Harmony in Japanese Whisky

Blended whiskey is a balance act of dissimilar spirits. This is particularly true of Japanese whisky. Distilleries in this category often produce a wide variety of whiskeys that are mixed together for the brand’s signature blend.

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Hibiki Japanese Harmony (All photos by Joe Leonard).

So it is for Suntory’s aptly named newest expression: Hibiki Japanese Harmony. The spirit utilizes whiskies made at the Yamazaki, Hakushu and Chita distilleries of Suntori.

At a recent tasting dinner atop The New Museum in NYC, myself and other guests had opportunity to sample some of what went into this blend. Besides a whisky flight, the event also included food pairings by chefs David Bouley and Isao Yamada.

Leading us in the whisky tasting was Suntory Chief Blender Shinji Fukuyo. During a short speech before taking off through the flight, he revealed that his biggest challenge with Harmony was achieving a “Hibikiness” flavor profile while working with younger spirits.

This required maximizing flavors and effects of youthful whiskeys. “I matured these spirits in small casks that I though had a good chance for flavor extract, and in high-temperature spaces,” he said of the process. “In this way, I thought I could accelerate the aging process.”

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Suntory Chief Blender Shinji Fukuyo speaks before the tasting.

The flight we sampled represented five of at least 10 whiskeys present in Harmony.

First up was the predominant component, a Chita Grain whiskey. This provided fruity, vanilla and floral flavors in the final product. Second in the tasting was an American Oak Cask-aged malt whisky. It was smooth and sweet, with spicy notes, and served as the “backbone” of Harmony, Fukuyo said.

Another malt whisky, aged in Sherry Casks, was a “dressing element,” giving the blend rich, dark notes. A Mizunara Cask-aged malt whisky fulfilled a similar role, appearing in the spicy aftertaste of Harmony.

The new expression also contains a small amount of smoky malt whisky, which tasted quite like peaty scotch.

Altogether, the final blend was again reminiscent of scotch: smooth, light, and deeply nuanced. There were plenty of spicy, darker notes lurking throughout. Harmony is a sipper, for sure: a complex spirit that continues to appeal to the palate well beyond the first glass.

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Smoked salmon over asparagus and fennel, topped with trout caviar and lemon foam.

The food that night wasn’t bad, either. Prepared by Bouley and Yamada, the menu included an appetizer of smoked salmon over asparagus and fennel, topped with trout caviar and lemon foam. This lighter dish paired well with the smoothness of Harmony.

For dinner we ate Colorado lamb with satoimo purée, drizzled with a Hibiki and red wine garlic sauce. Tender, juicy, and flavorful, this evoked the darker elements of Harmony.

Hibiki Japanese Harmony will roll out within the next couple of weeks at a suggested retail price of $64.99.

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