Last week brought terrible news to Japanese whiskey fans: Suntory plans on halting sales of the wildly popular, and fairly affordable, Hakushu 12-year-old single malt and the Hibiki 17-year-old blend. But fear not oh, drinker of smooth spirits, there are other great options out there. These whiskeys may not be the exact same when it comes to flavour and aroma, but they will definitely appeal to your palate in a similar fashion.
Suntory’s sales halt is largely being caused by a shortage of the good stuff; something that’s been slowly becoming apparent in the whiskey world for months now. It takes a lot of time to distill and mature a good whiskey, and in recent years, Japanese whiskey has gained popularity at a rapid rate, so the demand is now outpacing the supply. By the end of June, Hakushu 12 will no longer be found on shelves anywhere, and the same goes for Hibiki 17 come September. If you hope to be sipping these well-balanced whiskeys over the next several years, you better start stocking up — that is, if you can find bottles of the stuff anywhere.
Of course, you can also branch out and try some whiskeys that aren’t experiencing a shortage, yet still have a comparable balance of flavour, aroma, quality, and price. I chatted with whiskey expert Patrick Marran of Bar Rover to see what’s worth sipping in place of one of my old standby favourites, the Hibiki.
If You Like the Hibiki 12
Marran recommends the Jura Seven Wood. It’s not overly peaty, unlike most Islay single malts, and uses a mixture of French Oak, First-Fill sherry casks, and First-Fill American white oak to create a smoother, more creamy taste. You can find it for $US79 ($105) to $US100 ($133). [Editor’s Note: This one is a little difficult to find in Australian Bottle-O’s — online is where you’ll need to go]
The Akashi Single Malt White Oak, which uses Japanese White Oak barrels to create some of the brighter, lighter, fruity taste notes you’d get with the Hibiki 12. Marran also points out that it has an excellent mouthfeel so your taste buds get a good chance to encounter the liquid. You can get it for around $110 a bottle.
If You Like the Hibiki 17
Check out the Usquaebach Old Rare, says Marran. It’s a Scottish blend of over 40 different whiskeys (some almost 20 years old) with a bit of peatiness and has a strong bite on the back end, yet it’s easy to sip. It’s also a fascinating relic of Scottish history that dates back to the 1780s. At the time, distillers were attempting to copyright gaelic words like “uisce” and “usquae” that would eventually become the modern term “whiskey.” You can grab it for $US117 ($156) to $US130 ($173) a bottle.
Pour yourself a spot of Aberlour 16-year. Marran explains that, while the Aberlour has more bite, it still feels evenly balanced the same way the Hibiki 17 does. Let the bite fade while the liquid lingers on your tongue a moment before swallowing and it has many of the same qualities as the Hibiki. If the bite is too much, Marran suggests you toss a single, large ice cube into your glass, let it steep a moment, then sip. This one retails for around $140.
Look, there’s no replacing the Hibiki line, which is the perfect blend of Hakushu and Yamazaki. But if you’re looking for a mellow whiskey that has some of the same qualities, these options are good enough to get you through these tough times, and get your taste buds exploring some new horizons. By the time the Hibiki line returns, you’ll have a newfound appreciation for it.