Blended whisky Hibiki was introduced by Suntory in 1989. The name in Japanese means ‘resonance’ or echo’, and the bottling was brought in to rationalise Suntory’s blended whisky offering from a diverse range of expressions into what would eventually become a single line under the Hibiki brand. Hibiki bottles are immediately recognisable, coming in 24 sided decanters that are designed to represent the 24 seasons of the traditional Japanese calendar. They also have 12 sided heavy glass stoppers signifying the dozen periods of change within that same calendar.
The Hibiki Harmony Master’s Select is a travel retail variant of the NAS Harmony bottling which was introduced a few years ago. The Harmony bottling has effectively replaced the 12 year old which has been discounted (mainly due to incredible demand), so now the range runs as such: Harmony, Harmony Master’s Select, 17 year old & 21 year old. This said, the 17, and 21 year old are on very limited allocations, so you’re not going to see them every day of the week, and if you do, expect to pay heavily.
Master’s Select is described as ‘an exclusive limited edition Hibiki Japanese Harmony featuring hints of Yamazaki Sherry Cask’. It’s a blend from all three of Suntory’s distilleries – Yamazaki, Hakushu and Chita – reportedly at least 10 different malt and grain whiskies as of 2015. It has been matured in five different types of casks including ex-Bourbon, ex-sherry and mizunara. It’s bottled at 43% and was originally priced at around £50, but I’ve been watching it steadily creep up over the last couple of years to around £65.
Nose: Sweet, sherried and floral. Toffee apples, butterscotch, pineapples, pears and orange peels start us our journey. They are joined by woody aromas of cedar, incense, polish, sap and musk. There’s an underlying earthy spice here – cardamom and nutmeg alongside sour cherry notes. Sweet, delicate and inviting.
Taste: Much more body and initial attack than the relatively gentle nose would imply. Still with the toffee, but now joined by more pronounced sherried flavours such as raisins, dates and chocolate. There’s much more bitterness here now and some slight salinity – surely from the cask influences – lots of pepper, nutmeg and hints of char and smoke. Quite malty but with fruits still playing an important role – pineapple again, but now with a sharp and awakening citrus tang. There’s certainly some percentage of older stock in here as brass polish and earthiness and both perceptible. Mouth coating, rich and fairly spicy.
Finish: Medium in length and favouring woody notes with some last minute licks of bitter spice.
Hibiki Harmony Master’s Select is to my mind a fairly substantive step up from the standard Harmony bottling (which we’ll review in the future). The additional sherry cask influence and oaky flavours have provided much more balance and intrigue than the standard edition. Some might argue that it’s perhaps a bit too spicy at times and that this jars against the more delicate floral and fruit notes – however, it’s inarguably a very tasty whisky. Not cheap for an NAS, as whilst originally around £50, I’ve watched the price in airports steadily creep up to over £65. Nevertheless, greatly superior to the entry Harmony bottling and worth looking out for when you’re next wandering around global travel retail.