Move Over Mizunara: Hibiki’s Innovative New Blend, Aged In Sakura Casks, Is Where It’s At

Move Over Mizunara: Hibiki’s Innovative New Blend, Aged In Sakura Casks, Is Where It’s At

Randy Lai
Randy Lai



Sakura (cherry blossoms) are an inextricable motif in Japan’s many and sundry cultural traditions. Seemingly wherever you look and whatever your interests, these flowers of the prunus tree – prized for their prismatic pink hue and tremulous fragility – are everywhere.

Cherry blossoms are in art, nature, music, object design, and are even characterised as the natural embodiment of mono no aware – that uniquely Japanese philosophy which acknowledges and embraces the beauty of impermanence.

No surprise then that this nationally beloved symbol, and the flora from which it springs, has proven to be a trove of inspiration for Suntory. This year, as part of the Hibiki maker’s wider push to bring back its highly coveted limited editions; a number of international markets – Australia included – are getting the ‘Blossom Harmony’, made in consummate fashion from a trio of whiskies sourced from the Suntory family’s Yamazaki, Hakushu and Chita distilleries.

Hibiki Blossom Harmony

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Like the permanent range of Hibiki expressions from which it derives its name, the Blossom Harmony is – first and foremost – envisioned as a ‘paragon’ of Japanese whisky. Mellifluous, balanced and meticulously complete (kanzen) in the array of flavours and aromas it presents, any assembly of Hibiki malt and grain whiskies is a dram worth drinking – all the more so when it’s been aged in casks fashioned from the wood of sakura trees.

Hibiki Blossom Harmony
With the new Harmony Blossom blend, House of Suntory Master Distiller Shinji Fukuyo (pictured) was most excited by the prospect of maturing grain whiskies in sakura casks – a marriage he asserts possesses a “special alchemy”.

For over half a decade, there has been an expanding corps of Japanese whisky makers who are intrigued by the potential of native wood finishes – the most widely cited example involving mizunara. But to handwave away what Hibiki’s distillers have achieved with this new family of casks, as being comparable to their previous exploits with local Japanese oak, would be a huge disservice: they are, if anything, universes apart (yet both equally delicious) as Shinji Fukuyo, 5th generation Master Blender of the House of Suntory, explains.

“There have been many experiments with malt and grain components, and we found that there was a special alchemy between the grain whiskies and the Sakura cask,” says Fukuyo. “I have been mesmerized by the Sakura cask for the last five years now…because of its distinctive, subtly floral and spicy aroma.”

Hibiki Blossom Harmony

In practice, Fukuyo’s primary challenge whilst attempting to harness the natural flavour of sakura was one of balance. When handled clumsily, the wood’s extremely strong, penetrative character has a tendency to dominate raw spirit, and it was only after multiple trials that Suntory’s distillers unlocked the secret to creating a blend worthy of the iconic, 24-facet Hibiki bottle – targeted maturation.

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By exposing only the grain components used in the final blend to sakura casks, Fukuyo and his distillers have managed to create a dram possessing the depth and nuance that is characteristic of all Hibiki expressions, whilst remaining distinctively its own thing. The cherry blossom character is at its most prominent in the whisky’s nose and opening notes – adding aromas of fresh flowers and the mild sweetness of glutinous rice cake to each sip.

And sip you most definitely should, since – in line with Hibiki’s previous limited editions- the Blossom Harmony is only being bottled in finite quantities: a fitting decision, considering the ephemeral nature of this whisky’s namesake and inspiration. “I wanted our aficionados to enjoy a Hibiki they had never experience before,” says Fukuyo. “Something unexpected, something surprising.”

This article is sponsored by Hibiki. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Boss Hunting.

Randy Lai
Following 6 years in the trenches covering consumer luxury across East Asia, Randy joins Boss Hunting as the team's Commercial Editor. His work has been featured in A Collected Man, M.J. Bale, Soho Home, and the BurdaLuxury portfolio of lifestyle media titles. An ardent watch enthusiast, boozehound and sometimes-menswear dork, drop Randy a line at [email protected].



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