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VCH Whisky Review # 1—Hibiki Japanese Harmony

Japanese whiskies have been on a roll lately. Jim Murray picked Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 as his 2015 Whisky of the Year, which was a pretty big deal when you consider he had never awarded that coveted title to anything but a Scotch from Scotland in the 12 year history of his Whisky Bible. These days, only an uninformed Scotch snob would look down his nose at a decent Japanese whisky.

So let’s get right to it.

We had a very good response on social media a few weeks ago when we said we would be sampling this interesting whisky over the weekend. So good in fact, that we decided to make it VCH Whisky Review # 1, even though I have some long-term favorite whiskies that I know much better than this one.

It’s a very VCH kind of whisky, for one thing, which I’ll get back to in a minute—plus y’all said you were interested in it. So why not, as Paul Simon once said, keep the customer satisfied?

Back to the review. Some have dismissed Hibiki Japanese Harmony as being:

  1. Too pricey for a blend, and

  2. Too sweet

I’ll admit I was in the second camp myself when I cracked this bottle open a few weeks ago. It reminded me of the light, sweet Auchentoshan in a fairly good way, (we’ll get all scotch snobby and talk about tasting notes and everything in a minute, have no fear) but sweet was definitely my first impression.

Sweet and floral. The nose is quite floral forward to say the least. Not in a bad way, it’s just light years from a heavily peated scotch like a Lagavulin or Laphroaig. The nose is actually quite nice.

Tasting Notes

  • Nose—Very floral and sweet, caramel

  • Mouth—I get honey and quite sweet at that; orange; spice, maybe cinnamon; an earthier note that I cannot identify and won’t pretend to ID (could be from the Mizunara (Japanese oak) casks…but I won’t gild that lily without more research and tasting—yeah, it’s a tough job…

  • Finish—Get a little almond or nutty flavor, maybe some dark chocolate

This whisky has “opened up” and improved in the bottle the past few weeks. I was underwhelmed upon first trying it, and had a hard time getting past the sweetness and floral forward nose that was so prominent. I shared the experience with a friend who is knowledgeable about whiskies, and his opinion was the same. I wish he were here today to see how its gotten noticeably better.

Suntory calls it “a symphony of at least 10 malt and grain whiskies, aged in five different types of casks, from Suntory’s Yamazaki, Hakushu and Chita distilleries.” Is it a symphony? I don’t know about all that, but this is a whisky worth trying, in my humble opinion.

Is it over priced for a blend? That's hard to say, but considering what some pay for Blue Label, I’d say no. It’s an interesting whisky, and my bottle has turned into a pleasant surprise.

I said I’d get back to why it’s a very VCH kind of whisky.

The Japanese have a reverence for well-made things and craftsmanship and tradition that is very VCH, for one thing. The paper label on the bottle is made from an ancient Japanese process and doesn’t come from trees.

The bottle is a neat decanter style with 24 facets that represent Japan’s 24 seasons. How cool is that?

Oh yeah, and it tastes pretty swell after you give it some time to breathe. Give it a try and tell us what you think.

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