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Suntory halts shipments of Hibiki 17 and Hakushu 12 whiskies as casks dry up

AFP-JIJI, Kyodo

Need a relaxing Suntory time after a tough day? Well, it turns out that Suntory needs more time as well.

The alcohol and beverage giant plans to suspend shipments of two of its premium whisky products, Hibiki 17 years old and Hakushu 12 years old, as robust demand squeezes production capacity, a company spokeswoman said.

The last batches of those products will be shipped out around June for the Hakushu 12 and September for the Hibiki 17, and there is no telling when the distillery will have enough supplies to resume sales, she said.

Sales of other Hibiki and Hakushu products of different ages will continue.

Hibiki 17 was the very same whisky American actor Bill Murray’s character was hired to promote in the 2003 movie “Lost In Translation” by seducing drinkers with the pitch: “For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.”

The suspension comes amid rising demand for Japanese whisky, with the Hibiki and the Hakushu brands regularly winning international awards. Hibiki 21 and Hakushu 25 have taken the top prizes in recent years.

But the squeeze has also come partly because of a sudden rebound in domestic whisky consumption in the past decade, fueled by the popular whisky-and-soda highball.

The sharp rise in domestic demand has taken the company by surprise, especially after whisky consumption steadily declined in the three decades to 2008 as young Japanese increasingly shunned alcohol.

Domestic shipments of whisky more than doubled to 137,000 kiloliters in 2017 from 60,900 kiloliters in 2007, according to Japan Spirits & Liqueurs Makers Association.

Suntory is rushing to build up its production capacity, but it also needs to assess future demand as whisky-making can take decades.

It is also expanding storage capacity with a new facility at its distillery in Yamanashi Prefecture and a whisky cellar in Shiga Prefecture.

“When we resume shipments, we want to make sure that we have adequate supplies of those products so that we would not have to resort to suspensions again,” the spokeswoman said.

“It takes an enormous amount of time to make whisky. The current popularity of highball, and how it (has) continued for years now, was beyond what we could have expected,” she said.