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Auction News: The rise of Scotch Whisky in Asia

Whisky Auctioneer’s expert offers his thoughts on July 2022
By Joe Wilson
Ardbeg 1974
Ardbeg 1974
Perhaps the biggest story in whisky right now, if only by virtue of the incredible sum of money involved, is the private sale of a cask of 1975 vintage Ardbeg to an unnamed buyer in Asia earlier this month. As an auctioneer we are no strangers to the stratosphere of high-profile whisky transactions (we hold the world record price for a single bottle sale in an online auction), however the £16m traded for this cask is something truly unprecedented.

What is not surprising is the cask of choice, nor the origin of its new owner. As an ever-revolving door of whisky history, our monthly auctions provide unrivalled insight into the formation of the modern landscape of collecting. Fittingly, our July sale contains a perfect window through which to cast light on not only the deep-rooted love for single malt Scotch in the far east, but its particular fondness of Islay. This comes in the form of an exemplary collection of independent bottlings from the Japanese label, Kingsbury, showcasing not only Ardbeg but the full gamut of their preference for the island’s peat-burning powerhouses of the 20th century.

The Kingsbury Wine & Spirit Co was founded in 1989 by Katsuhiko Tanaka, who sourced many of its early casks from Wm. Cadenhead. A true whisky cognoscente, it is maybe unsurprising that Tanaka sought out the same warehouses that earlier in the decade had produced what are now considered two of the greatest single malts ever bottled: The Bowmore Bouquet and Laphroaig 1967 for Samaroli in Italy. We are delighted to feature Kingsbury bottlings from both of these distilleries in this month’s auction, each bottled from Cadenhead stocks by their sister company, Eaglesome. Like the Samaroli release, the Laphroaig is also a sherry-matured whisky while the Bowmore is doubly poignant, with the Japanese appreciation for the distillery having culminated in it becoming wholly owned by one of its companies, Suntory, just a few years prior.

Those bottles are joined by a trio of rarities from the other heavyweights of the Islay south coast. They comprise a Port Ellen - youthful by today’s standards at 17 years old, a 1978 vintage Lagavulin - a name seldom seen on independent bottlings, and finally, an Ardbeg distilled in 1972. An even more sought-after vintage than its £16m counterpart, it contains whisky produced entirely from the distillery’s in-house maltings and represents a long-lost style of Ardbeg, highly prized by connoisseurs like Katsuhiko Tanaka.

With the stills at Yoichi based on those at Longmorn, and Karuizawa single malts famously intended to replicate those of Macallan, you could be forgiven for conflating the Japanese affection for Scotch as being rooted firmly in Speyside. Given the sum, you could also be excused for any assumption that a £16m cask would have something to do with the latter as well. However, while much of Asia may be considered an emerging whisky market, history shows us that there are parts of it that have always placed value in even its most challenging styles. The only thing new here is where in that value it places its decimal points.

This article is sponsored by Whisky Auctioneer and is created in partnership with the team at Whisky Magazine. This sponsorship does not influence Whisky Magazine's coverage of auctions and Whisky Auctioneer do not have input on editorial decisions.

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Whisky Auctioneer is one of the global market leaders and trusted authorities on the buying and selling of whisky and spirits at auction. Founded in 2013 and located in Perth, Whisky Auctioneer utilises its expertise and knowledge combined with its auction platform, to increase interest and passion in the whisky and spirits community.

Whisky Auctioneer endeavours to make the market more accessible for buyers and sellers of any background and geography. Its monthly global auctions feature some of the most comprehensive selections of old, rare and collectible whiskies and spirits available online.

Whisky Auctioneer became the first online auction house to sell a million-pound bottle and outperformed the nearest traditional auction house by 200 per cent in value from spirits sales in 2020, showcasing the move that whisky collectors, investors and drinkers have already made online and firmly establishing their leading position within the modern secondary whisky market.