Whisky is a fascinating drink; in our view, far more fascinating than wine, vodka, brandy, beer, or any other drink. Don’t believe us? Google it! You will find far more quotations about whisky from some of history’s greatest authors and thinkers than you will ever find on any other alcoholic beverages.
Those who know the effort involved in making whisky, as opposed to other alcoholic drinks, cannot help but be incredibly impressed when they find a good dram. Often, there is a whole history behind it – legends even. Masataka Taketsuru is something of a national hero in Japan, with his life having been dramatized as an NHK soup opera. And even though Suntory wins more international awards than Nikka, Nikka’s dedication to its craft, and the foundation story behind it, makes it perhaps more prestigious in Japan than Suntory. It is, in short, difficult to think of a more captivating drink.
In recent years, whisky has seen a huge surge in demand. Japanese whiskies especially have seen a double digit value increase, year after year. Rare Whisky 101, is a whisky consultancy, who holds a large index, detailing the demand for collectible whisky. Since the ‘whisky index’ began, bottle values have soared from an initial 100 to over 300.
High priced bottles of whisky are often sold at auctions. In august last year, for example, a bottle of Karuizawa 1960 fetched over 100,000 USD at a Bonhams auction in Hong Kong. Some bottles are even more expensive than that; last year a Macallan M Imperiale 6-litre Lalique decanter sold for over half a million USD at that same auction.
“Why whisky?” you might ask. There are several reasons. The first being that whisky really is different from most other alcoholic beverages. To begin with, whisky can take decades to make. A 12-year-old whisky has, after all, been kept in a cask for a minimum of 12 years. Secondly, unlike wine, for example, whisky does not age after being bottled, meaning that it can virtually last forever. Also, you don’t need to keep it in a cellar-like conditions as you do with wine. Whisky does not age in the bottle, but rather in the cask; whisky stays in the same condition as when it was bottled. As long as it is stored in an upright condition and kept safe (as the value will depend on the bottle’s condition), your incredibly expensive whisky will be just fine!
Yet another reason for whisky’s dominance in the beverage market is expanding markets; increasing wealth in East-Asia (especially China, where whisky is seen as a luxury item and a symbol of sophistication) translates to more buyers. As whisky production is extremely time-consuming, its supply has not yet been able to keep up with this new development. Finally, whisky has become something of an investment, being a great diversifier for investors who prefer such diversity, as opposed to throwing all of their eggs into a single basket. As Patrick Connolly, adviser at Chase de Vere, says “It is important to spread risks within an investment portfolio and this is an interesting initiative, which can allow more people to invest in whisky – an asset for which there is an ongoing demand.”
In essence, some collect whisky, and some see it as an investment – a product to be sold at a later date. Whilst others are hobbyists, who simply enjoy the idea of owning a bottle or two (or ideally far more) of rare, vintage whisky. Scotch continues to dominate in the market for rare vintage whisky, but Japanese whisky is tailing closely behind, being its only serious competitor.
Japanese whisky, specifically, has been the focus of the whisky world in recent years. Last summer, it set a record with a single bottle of Karuizawa selling for over 100,000 USD at an auction in Hong Kong. And what’s behind this new global reach for Japanese whiskies, you ask, not to mention its increasing prices? One reason, of course, is that Japanese whiskies really are world class whiskies that can give Scotch some serious competition. It is no accident as the Japanese whisky industry is modeled on that of the Scottish. The Japanese, being the perfectionists that they are, have worked tirelessly to ensure that their whisky is world class; collectors and whisky fans, both abroad and in Japan, have recognized this effort.
An added interest in Japanese whisky has, in fact, led to its scarcity, which is pushing prices up. Whisky, after all, takes a long while to mature; when you buy a bottle of whisky with the a 12-year-old or 15-year-old label, this does not necessarily mean that the contents only took 12 or 15 years to make. Most whiskies are blended from a number of casks, and their age statement refers to the youngest whisky in the blend. Because of this, some of the whisky in the blend might very well be far older than the age of their label.
This, of course, means that whisky makers are don’t really know how much their product will be in demand when ready. After all, if you are making a 12-year-old whisky in 2016, it won’t be ready until 2028 at the very earliest. And who is to know how the market will be by then? Neither Nikka nor Suntory had any clue that there would be such a global demand for their whisky in 2016, just as they had no idea that NHK would make a TV show on the life of Masataka Taketsuru, the founder of Nikka, causing a spiraling demand for whisky in Japan.
Understandably, this causes older bottles to be in much greater demand, as both Nikka and Suntory try to meet the needs of their customers by putting non-age statement bottles on the markets. While these non-age statements truly are excellent, and you won’t find anybody complaining about them, they might not necessarily compare to a Yoichi 12 Year Old, for example. And as Yoichi 12 Year Old will only become scarcer in the next few years, prices are increasing. We at dekantā are quite certain that, one day, we will see more Yoichi 12 year old and older. However, it’s going to take a good while to make them, let alone older whiskies, such as the 18 or 30 Year Old.
That being said, as wonderful and interesting as bottles like Yoichi 12 Year old and Yamazaki 18 Year old are, they are still not rare enough to qualify as an investment.
So, let’s take a look at some of the bottles in our inventory which are so rare, and so coveted that buying them is more like buying rare stamps than a bottle of alcohol. And why not begin with the greatest of them all? No less than the Karuizawa.
Karuizawa is the gold standard of Japanese whisky. In 2015, its value grew some 75% in just nine months. It did stabilize slightly after that though.
For those unaware, Karuizawa is a silent distillery; its owners were obsessed with making quality whisky, and adhering to tradition, even at the price of efficiency and market sense. Unfortunately, this obsession proved to be a little too costly, forcing the distillery to cease operation in 2000, finally closing its doors in 2011. You can read more about this here.
Whisky lovers, however, have not forgotten how excellent Karuizawa was. As no more bottles will be released from this world class distillery, people are frantically trying to find one.
It is difficult to recommend one bottle over another, Tokyo and London-based No One Drinks Company managed to get its hands on most of the remaining stocks of Karuizawa and release a bottle from time to time, bottled at cask strength. We at dekantā are lucky to have acquired a few of these bottles. The Single Malt 1971 edition, for example, is an excellent sample of highly valuable, state of the art Karuizawa. Another bottle, being a little less costly, is the 1988, 19 Year Old. Finally, one of our favorites is a four bottle set, released for Taiwan only, and actually quite affordable by Karuizawa standards.
To see our whole collection of Karuizawa, look here, and if you want to know more, simply contact us!
Hanyu is the other silent distillery in Japan. It originally produced sake and was owned by a family who had been in the business since the 1600s. Hanyu only began making whisky in the 1980s, where it tried to focus its efforts on making single malt, Scotch-like drinks. Unfortunately, at the time, consumers demanded blended whisky, rather than the single malt, causing the company to cease operation after less than two decades. Still, Hanyu did make excellent whisky, and bottles this distillery are highly priced.
As with Karuizawa, much of the remaining stock was acquired by No One Drinks. However, some Hanyu bottles ended up in the hands of a family member, named Ichiro Akuto; the most popular bottles continue to be his Card Series of bottles, which are actually filled with Hanyu whisky.
A typical bottle from the Hanyu distillery is the Hanyu 1990 Batch II. This is one of only 200 bottles and is not easy to find anywhere. In fact, we have only seen this rare bottle at auctions. Another bottle worth noting is the Hanyu Noh 1988, bottled by No One Drinks Company, with their characteristic colorful labels.
Now, let’s now take the opportunity to look at Ichiro’s Card Series…
Ichiro’s Malt Card Series
It’s notoriously difficult to get your hands on the card series of bottles; the whole collection is worth some half a million USD, being the price it fetched at Bonhams auction in Hong Kong last summer. We at dekantā occasionally manage to acquire some of the more popular bottles in the series; these bottles tend to sell out before the end of the day. Currently, we have two in stock: the Two of Hearts which just sold out, and the Ten of Diamonds. New bottles from Ichiro’s Malt Card Series come in every now and then, so keep checking in with us to see what’s in stock! You can even contact us in advance and ask for a particular bottle and we’ll do our best to find it for you!
Unlike the other bottles covered in this article, the Yamazaki isn’t a silent distillery; it does nonetheless sometimes churn out bottles worth a fortune. The most notable examples being the Yamazaki 35 Year Old, Yamazaki 25 Year Old, and the Yamazaki Sherry Cask – especially the 2016 and 2013.
Let’s begin with theYamazaki Sherry Cask. What’s so great about it? It’s almost unworldly good! So good, in fact, that it was nominated as the best whisky in the world in 2013 by Jim Murray – THE whisky authority. Because of this, the Yamazaki Sherry Case has become probably the most sought after whisky on the planet, selling out in presales. All lovers of whisky are trying to get his or her hands on it and will for a long time to come, and as most people are evidently drinking it, it’s unlikely to become any cheaper.
Other Yamazaki casks worth looking out for are the Yamazaki 25 Year Old and 35 Year Old. And how does How does the Yamazaki 25 Year Old, let alone 35 Year Old taste? To be quite honest, we are not entirely sure, as we have not dared to touch it! We do, however, know that our Yamazaki 35 Year Old is the cheapest on the internet at the moment! This is the oldest of Suntory’s stock, and with 200 bottles released of the 35 Year Old, you can bet on not seeing this again any time soon, especially with the current stock shortages!
Ichiro’s Malt the Joker Monochrome and Color set
Finally we thought we’d introduce the Joker Monochrome and Color set, a part of Ichiro’s Malt Card series to be sure, but it’s such an elite set of bottles that it merits it very own category. Perhaps the most sought after of all Ichiro’s Malt Card Series, you can bet on this only becoming more expensive as time passes. We are expecting it soon, so stay tuned!
Now that you know the basics of rarity in the world of Japanese whisky, why not take a better look at our rare whisky list? Feel free to contact us if you have any questions! We look forward to hearing from you!