Hibiki is Suntory's blended whisky brand. Somehow, the Japanese whisky industry seems to have avoided being totally sucked in by the "single malt" obsession of Scotch and produces blended whiskies that are every bit as high quality (and expensive!) as their single malt brothers.
Here, we have the Hibiki 21 Year Old, which has won numerous whisky awards in its time. As you can see, it's a glorious rich golden colour in the glass.
The nose is warm and sweet – demerara sugar, generous but not overwhelming alcohol and hints of vanilla too. With water added, the nose is much more disappointing; the warmth and sweetness fade away and you're left with a slightly rough alcohol edge.
On tasting, the alcohol is huge and washes away the sweetness suggested by the nose. There's a delicious pepperiness to it and a lingering finish, but that alcohol is a little too wild and uncontrolled to allow you to enjoy it properly.
Adding water brings the alcohol under control and reveals a very approachable whisky – rich, warming without burning, and a gentle fudge like sweetness. The pepperiness is still there but again reined in, and there's just a suggestion of the wood playing underneath.
This isn't the first Japanese whisky I've found with this kind of character – neat, it has a heavenly nose but is overly brash in the mouth, water reveals a delicious taste but buries that wonderful aroma.
If I could have the nose and the taste at the same time, I'd give this 3.5 stars. As I'm forced to chose one or the other, I'm marking it down to 3.0.
This review was originally published 31st October, 2012. It was last updated 1st June, 2023.