"For relaxing times... Make it Suntory time."
Excerpt from Forbes Magazine, 13th May, 2018:
The Hibiki 17-Year-Old, a famed Japanese whisky by Suntory that was featured in the 2003 movie Lost In Translation, will be officially discontinued. Just a few weeks prior, I wrote on the addition of the premium blend on the Japan Airlines in-flight menu, but as usual, things change quicker than expected in an industry based around time and aging. After speaking to a member of the Suntory Japan PR team over the weekend, it’s been confirmed that yet another bottle from the aged Hibiki range will be removed from the lineup. Starting from September 2018 the Hibiki 17 will gradually be removed from the core range, and production will stop.
Hibiki whisky is one of the most popular premium blended ranges to come out of Japan. The bottles are iconic, featuring 24 facets that represent the 24 small seasons of Japan and the hours in a day. The core range previously included the Hibiki 12 Year-Old, which was sadly discontinued in 2015, before the no-age Hibiki Harmony was introduced. While fans were saddened to see it go, the aged 17-, 21-, and 30-Year-Old bottlings remained to keep drinkers happy. The Hibiki 21-Year-Old is by far the most globally renowned expression in the portfolio, having received the award for the "World’s Best Blended Whisky" on five separate occasions, at the World Whiskies Awards. With each award both the price and demand for the Hibiki 21 has risen, making the 17 the last of the current Hibiki aged range that could be bought at a price that wouldn't break the bank.
This is expected to change now that Suntory has decided to stop producing the expression, amidst shortages of aged stock. The blend must, after all, contain vintages aged 17 years or more. The rise of shochu and the steep drop of whisky consumption in Japan during the 80s saw many producers reduce production output, a move that is costing the whisky world today. Expect the price of the Hibiki 17 to rise on the secondary market and bottles to become ever harder to find. A recent feature by the Nikkei Asia Review showcased the huge sales growth Japanese whisky has experienced in the past decade. The focus is on aged expressions which, according to many online retailers and stores in Japan, sell out immediately after being placed on the shelves, both real and virtual.
Though aged stock is lessening, the major Japanese whisky maker is optimistic about the category’s growth in the future, and will not make the mistake of running out of stock again. Since 2013, Suntory has invested over $182 million into ramping up production. Stills have been added to both the Yamazaki and Hakushu sites and the company’s Ohmi Aging Cellar has undergone a large expansion. According to Suntory's PR team, an extra $80 million will be invested this year to expand the Hakushu aging facilities.
By George Koutsakis
Extracted 23rd July, 2018.