Tipples

No fish before tasting whisky

Suntory's chief blender Shinji Fukuyo with a bottle of the Hibiki Japanese Harmony.
Suntory's chief blender Shinji Fukuyo with a bottle of the Hibiki Japanese Harmony.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

As the popularity of Japanese whisky continues to grow, it has been a challenge for producers to keep up with demand.

So it has become more common for distilleries to roll out whiskies with no age statement on the bottles, even though purists may turn up their noses at what they consider to be an inferior product.

In the case of Japanese distillery Suntory, its age-statement whiskies such as the 12-, 17- and 25-Year-Old Hibiki are highly sought after.

To cope with the demand, Beam Suntory put out a range of no-age-statement Yamazaki and Hakushu whiskies, labelled Distiller's Reserve, in Singapore last year. They are considered to be entry-level whiskies.

In April, a new whisky called Hibiki Japanese Harmony was introduced.

It is a blend of at least 10 malt and grain whiskies, aged in five types of casks from Suntory's Yamazaki, Hakushu and Chita distilleries.

It was developed by Suntory's fourth chief blender Shinji Fukuyo, 54, who was in town recently for its launch.

Japanese Harmony is blended from American white oak malt whiskies, rare mizunara (Japanese oak), and are sherry malt whiskies.

All these are also used in the Hibiki range of age-statement whiskies - the 17-, 21- and 30-Year-Old - which is why

Mr Fukuyo calls the latest release the "core of the Hibiki brand".

Calling it a "Hibiki-ness", he says: "If left for a longer maturation, the Hibiki Japanese Harmony will develop the complex flavours of the Hibiki 17- or 21-Year-Old."

Hibiki Japanese Harmony's flowery and fruity notes, he says, have also been well received by Japanese consumers, especially younger ones. He says: "For the past 25 years, whisky consumption has been declining as the younger generation find the drink bitter.

"However, I think it is picking up and getting more popular now."

A whisky highball (whisky served over ice and commonly mixed with soda), for example, has been getting popular among young drinkers as it is cheaper than beer, says Mr Fukuyo, who has been with Suntory since 1984.

He has been chief blender since 2009 and is responsible for every bottle of whisky that leaves the distillery, including the Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013, which was crowned the world's best whisky by the 2015 World Whisky Bible.

He says he is careful about not ruining his palate and avoids eating spicy food from Sunday evenings to lunchtime on Fridays.

He does not have fish for breakfast either, as the oils and smells could affect his whisky tasting.

He believes that it would take at least another five to 10 years to meet the whisky demand.

Over the past few years, production in Suntory's distilleries has increased, but he has had to dip into the stockpile the company has kept for the past 12 years.

Some Hibiki whiskies are not for sale overseas, such as the Hibiki Deep Harmony and the Hibiki Mellow Harmony, which are produced in limited quantities.

He says: "We never expected such high demand 10 years ago. Now, we have to make sure we maintain the prices."

  • Hibiki Japanese Harmony ($130 for 700ml) is available at The Beam Cellar, 229 Mountbatten Road, 01-03 - 07/01-17 to 19, as well as leading Japanese restaurants, bars and hotels.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 06, 2015, with the headline 'No fish before tasting whisky'. Print Edition | Subscribe