Whisky of the Week – Hibiki Japanese Harmony

Hibiki Harmony was introduced in the US in 2015. It serves as the foundation of the Hibiki line of blended whiskies, Hibiki 12, 17 and 21 year age statements. The Hibiki line is the finest of Suntory’s excellent range of whiskies. Harmony replaces Suntory’s Hibiki 12-year-old variety and utilizes many of the same key whiskies from the original Hibiki blend. Harmony, however, is a “softer, gentler” offering, with a subtle complexity.

The Blend

Japanese oakHarmony is a combination of at least ten malt and grain whiskies.  In Scotland it is common for competing distilleries to swap whiskies. But the Japanese distillers rely only on their own malts and grain whiskies.  Hibiki Harmony is sourced from Suntory’s Yamazaki, Hakushu and Chita distilleries.

Suntory derives Harmony’s complexity from special barley strains, yeasts and the varying peat levels of the contributing malts. And, the grain whiskies (mostly corn whisky) from Suntory’s Chita distillery complements the malt whiskies and enhances their overall consistency.

The type of aging casks also contributes to Hibiki’s complexity. Suntory uses American white oak and sherry casks. But, the Japanese Oak, also known as Mizunara oak, contributes a unique set of flavors. The wood has extremely high levels of vanillin and imparts notes of sandalwood and incense.

Origin of Japanese Whisky

an image of Suntory's Yamazaki distillery. It is a nondescript brick buildinng
Yamazaki Distillery

Scotch whisky had a profound influence on the Japanese whisky industry. Two of the industry’s most influential pioneers, Shinjiro Torii and Masataka Taketsuru, dedicated their lives to creating a Japanese whisky equal in stature. Though they shared a common vision there was a profound difference in their approach.

Shinjiro Torii’s established Yamazaki distillery in a suburb outside of Kyoto, Japan. He chose the area for its excellent water. The water is of such high quality that the 16th century Tea Master, Sen no Rikyū, chose the region to build his tearoom. Torii then hired Taketsuru to oversee the production of Japan’s first malt whisky.

Taketsuru apprenticed in Scotland and was the first to bring the techniques he learned there, home to Japan. His life goal was to create a Japanese malt whisky that mimicked the essence of Scotch, and in 1934, he established Nikka distilleries. In 2007 Nikka’s Taketsuru 21 Years Old Pure Malt won the prestigious “World’s Best Blended Malt” award, at the World Whiskies Awards international whisky competition.

Torii, on the other hand, envisioned a whisky equal in quality to Scotch but a whisky that was uniquely Japanese. Unlike the Scotch, the Japanese tend to drink alcohol with their meals. They make their whisky to complement food rather than stand on its own.  Alcohol is acidic and can overpower many flavors. Consequently, Japanese whisky tends to be smoother, sweeter and more fragrant than their British counterparts.

Enjoying Japanese Whisky

an image of Hibiki Harmony bottle adjacent to a dish of food and a cocktail
Hibiki with an appetizer and a cocktail.

The Japanese tend to have sophisticated palettes and can appreciate the subtlest flavors and aromas. So, they are not afraid to add water to their whisky. In fact, the Japanese seldom drink their whisky “straight up” or neat. Water, either in the liquid or solid form is critical to appreciating the nuances of a Japanese whisky.

With meals, the Japanese often rely on the “twice up”, an equal mix of whisky and mineral water. The strong character of the whisky is not diminished by the water and pairs well with light meat and fish. Another way to serve whisky with a meal is in the mizuwari cocktail. It consists of one part whisky and two to two and a half part mineral water in an ice-filled glass. In both cases, the alcohol content is lower but still retains most of its flavor to compliment the entrée.

Away from the dinner table the Japanese often enjoy their whisky “on the rocks’. But not just any rocks (ice) will do. The true aficionado chooses only the cleanest, clearest and purest ice, free of contamination, impurities, and minerals.

an image of an ice ball in a tumbler of whisky.
Ice Ball In Whisky

And we’re not talking the common ice cube either! The Japanese prefer a single, large chunk of ice. This cools the drink quickly but is slow to melt and dilute the whisky. The epitome of a Japanese whisky on the rock experience is the “ice ball” whisky. A perfectly round ball of ice carefully crafted to satisfy the Japanese’s sophisticated aesthetic tastes.

Hibiki Harmony Cocktails

While Hibiki Harmony is also an excellent foundation for a whisky cocktail. Here are several you may enjoy.


The Shomyo 

2.00 oz Hibiki Harmony Japanese Whisky
2.00 oz Fermented Gioshi Cha Japanese Tea
0.75 oz Local Plum + Coconut Cordial
0.25 oz Filtered Lime Juice (please ensure this is well strained, with no flecks of lime segments/debris)
2 dashes Bittered Sling Denman Bitters

 Method: 

Place all ingredients in a clay kettle, and slowly heat to a low simmer (140F-160F). Remove from the heat, and pour into prepared cups. Garnish with thinly sliced lime wheel

 Hibiki Shiso Julep

3.00 oz Hibiki Harmony Japanese Whisky
4          Shiso Leaves
2         Barspoons Cane Sugar
Crushed Ice

Method:

Muddle sugar with 3 shiso leaves until macerated.  Add 2 oz of Hibiki Harmony, stir, and add 1/2 cup of crushed ice.   Top with 1 more oz of whisky, stir, and add more crushed ice.  Garnish with a whole Shiso leaf.

Japanese Sidecar

2.00 oz  Hibiki Harmony Whisky
1.0 oz   Triple sec
0.25 tsp  Yuzu Juice

Method:
Add all the ingredients to a cocktail shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into a chilled Martini glass.

Mizuwari Highball

1.5 oz     Hibiki Harmony Whisky
3.0 oz    Japanese Sparkling Water

Method:
Stack several large cubes of ice in a highball glass. Pour the whisky into the glass and slowly stir it 13 and a half times. Fill the glass with ice again, and top with sparkling water. Stir three and a half more times to finish the drink.


Tasting Notes —

Color: amber

Nose: rose, lychee, hint of rosemary,  mature woodiness, sandalwood

Palate: honeylike sweetness, candied orange peel, white chocolate

Finish: subtle, tender long finish, with hint of Mizunara (Japanese oak)


Pronunciation:

Tags from the story
,
Written By
More from Bill

Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select

There is a couple of things different about Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey....
Read More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *