Japanese whisky may have gotten too hot.
Earlier this summer, Suntory, the umbrella company over Hibiki, Hakushu and other prized names in Japanese whisky, announced two of its mainstay bottles were biting the dust. The Hibiki 17-year-old blend and the Hakushu 12-year single malt will not be seen on shelves anymore for an unannounced period of time. This follows earlier reports that the eruption of demand for aged Japanese whiskies has shoved prices far above recommended retail, going so far as to cause distributors to further limit the number of bottles each store is alotted.
Now, Suntory has announced its newest bottle — Hibiki Blender’s Choice. And, despite the fact it’s almost certain to sell well, Blender’s Choice is a big red flag. The blend has no age statements (called NAS), making it the third bottle under Hibiki’s growing label of age-mysterious whiskies (the others being Hibiki Japanese Harmony and Japenese Harmony Master’s Select).
Here’s what we do know: it’s Japanese, it’s Hibiki, it’s a blend, it’s a 700 mL bottle, it’s $260 and it’s 43 percent alcohol by volume.
None of this is to say Suntory or any of its subsidiaries is at fault — quickly browsing the brand’s awards page shows it has more “bests” than it knows what to do with. But you’ll note every one of those award-winning whiskies carries an age statement — a marker that what is in that bottle, blended or otherwise, is at least of a certain stature and quality.
The degradation of aged Japanese whiskies is happening fast, and seeing as Suntory apparently invested almost $200 million into production facilities not too long ago, it should return. But the landscape we’re in now has a precious few bottles of age-marked whiskies on one side, and a horde of collectors, enthusiasts, bar managers and store owners on the other. If you were holding out on Japanese whisky until the hype (and prices) died down a bit, prep for the long haul.
Blender’s Choice is available for pre-order, and it ships the second week of September.
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