Hibiki vs Yamazaki

Hibiki vs Yamazaki | Comparing Suntory’s Iconic Japanese Whiskies

For us Westerners it feels like Japan has only just appeared on the whisky scene in the last decade, however, Japan has been perfecting their craft for over 100 years. Its adoption and enthusiasm by us has caused supply and demand chaos for Japan’s biggest whisky distillery The House of Suntory.

Since Jim Murray named Yamazki’s Sherry Cask, whisky of the year in 2013 in his Whisky Bible production hasn’t been able to cope with the demand. This led to them trimming down their offering significantly to do what the Japanese to do best: fewer but better things.

The debate of Hibiki vs Yamazaki is a bit of an unusual one as you are comparing a blended whisky Hibiki with a single malt Yamazaki. The main difference between these two whiskies from Suntory lies in the definition of ‘blended’ and ‘single malt’ labels. Blending means that multiple types of whiskies are mixed together, while single malt indicates that all the ingredients used come from a single distillery.

In Hibiki’s case the blended malt you are tasting a number of whiskies from House of Suntory’s back catalog: Yamazaki, Hakushu and Chita distillery. Whereas with Yamazaki it’s a single malt meaning any expression only comes from the Yamazaki distillery.

Japanese whisky it characterised by the soft water used to produce it, mainly snow melt from the iconic Mount Fiji. The unique combination of pure water and warm Japanese summers gives Japanese whisky a distinct flavour profile and a complex taste that differs from Scottish whisky. This is due to the warmer climate in Japan during the summer season, which arguably Scotland doesn’t experience at all – I say in jest as a Scottish native.

Within this article, I will review the two no-age statement whiskies created by both Japanese brands: Hibiki’s Japanese Harmony and Yamazaki’s Distiller’s Reserve. Both these expressions were created to appease the strain of the supply for their aged whiskies. I also feel they are a fair comparison against one another to get to the bottom of Hibiki vs Yamazaki.

Hibiki vs Yamazaki: Quick Look Comparison

Hibiki Japanese Harmony

Hibiki Japanese Harmony

Nose: Red berries, green apple and layers of rich honey.

Palate: The flavor profile includes melted butter and caramelized dates. It also has a subtle scent of fragrant sandalwood that transitions into a warm and spicy oak flavor.

Mouthfeel: Full bodied and creamy, buttery sensation

Finish: The whisky has flavours and aromas of brown sugar, citrus peels, white grape, and black pepper.

Age: No Age Statement

Cask/Barrels: whiskies are drawn from 5 different types of cask, including American white oak casks, Sherry casks and Mizunara oak casks

Strength: 43% ABV / 86 proof

Price: £75 / $93

Yamzaki Distillers Reserve

Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve

Nose: The whisky has classic Yamazaki strawberries and dried fruits flavour with floral notes from the Mizunara cask. It also has hints of fragrant sandalwood and possibly coconut. The aroma is very strong and captivating.

Palate: The dried berries have a lively taste on the palate and even have some raspberry notes that develop as you taste it. However, the taste of the berries is slightly decreased to make space for the flavours of light oak, white peach, and a hint of spice.

Mouthfeel: Rounded, well balanced

Finish: The flavour of vanilla is long-lasting, followed by a sweet and spicy cinnamon finish.

Age: No Age Statement

Cask/Barrels: matured in Bordeaux wine casks and Sherry casks. It also features malt matured in Mizunara casks, adding subtle fragrant oak notes.

Strength: 43% ABV / 86 proof

Price: £67 / $83

Hibiki vs Yamazaki: Hibiki Japanese Harmony Review

The Hibiki whisky was launched in 1989 by Suntory to celebrate their 90th anniversary. It has since been considered the epitome of Japanese whisky, representing the perfect blend of Japanese nature and the skills of its people.

This whisky is a unique blend of 24 seasons from Japan’s Yamazaki, Hakushu, and Chita distilleries. It pays homage to the 24 delicate changes of season based on the ancient lunar calendar, highlighting the important impact of Japanese nature on whisky ageing.

Hibiki Japanese Harmony is a type of Japanese blended whisky from the Hibiki range. It is named after its harmonious taste, which comes from a blend of malt whiskies from the Yamazaki and Hakushu distilleries, as well as grain whisky from the Chita distillery.

This special whisky has a complex and balanced flavour that is full bodied and creamy, with a buttery sensation. Its aroma boasts red berries, green apple and layers of rich honey. On the palate it delivers melted butter that melds with sweet caramelised dates, as well as a hint of fragrant sandalwood that develops into warming oak-y spice. The finish is long lasting with notes of brown sugar, citrus peels, white grape and black pepper.

The blend itself was crafted by the Suntory Whisky blending team, led by Master Blender Shingo Torii. The whiskies come from 5 different cask types: American white oak casks imparting nutty flavours; Sherry casks contributing sweet fruity notes; Mizunara oak casks adding subtle fragrant oak notes; Bordeaux wine casks giving tannin structure; and finally Sherry casks providing intense aromas such as dried fruits.

No age statement is assigned to this expression as it contains various whiskies from different ages and casks which contribute to its harmonious taste profile. Hibiki Japanese Harmony has an alcohol strength of 86 proof / 43ABV%.

Hibiki vs Yamazaki: Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve Review

The Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve is the flagship single malt whisky from Suntory’s iconic Yamazaki distillery, Japan’s first and oldest malt distillery. Since its opening in 1923, it has been a leading pioneer in the world of whisky making.

The Yamazaki distillery was established in 1923 at the foot of Mt. Tennozan, located in the city of Shimamoto, Osaka Prefecture. The land was selected for its high-quality water source – crucial for whisky making – as well as its natural environment ideal for whisky maturation. Yamazaki’s high-quality spring water comes from the surrounding Katsura, Uji and Kizu rivers, renowned for their exceptional purity and mineral content.

This ideal condition is further enhanced by the humid climate of Japan’s Kansai region, providing an essential part of the whisky maturation process, allowing it to slowly age and develop complex flavours over time. Due to its location near a mountain range, Yamazaki has also been blessed with distinctive topography that provides ample amounts of shade and protection from the sun’s heat during the day – creating a unique environment full of fragrant aromas.

Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve pays homage to these unique conditions and celebrates 90 years of Suntory’s pioneering spirit.

Yamazaki is well known for its unique use of mizunara oak casks, crafted from rare Japanese oak trees with large pores and low tannin levels. This unique barrel ageing lends to the whisky’s signature aroma and flavour which can never be replicated elsewhere.

The Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve offers a classic combination of Yamazaki strawberries and dried fruits on the nose, with floral notes coming from the Mizunara cask whisky. On tasting it reveals a lively palate of dried berries; light oak; white peach; and just enough spice to keep things interesting. The finish is long and vanilla-laden, with spicy but sweet cinnamon acting as a final flourish.

This expression was crafted by combining whiskies matured in Bordeaux wine casks; Sherry casks; Mizunara oak casks; American white oak casks; providing an array of flavours that contribute to its complex taste profile. No age statement is assigned to this expression as it contains various whiskies from different ages and cask types that come together harmoniously in the end result.

Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve has an alcohol strength of 86 proof / 43ABV%. This special whisky bottle retails at £66.95/$83.

Hibiki vs Yamazaki: Japanese Harmony & Distiller’s Reserve the comparison

Hibiki vs Yamazaki The Comparison

Hibiki Japanese Harmony and Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve are both crafted by the renowned Suntory Whisky blending team and represent the best of what Japan has to offer in terms of whisky. While each whisky boasts its own unique range of aromas, flavours, and character, they also share many similarities.

Both Hibiki Japanese Harmony and Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve use a blend of various whiskies from different cask types – American white oak casks which impart nutty flavours; Bordeaux wine casks that give tannin structure; Sherry casks providing intense aromas such as dried fruits; Mizunara oak casks adding subtle fragrant oak notes. This results in whiskies with complex flavour profiles that combine different elements such as sweetness, spice and tartness for a harmonious blend.

In terms of nose, Hibiki Japanese Harmony offers an intriguing mix of blossom honey woodiness, sandalwood, orange marmalade and muscat grapes. On the other hand, Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve offers classic combinations of strawberries and dried fruits on the nose alongside floral notes from the Mizunara cask whisky.

When it comes to taste, Hibiki Japanese Harmony presents a sweet but balanced flavour profile with slight tartness from overripe oranges which coat the palate. Meanwhile Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve reveals a lively palate of dried berries; light oak; white peach; just enough spice to keep things interesting before finishing off with long vanillas scented finish laced with spicy but sweet cinnamon tones.

Price – Value for money

The price comparison of Hibiki vs Yamazaki when debating whether to get the Hibiki Japanese Harmony over the Yamazaki Distiller’s reserve could be a determining factor if on a tight budget. But being honest, there really isn’t an earth-shattering amount of money distinguishing the two.

While they may come at the higher end of mainstream whisky prices, with Hibiki Japanese Harmony costing £74.95/$93.11 and Yamazaki Distiller’s reserve costing £66.95/$83, they are worth every penny.

This is because both Hibiki Japanese Harmony and Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve have unique flavour profiles that have been meticulously blended together by some of the best blenders in the world. Hibiki Japanese Harmony offers a sweet but balanced flavour profile with slight tartness from overripe oranges which coat the palate for a luxurious experience. Meanwhile Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve offers classic combinations of strawberries and dried fruits on the nose alongside floral notes from its Mizunara cask whisky, resulting in an enjoyable complexity of flavours on the palate.

This attention to detail allows both Hibiki Japanese Harmony and Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve to stand out amongst other single malts and blends on the market today, making them worth every penny spent on them.

Hibiki vs Yamazaki: Food Pairings

I always recommend food pairings when reviewing whiskies as I feel it gives a different perspective of the tasting notes when put into the context of enjoying whisky with food.

And again whilst us Westerners tend to sip our drams neat with the occasional nibble of nuts or if we’re feeling really fancy and cheeseboard or dessert. The Japanese traditionally drink their whisky with their food. Mainly in a highball style glass with soda so it’s not too strong.

Hibiki Japanese Harmony: Food Pairings

Hibiki Japanese Harmony is the perfect accompaniment to a selection of sushi. Its delicate fruit notes and subtle sweetness perfectly complement the freshness of the sushi, making for a truly delightful experience. The slight cinnamon and pepper spiciness from the whisky provides an extra layer of complexity that pairs wonderfully with traditional ginger between each sushi piece.

Sushi

The smooth, balanced flavour profile of Hibiki Japanese Harmony is particularly well suited to nigiri sushi and sashimi, which rely on their silky texture in order to be enjoyed to the fullest. The muted citrus notes of Hibiki Japanese Harmony bring out the natural flavours in fish dishes such as tuna, salmon, mackerel and prawn. Its slightly sweet finish also adds a wonderful contrast to these savoury dishes.

Hibiki Japanese Harmony stands out amongst other single malts and blends due to its unique flavour profile, making it the ideal choice for those seeking something special when pairing with sushi. With its harmonious combination of different cask types – American white oak casks; Bordeaux wine casks; Sherry casks; Mizunara oak casks – Hibiki Japanese Harmony offers an intriguing mix of blossom honey woodiness, sandalwood, orange marmalade and muscat grapes that elevate a classic dinner experience.

Sticky toffee pudding
Sticky toffee pudding

Hibiki Japanese Harmony is the ideal accompaniment to a spiced treacle dessert, such as a sticky toffee pudding or a treacle tart. The whisky’s complex flavours, including floral and spicy notes, pair beautifully with the sweetness of the treacle and provide an extra layer of depth that elevates the dessert.

Treacle Tart
Treacle Tart

The depth and complexity of Hibiki Japanese Harmony work particularly well with desserts like sticky toffee pudding due to their caramelised notes which match perfectly with the pudding’s golden syrup. Likewise, the subtle citrus flavours from Hibiki Japanese Harmony bring out the sweet yet slightly tart nature of a treacle tart in delicious fashion.

What’s more, Hibiki Japanese Harmony contains notes of sandalwood which can help to mellow out richer desserts like these and allow for more balanced tasting experience overall. Meanwhile its smoky finish provides an intriguing contrast against these sweet treats which also linger on the palate for an even more enjoyable experience.

Overall, Hibiki Japanese Harmony is not only an excellent pairing for sushi dishes but also works wonderfully with spiced treacle desserts. Its unique blend of different cask types offer a delightful mix of blossom honey woodiness, sandalwood, orange marmalade and muscat grapes that elevate any classic dinner experience or after-dinner treat.

Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve: Food Pairings

Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve is an ideal whisky pairing for fried dishes due to its balance of sweet and smoky flavours. The subtle sweetness from the whisky complements the crunchiness of the fried food providing a depth of flavour that’s hard to find elsewhere.

The smokiness from Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve also provides a wonderful contrast against oily fried foods such as chips and potato wedges, making them more enjoyable to eat. This smoky finish comes from the Scotch oak casks in which the whisky was aged for at least 12 years. It adds a complexity to a fried dish that heightens the overall experience of eating it.

The sweetness found in Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve also pairs nicely with richer dishes such as fried chicken and fish, balancing out the heavier flavours present in these types of food. The balanced fruity notes bring out the natural sweetness found in fried foods while still allowing their other flavours – such as herbs and spices – to shine through.

Tempura Prawns
Tempura Prawns

Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve is also great with lighter, battered-style fry-ups like tempura. Its delicate honey notes provide an extra layer of complexity when paired with tempura prawns, allowing for a much more enjoyable eating experience overall.

Doughnut with chocolate dipping sauce
Doughnut with chocolate dipping sauce

Or if you are looking to pair with a dessert small fried doughnuts with rich dark chocolate dipping sauce, similar to Churros or the equivalent French Beignets.

Beignets
Beignets

Overall, Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve is an excellent pairing for fried dishes due to its balance of sweet and smoky flavours which bring out the natural sweetness found in many fried foods while still allowing their other flavours – such as herbs and spices – to shine through. Its complex flavour profile also adds a delightful depth of flavour to any fried dish making it even more enjoyable to eat.

Hibiki vs Yamazaki: Cocktails

Hibiki Japanese Harmony Cocktails

Hibiki Japanese Harmony whisky is a great choice for creating a variety of delicious cocktails. One of the most popular drinks to mix with Hibiki is the classic old fashioned.

This classic cocktail combines the sweet and spicy flavours of Hibiki with the zesty and herbal notes of orange bitters for an incredibly complex drinking experience.

Whisky Old Fashioned Cocktail

To make this drink, start by adding two ounces of Hibiki whisky to a rocks glass filled with ice. Then, add two dashes each of Angostura and orange bitters, along with a teaspoon of brown sugar syrup or simple syrup. Stir everything together until it’s well mixed, then garnish with an orange peel. The orange peel brings out the subtle citrus notes in the Hibiki and adds a touch of sweetness that pairs perfectly with its smoky finish.

Another great option is an updated version of the Manhattan called The Blossom Royale. This variation uses white vermouth in place of red vermouth and adds elderflower liqueur to bring out more floral notes from Hibiki’s blend.

Blossom Royale Cocktail

To make this drink, fill a shaker tin halfway with ice cubes before adding two ounces each of Hibiki whisky and dry white vermouth, along with one ounce elderflower liqueur. Shake everything together vigorously before straining into a martini glass filled with fresh ice cubes. Finally, garnish with either an orange twist or brandied cherry for added sweetness.

Hibiki Japanese Harmony also works wonderfully in highball cocktails like the Sake Highball which combines it with sake for a unique twist on this classic beverage.

Sake and whisky highball

To make this drink, start by filling a tall glass halfway full of ice cubes before pouring in two ounces each sake and Hibiki whisky over top. Top off your concoction with some soda water or tonic water if desired then stir everything together until it’s well mixed before garnishing with either an orange or lemon slice if you like.

Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve Cocktails

Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve is an excellent choice for creating a variety of delicious cocktails. It has a smooth, complex flavour profile with notes of honey and smokiness that pairs perfectly with a range of ingredients, making it ideal for crafting unique and creative drinks.

One popular drink to mix with Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve is the Japanese whiskey sour. This simple yet effective cocktail combines the sweetness of honey syrup and lemon juice with the smoky complexity of Yamazaki whisky for an incredibly enjoyable drinking experience.

Whisky-sour


To make this drink, start by adding two ounces of Yamazaki whisky to a shaker tin filled halfway with ice cubes before adding one ounce each lemon juice, honey syrup and a dash of Angostura bitters. Shake everything together vigorously then strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice cubes. Finally, garnish your finished drink with an orange twist or brandied cherry if desired.

Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve is also great in tropical-style drinks like the Tokyo Colada which combines it with coconut milk and pineapple juice for a truly delicious concoction.

To create this unique beverage, start by combining two ounces each of Yamazaki whisky and coconut milk in a shaker tin filled halfway with ice cubes before adding one ounce each pineapple juice and lime juice as well as two dashes each Angostura bitters and cinnamon bitters. Shake everything together until it’s well mixed then strain into a Collins glass filled with fresh ice cubes before finally garnishing with either a lime wedge or mint sprig if desired.

For something more unique yet still delicious, try mixing Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve into The Ginger Whiskey Sour which combines its complex flavours with ginger beer for extra spiciness.

Ginger Whisky Sour

To make this cocktail, start by adding two ounces of Yamazaki whisky to a shaker tin filled halfway with ice cubes before adding one ounce each lemon juice and honey syrup along with two dashes Angostura bitters and ginger beer to taste (we recommend using around four ounces). Shake everything together until it’s well mixed then strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice cubes — add more ginger beer if you like — before finishing off your creation by garnishing with an orange twist or brandied cherry if you prefer your beverages extra sweet or fruity.


Hibiki vs Yamazaki: Final Thoughts

When it comes to choosing between Hibiki Japanese Harmony and Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve whisky, the decision ultimately comes down to personal preference. Both spirits offer a unique and enjoyable drinking experience, but each has its own distinct flavour profile that sets it apart from the other.

Hibiki Japanese Harmony is a blended whisky made with malt and grain whiskies aged in different styles of sherry casks, giving it a complex flavour profile with notes of sweet honey, vanilla and dried fruit. It’s best enjoyed neat or on the rocks, though it also works well as an ingredient in cocktails like the Sake Highball or Japanese Whiskey Sour.

Yamazaki Distillers Reserve is a single-malt whisky aged for at least 18 years in sherry casks, giving it a smoky yet sweet flavour profile with hints of honey and oak. This whisky is best enjoyed neat or on the rocks but can also be used to make delicious cocktails like The Ginger Whiskey Sour or Tokyo Colada.

Overall, both Hibiki Japanese Harmony and Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve are excellent whiskies that offer something unique for any whiskey lover. The final decision will come down to your individual taste preferences so if you have the opportunity to try both before committing to one, we highly recommend doing so!

Author’s Pick

My favourite has to be the Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve. This whisky is a single-malt that has been aged for at least 18 years in sherry casks, giving it a delicate and complex flavour profile with notes of smoke, honey and oak. Complex yet balanced, this malt whisky has an incredibly smooth finish that lingers on the tongue long after it’s gone making it perfect for savouring neat or over ice.

Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve also works great as a component in delicious cocktails like the Ginger Whiskey Sour or Tokyo Colada. By combining different flavours like citrus juice, bitters and ginger beer, you can create even more depth and complexity in your drink while still allowing the subtle nuances of Yamazaki whisky to shine through.

All in all, I find Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve to be one of the finest Japanese whiskies available today within a mainstream price point. Its balance of complexity and smoothness make it an ideal choice whether you’re drinking straight from the bottle or mixing up something special.

If you are keen to read a bit more about Hibiki why not have a read of our other article: Hibiki Master Select vs Harmony

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