Update 22.7.09: John Hansell has a review of Hibiki 12 on his blog. The piece below was originally posted on Tuesday, April 28, 2009 but reposted because of John's review.
This review is by Nick Sikorski of La Maison du Whisky, the innovative importer pioneering Japanese whisky in Europe. Nick has had an advanced tasting of the new Hibiki 12 blended whisky from Suntory (the unique features of its release are explained in this post) and has given Nonjatta permission to publish his impressions:
"NoseIt is worth saying here that we may look back on the Hibiki 12 as a landmark in Japanese whisky's development. It is a mainstream blend which appears to be at least partially targeted at the export market. This is not the first time Japanese whisky makers have aimed at non-connoisseur export markets. In the Vietnam war, the bars and brothels where the GIs drank were often stocked with Japanese whiskies (see, for instance, "Two Score and Ten", History of the 3rd Marine Division, p. 211; or "British GI in Vietnam" by Ian Kemp, p. 178). The poster below, distributed sometime before 1963, seems definitely to have been part of an export push:
Without water: soft and mild with sweet floral notes of honeysuckle, as well as of gum and lemon curd. This is quickly followed by distinctive grain notes of airfix, and toasted cereal. After that comes milky porridge, bread sauce (milk, butter, cloves and onion boiling in a pan) and a fresh and inviting touch of orange zest. With water: the floral notes are still there, just not as sweet; lilies rather than honeysuckle. A hint of musk and vanilla oak follow, then feta cheese and sesame seed oil.
Without water: soft and rich but with a distinctive dry edge, like freshly buttered toast. It is slightly tannic and delicately fruity (almost acidic), like lemon tea. With water: still round and soft but more noticeably dry and astringent. There is toasted brioche and bread crust, dry cereal and lemon pith. Light and refreshing nonetheless.
Dry but nutty and slightly oily, rather like sesame seeds. A touch of milk and lemon completes the picture."
The next couple of posters are a bit more obscure and seem more recent. They may have been published domestically, with the English used to add to the feeling of sophistication, or in business/specialist magazines to improve Suntory's business profile. Just possibly they may be remnants of old export drives:
[Update April 2010: Actually, the first one may well have been a advertising push by Suntory abroad in the 1960s. I say that because of this photo, which is dated 1967, by the owner and appears to feature the same ad.]
Anyway, Hibiki 12 is being released in Europe in mid May, ahead of the Japanese launch. If this initiative even half succeeds, it may start something far bigger than those early foreign excursions.