undiluted)
Powerful beams of orange, tangerine, oak and sandalwood pour upon the palate.  Almonds, herbal like and stupefyingly beautiful oak notes abound too.

Body (undiluted)
Gorgeously rounded body that gracefully moves across the palate like Maria Sharapova on the courts of Wimbledon.

Finish (undiluted)
 Cappuccino, pistachio ice cream, old leather, all hosted by a delicate malt/oak embrace that is truly an affair to remember.

General Impressions
Simply fantastic whisky!  World class and fitting to be found only in the finest bars.  A whisky that can hold its own in the company of the best single malts of Scotland.

While this Japanese whisky is technically a blend, do not for a second think that such a fact of production is indicative of lesser quality.

I am convinced that in a blind tasting this whisky would easily be regarded as a single malt from Speyside which exhibits classic honey, sandalwood and oak profile.

. . .

Any Peat or Smoke?
I cannot criticize this whisky because I truly enjoy the honey/oak/nut flavor profile.  However, if you are seeking a lot of smoke and peat, then Hibiki 21 is not the answer.  Smoke is present but balanced and restrained.  The whisky has very little, if any, detectable peat.

Accordingly HD, being an enthusiastic peat and smoke fan, was more anxious for me to try his bottle of Springbank 15, but I will save that review for another post.


Jason Debly

P.S.  Thanks cousin for the great visit to NYC, the fine dining and whisky tastings!

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2012. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission (which may be granted if you ask nicely!)


  1. Great review, cous ! Completely agree that when it comes to blends (peat or no peat) this one is a hands-down favorite ! Just enjoyed another dram last night accompanied by a COHIBA whilst reading your notes ... You are spot on with your comments around orange / tangerine ... Could not (and did not care to) escape those tones with every sip !! It was a pleasure hosting you and look forward to seeing you soon ... HD

    1. I really appreciated the trip to the St. Regis bar, that may appear in a future post too. Best damn martini bar none!

  2. That must be expensive scotch. Looks great though

  3. Hello Jason. I been reading your blog for a couple of years now. I am not much of the posting type but this post made me want to take the time to say how much I have enjoyed your writing and convey my appreciation for all the great reviews that have inspired me try so many wonderful bottles.
    It was one of your earlier post that turned me on to this bottle. I was fortunate enough to mentioned this to a good friend who was happening to be heading to SE Asia and was welling to pick a bottle during his lay over in Japan. I was expecting and was prepared to pay close to what a JW Blue cost or more, but was pleasantly surprised it was less than half of that.
    The night I picked it up, I opened it to share with my good friend. We were floored as how good it was. My friend stated the only thing that was more complex and refined in his experience was Macallen 25. For me, I absolutely love the citrus-flora nose. I remembered tasting mandarin, marzipan, oak and a lingering jasmine tea finish.
    The bottle was put away for a couple of months until my best friend's wedding. Upon opening it again, I noticed the great flora-citrus nose was not as strong as originally, but the taste and finish was unaltered. Comments from the groom and groomsmen were all superlatives.
    Sadly all I have left is a beautiful, but empty bottle and the pining of a wonderful experience not knowing when I will get another opportunity again.

    Thank you for the inspiration to get into scotch. Cheers!!


    1. Hi TL, thank you for taking the time to post your experience with this true gem of the whisky world.

      The only problem with Hibiki 21 is that it is not available in the United States or Canada. Gotta go to Japan or elsewhere in that part of the world to pick up a bottle.

      And yes, cheaper (but far superior) than Johnnie Walker Blue, and that is saying something for a Japanese whisky in Japan, a country that is never cheap.

      Cheers and hope you will comment once in a while in the future!