Distinctive Spectrum

The rise of Japanese whiskies is beginning to tempt collectors
By Jonny McCormick
Japanese whiskies have surged in popularity at auction over the past 12 months. Volumes of new releases reaching Europe are relatively small and the range in the USA smaller still. This has engineered tough competition for buyers pushing prices up, though it's a good time to sell if you've been collecting limited editions along the way. Competing with distillery bottlings from Suntory and Nikka are independent bottlings from Hanyu, Karuizawa and Chichibu and a few rare Japanese grain whiskies. The distinctive spectrum of flavours in Japanese whisky have proved irresistible whether it's the pull of dark, sherry-matured single malts or the acquired profile of flavours produced from maturation in mizunara wood. The presentation of Japanese whiskies are notably distinctive with gorgeous paper labels featuring Japanese script, tumbling playing cards, terrifying Noh masks, and ukiyo-e inspired images of smiling geisha girls hiding behind paper fans under cherry blossoms.


1988 - 2006 Cask 9204


Bottler: Full Proof, Holland
Region: Japan
WM tasting scores: N/A
Recent auction price: €430
Date: February 2013

Comment: Full Proof are notorious for their cheeky labels. This limited edition Hanyu features the girl tossing a caber although they released a Karuizawa Full Proof Cask 2221 using a similar image where she is flinging a small cask into the distance. Are collectors just paying for the interesting labels, I wonder?


Sherry Cask 2012


Bottler: Suntory
Region: Japan
WM tasting scores: 8.5 & 7.9 (Issue 108)
Recent auction price: £130
Auction: Scotch Whisky Auctions
Date: August 2013

Comment: This popular recent bottling sold out quickly upon reaching our shores and those people speculating on its scarcity who sold early, did very well. Scotch Whisky Auction prices peaked at £190 for this bottling at the start of the summer but prices stabilised as more bottles came to market. This is unlikely to be a big earner in the long term, so drink up or sell it on to someone who will.


1964, 48 Years Old Cask #3603


Bottler: Number One Drinks
Region: Japan
WM tasting scores: N/A
Recent auction price: £3,742
Auction: Bonhams, New York
Date: October 2013

Comment: This first outing for the Wealth Solutions bottle at auction achieved a new record price for Karuizawa in the secondary market. When released, this was the oldest ever available bottling and the scarce 143 bottles sold quickly. The New York price makes for a reminder that prices can go both ways.


1986 SMWS 116.1


Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society
Region: Japan
WM tasting scores: N/A
Recent auction price: £240
Auction: Mulberry Bank Auctions
Date: June 2013

Comment: Yoichi imports peated malt from Scotland to make their whiskies. The SMWS produce Japanese bottlings for their Japanese branch but have offered bottlings in the UK. These are often sold out in hours but they show up at auction periodically. This first edition appeared in 2002 and was given the descriptor "Coconut, peapods and tropical hothouses."