Bar's Closing: Suntory Running Out of Hakushu, Hibiki Supplies

(Bloomberg) -- It’s the last call for two iconic Japanese whiskies, for now.

Suntory Holdings Ltd. said it will halt sales of Hakushu 12 and Hibiki 17 as demand for the aged grain liquor skyrockets around the globe.

The exact dates when the barrels will run dry depends on inventory, but Suntory said it anticipates Hakushu 12 sales to end by June, and Hibiki 17 by September in Japan. Inventory overseas is expected to taper out after that, according to Hasumi Ozawa, a spokeswoman for the Osaka-based distiller. It’s the first time that Suntory has halted sales of a product, and the company doesn’t know when the two liquors will return to store shelves.

“We’ve been investing in additional distillation equipment and storage for our whiskies, and will continue to do so in the future to meet market demand,” Suntory said in a statement Thursday. It has invested around 29 billion yen ($262 million) in the past 5 years to boost whisky production.

Whisky consumption has skyrocketed around the globe, with market volume growing more than 50 percent in the decade between 2006 and 2016, according to market researcher Euromonitor International.

Suntory, the third-largest whisky maker in the world, began distilling whisky in 1923 in Japan. Its oldest flagship brand Yamazaki has won multiple international awards, and a 50-year-old bottle of Yamazaki sold for about $300,000. Rare whiskies are set to fetch even higher prices at an auction in Hong Kong this week. The Hibiki and Hakushu brands are younger, but also well regarded among aficionados. The numbers behind the name refer to the number of years the liquor has been aged.

The Suntory name gained wider global recognition after its whisky was featured in the 2003 movie “Lost in Translation.” The closely held company expanded its product offerings in 2014 when it paid $16 billion to acquire the maker of Jim Beam bourbon.

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