With prices for Hibiki 17 jumping the shark – the blend is even more expensive than the Single Malt Hakushu 18 in some instances – we’d like to reassure all those who have a fixation an unhealthy obsession with Japanese whisky that there’s plenty of proverbial fish out at sea. 

Just to be clear, we not slagging off Japanese whisky here and it has to be said that they’ve done quite an outstanding job in maintaining quality despite the overwhelming demand. But prices have gotten a little silly in the open market, to say the least, and there’s much more value to be found elsewhere. Perhaps it’s time we address alternatives till prices correct themselves to less ludicrous levels?

But don’t just take it from us, take it from the people who have to deal with the same “do you have [insert hard-to-get/too expensive Japanese whisky name here]?” questions every day at work. And they know a thing a two about whisky, too. We asked two simple questions: What would be a good replacement for Hibiki 17 and why? And What would be a good ‘substitute’ for people who are so used to Japanese whisky? And why? This is what they had to say…

Emmanuel Dron, Owner, The Auld Alliance

It is quite a funny situation. I see people acting like it is the end of the world. They are rushing to shops and online websites to buy everything they can. I would just say, keep cool – it is just Hibiki 17. There are hundreds of better whisky on the market, and cheaper too. Just go to some whisky bars – and Singapore has many – and find a replacement by tasting some new whisky that you have never tried before. It will be a fun time, and you will increase your whisky knowledge. Hibiki 17 and the 21 today are overpriced. Time to find a better value for money.

For good substitutes to Japanese whisky, explore new territories such as France, India, Australia. You can find beautiful whisky and very good value for money – I am thinking about Glann ar Mor from France or Paul John from India, just to name two.

Brendan Asher Pillai, Bar Manager, The Single Cask, and WhiskyMate

I’d replace it with another Hibiki 17!

Joking aside, I would go for Taketsuru 17; not a perfect replacement but it’ll do. From a Scottish POV, probably the Deanston 14 Virgin Oak or Arran 14.

Deanston 14 provides a good balance between the sweet, malty, citrusy elements and it’s vibrant character, while not fully echoing that of the Hibiki 17, would appeal to those who are looking for an interesting and yet unique nosing and tasting experience, especially with the use of virgin oak in the mix and the parallels with the use of mizunara in Japanese whisky-making.

The Arran 14 is similar in the sense that it’s a vibrant whisky which balances the sweet, malty, citrusy and ginger biscuit notes exceptionally well to create a wholesome and immensely enjoyable whisky. Its balanced nature provides a multifaceted nosing and tasting experience while being dangerously drinkable and at an affordable price too.

Jeremie Tan, Bar and Creative Manager, The Wall

(I’d replace Hibiki 17) Springbank 18 YO, which is mellow and lightly peated, as Hibiki 17 is a blend of Yamazaki and Hakushu.

A good substitute for Japanese whisky drinkers, in my opinion, will be Old Pulteney 17, brings character and taste that’s quite similar to Japanese whisky as it’s mellow, sweet, and has a hint of spice.

There’s still plenty of options out there, and The Wall carries independent bottlings from S Spirit Shop Selection and SMWS (Scotch Malt Whisky Selection) that are way better than Japanese whisky in other forms.

Chua Khoon Hui, co-owner, Quaich Bar and The Whisky Store

I always say that Hibiki is meant for people who like easy-drinking whisky, and always suggest Chivas Regal if you are looking for something easy, but where is the fun in that?  For less common and easy drinking whisky, I suggest the Paul John Brilliance.  Apparently, they sell very well in the US and Europe because they are “exotic” and yet easy on the palate – very comparable to the Japanese whiskies.

As you know, we do not sell much Japanese whisky in the bar as we feel that they are overpriced.  The most common whisky people choose, after some blind tasting, to replace Japanese whisky with is the Tomintoul 16 years old. Most must be right.

Fong Chan Teng, Assistant General Manager, The Writing Club

Pretty much anything to be honest. Hibiki belongs to a very typical profile of easy drinking whisky that isn’t hard to replace as it has a nice balance and is medium-bodied. Compass Box does come to mind. For people who say ‘but those are blends’, do note that Hibiki is a blended whisky. Many people do not know this.

Single Malts-wise I would recommend starting with something like Balvenie 12 Doublewood, being at a fraction of the price. For the price that ‘mid-range’ Japanese whiskies such as Yamazaki 18 are going for you most definitely can pick up one or two very nice single cask scotch or even Irish whiskies that are truly in limited supply from independent bottlers such as Gordon and Macphail, Signatory Vintage and The Whisky Agency. These represent both great value for money as compared to the astronomical prices that Japanese whiskies are going for now. Remember when Yamazaki 18 was actually S$400?

Sarah Thallon, Retail Manager, La Maison Du Whisky

Our stock of the Hibiki 17 sold out on the day that the announcement was made, so I’ve been introducing my Hibiki customers to the world of Irish Whiskeys. Irish whiskies use triple distillation, so they appeal to those who choose Hibiki for its smoothness and the fruity flavour profile will not disappoint.

Also when you consider that I saw a bottle of Hibiki 17 on sale this morning for just shy of S$1000 and the Teeling 15 Revival Volume 4, which will be launched in Singapore next week, is under S$260, Irish whiskies appeal to the pocket as well as the palate.

Lewis Mitchell, Director, Le Vigne

Your world is an oyster now that Hibiki 17 is HISTORY!

Hibiki is a blended whisky, and there are numerous alternatives and the easiest being Chivas 18 Yrs – at a fraction of the price too. From Speyside, Knockando, Glen Elgin, Cardhu, Glen Moray. Lowlands: Glenkinchie and The Epicurean. Highlands: Oban, Dalwhinnie, Blair Athol. Campbeltown: Hazelburn. Ireland: Redbreast 15.

The trick to simulating Hibiki 17 Yrs is to add a touch of water with the more robust whiskies above, but the taste profiles are similar.

Be brave, there is life after Hibiki 17, and perhaps it could be a happier relationship.

As to the second question that’s a tricky one as you are probably referring to the easier, more palatable styles of Japanese whiskies, i.e. either lighter or sherried. However, there is Yoichi and Hakushu, which have taken a back seat because of being more structured and are not often talked about.

Assuming you are referring to the former style; i.e. lighter, delicate, aromatic and fruity, this class of whisky drinkers are not classic whisky drinkers who seek out the cereal notes of traditional Scotch Malts. Perhaps, just as with wines, whisky drinkers are very polarised and should not be defined together. My personal experience indicates that those who prefer the lighter style of Japanese whiskies have a high chance of liking aged Grain Whiskies with their overt vanilla, candy floss, butterscotch or toffee flavours. This class of whisky – Grain – has so far been overlooked by many, many whisky drinkers.

Arun Prashant & Kelvin Hoon, Co-owners, The Swan Song

Remember not too long ago it was Japanese whiskies which were substitutes for Scotch and bear in mind the founders of the Japanese whisky industry were trained in Scotland. Fundamentally it is not difficult to find substitutes for Japanese whiskies.

However it’s important to note that all whiskies are different; some less so than others, so it’s hard to find a like-for-like replacement. A single distillery may have various whisky styles and we need to vary our suggestions accordingly.

The Hibiki 17 is a blended malt not unlike Chivas or Johnnie Walker, and we actually find Hibiki to be more towards a heavy style malt. The closest we can find, albeit slightly better, would be single malts from Arran. We would also suggest an inherently fruity scotch whisky that was second-fill sherry butt matured, perhaps a Tomatin or a Glen Keith. If you choose to cast your net wide, also consider An Cnoc, Balblair, Bruichladdich, Glen Grant, Dalwhinnie, or Tomintoul of similar age and matured in refill sherry casks.

For the Yamazaki 18, look to a rich but elegant Speysider like Longmorn or Strathisla. We personally find Glendronachs to be a cheaper and better alternative. But also consider Aberfeldy, Balvenie, Benriach, Glen Grant, Glenrothes, or Glenmorangie.

Yoichi is a peated malt. We would say Talisker comes close, but some Yoichi single casks are a lot smokier; on par with even a post-1988 Laphroaig. We’d also recommend a gently peated scotch of 10-20 years like Ardmore or a gently peated Benromach. Inchmurrin from Loch Lomond is also gently fruity and smoky, or else a peated Jura or peated Arran. Highland Park or Springbank are also outstanding single malts.

As Hakushu is a light-style whisky, we would say perhaps somewhere in between a Glenmorangie and Glenfiddich. Of course, the 18YO is more influenced by the sherry cask.

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