Yamazaki Legends

Yamazaki Legends

Another stunning year for Japanese whisky

Whisky Magazine Index | 27 Jan 2017 | Issue 141 | By Jonny McCormick

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Inarguably, Yamazaki was one of the stars of the WMI in 2016. Having spent the year before hovering outside the top 10, this Japanese brand climbed steadily throughout the year ending up third in the rankings by December. Collectors have been adding Yamazaki to their collections, not just hunting for the Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013, but seeking out the Mizunara wood editions, and earlier vintage releases. In October, HK$850,000/£84,520 was bid for a bottle of Yamazaki 50 Years Old First Edition, setting a new world record for the highest price paid for a standard sized bottle of whisky at auction. A couple of post-record bottles of Yamazaki 50 Years Old Third Release from 2011 surfaced in its wake.

Whisky.auction set a new house record by some margin with an impressive winning bid of £62,600 on 8 November. Another bottle went under the hammer at Bonhams, Hong Kong on 18 November making HK$480,000/£50,199 (checking the archives, Bonhams sold one of these bottles for HK$250,000/£20,821 just 18 months earlier; that's an accrual in value of HK$422 per day). Bonhams issued a post-sale press release claiming they had set a new world record auction price for Yamazaki 50 Years Old Third Release, but I'll leave you to make up your own mind about that.

Auction Watch

The online auctions were buzzing with big ticket items towards the end of last year. Whisky Online Auctions moved a bottle of The Dalmore Candela for a healthy £15,200. Whisky Auctioneer clocked up £17,500 for a decanter of Gordon & MacPhail Generations Mortlach 75 Years Old, just a shade under the price they achieved in the spring. Throughout the dark winter months Scotch Whisky Auctions managed a dazzling array of five figure sales, a resounding endorsement of their 0 per cent seller's premium strategy; The Balvenie 50 Years Old 1937 for £11,000, Tullibardine 60 Years Old 1952 for £12,000, Glenfiddich 50 Years Old from 1939 for £13,500, Highland Park 50 Years Old for £14,500, The Glenlivet Winchester Collection 1964 for £15,000, Karuizawa 1964 48 Years Old for £17,500, Karuizawa 1981 Sakura Cask #158 for £18,000, and a full six bottle set of Johnnie Walker Director's Blend for £19,000. Furthermore, they achieved a sensational online sale with a suit of Hearts from Ichiro's Malt Card Series; all 13 bottles from Ace to King were sold for £67,500.

Several hot new releases hit the market in the autumn and many owners took the opportunity to try and flip their bottle for profit, but did they make a killing? Well, Lagavulin 25 Years Old released at £800 retail achieved a high of £1,050 (Scotch Whisky Auctions) and a low of £900 (Whisky Hammer), but never came close to a loss in early trading. Ardbeg 21 Years Old released at £310, made proportionally smaller gains at £420 (Whisky Online Auctions) and fell to a slight loss at £280 (also Whisky Online Auctions). Perhaps the most bankable release was The Macallan 40 Years Old with just 500 bottles available, many bought directly from the distillers by ballot. Early trading lifted prices from a release price of £5,000 up to £7,150 (Just Whisky) down to a respectable £5,900 (Whisky Online Auctions). Despite the high cost of this release, it may prove to have greater longer term potential than either the Ardbeg or Lagavulin.

All this action in the auction rooms shook up the WMI rankings; Bruichladdich slipped outside the top 25 for the first time ever, Ardbeg dropped to ninth, and Yoichi made its debut in the top 25. Three of the top five traded brands are Japanese; Yamazaki started the year ranked 12th and replaced Hanyu. The average price of Karuizawa on the WMI has increased by £600 over the past year. Banking a significant gain over the past two months, the WMI has reflected another astounding year for whisky auctions.

Did You Know?

The inaugural sale of Strathearn Distillery's first 100 bottles by Whisky Auctioneer proved to be a huge success. The three year old whisky in bottle #1 sold for £4,150 with the promise that the Strathearn team would deliver your bottle by Christmas. Outside of the single figure numbered bottles, prices ranged from £315-£525. It is interesting to speculate whether these 100 bottles will become eternal auction favourites or not. This record eclipsed the top price paid for inaugural bottles issued by Wolfburn, Abhainn Dearg, and Kilchoman, and this must be heartening news to the likes of Ardnamurchan, Arbikie, Ballindalloch, Eden Mill and Kingsbarns distilleries as they contemplate a strategy to cope with the anticipation of their inaugural releases.
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