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No more Suntory time: Japan’s stock of aged whiskey dries up

Suntory’s 17-year-old Hibiki whiskey has been discontinued. Suntory

The beloved Japanese whiskey popularized by Bill Murray in Lost in Translation will soon be no more, as supply issues have forced Suntory to discontinue two of its prize-winning products.

Suntory says its 12-year-old Hakushu and 17-year-old Hibiki whiskies are being discontinued “due to supply constraints,” following a years-long boom in popularity.

Final shipments are expected to go out sometime this year, Suntory says.

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Both Suntory whiskies have won numerous international taste-test awards over the years, edging out competitors from more traditional whiskey hotbeds such as Scotland, Canada and the United States. Demand has also been fuelled by a general surge in the popularity of Japanese whiskeys over the last decade.

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Suntory’s 12-year Hakushu whiskey will not be sold next year. Suntory

It’s unclear when the whiskies will hit the market again, although Suntory says the world hasn’t seen the last of them.

“Suntory has made strong investments to increase production capacity and ensure we are primed for continued long-term growth,” a spokesperson for the company told GlobalNews.ca in a statement. Suntory says both whiskies will have “limited availability in the next few years,” as it moves to shore up future stocks.

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Some have attributed part of the 17-year-old Hibiki’s success to the film Lost in Translation, in which Bill Murray portrays an aging actor hired to shoot commercials for the whiskey in Japan.

“For relaxing times, make it Suntory time,” Murray’s character, Bob Harris, says in one of the commercials.

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But time has proven to be a problem for Suntory. The company can’t simply ramp up production of its hottest-selling whiskies, because they need to age in barrels for over a decade before they can be sold.

Shinji Fukuyo, the company’s chief blender, says the aging process is essential to achieving each Suntory whiskey’s desired taste.

“What’s important for whiskey is that its deliciousness must deepen with aging, sitting in the casks for a long time,” Fukuyo told The Associated Press.

In this March 8, 2017 photo, Suntory’s chief blender Shinji Fukuyo demonstrates how he examines the whisky at the Suntory distillery in Yamazaki, near Kyoto, western Japan. AP Photo/Koji Ueda

Suntory boasts a broad portfolio of beverage products, including Jim Beam Kentucky bourbon, which it acquired in 2014.

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U.K.-based whiskey website Master of Malt has already listed the 12-year-old Hakushu and the 17-year-old Hibiki as unavailable. However, some websites appear to still have it for sale.

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The 12-year-old Hakushu retails for approximately US$200 a bottle, while the 17-year-old Hibiki is sold for approximately US$600.

The shortage will mean a change for avid fans of Suntory time. However, it’s not expected to impact the availability of unaged Hibiki Harmony whiskey, which is still carried by retailers in Canada.

With a file from The Associated Press

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