It has been a long time coming, but we can announce that Karuizawa has overtaken The Macallan to take the top slot of the WMI. The data for the index stretches back to early 2007, and incredibly, The Macallan has been number 1 since the column was launched in Whisky Magazine Issue 86. Contenders from Bowmore and Ardbeg to Glenfiddich have tried valiantly, but none of them have quite looked capable of unseating the sherried Speysider from its lofty position. During 2015, we watched as Karuizawa notched up huge sales in live auctions in Hong Kong, stealthily eroding The Macallan’s lead. By late October, the result hung in the balance; with Karuizawa hot on its heels, The Macallan kept ahead by a nose thanks to a few prize bottles. In 2014, the top prices at live auction were bids for rare, collectable Macallan, but in 2015, Karuizawa commanded many of the top prices and set a new record for the most expensive standard sized bottle of whisky ever sold at live auction. The switch came after November, when spending on the closed cult Japanese distillery accelerated again during Bonhams final Hong Kong whisky sale of the year. The Macallan had to yield – Karuizawa is now the world’s most collectable single malt whisky.
November saw the start of the traditional winter frenzy of global whisky auctions. Two key sales in Hong Kong helped Karuizawa to take the crown. At Acker Merrall & Condit Auctions, several bottles of Karuizawa 30 Years Old sold for K$26,000 / £2,225. A pair of Karuizawa bottled in 2012 for the Tokyo International Bar Show fetched HK$32,000 / £2,740. The more significant sale was held at Bonhams, Hong Kong: they auctioned one of the 131 bottles of Karuizawa 50 Years Old 1963 for HK$280,000 / £23,780, and a bottle of the Wealth Solutions Karuizawa 48 Years Old 1964 for HK$200,000 / £17,000. There was a notable six bottle lot of SMWS bottlings of Karuizawa (132.1 – 132.6) that pocketed HK$60,000 / £5,100. Lot 720 took the highest price on that November day with a bid of HK$500,000 / £42,500 to secure all ten bottles of the recent Karuizawa Samurai Cask 30 Years Old bottlings distilled in the mid 1980s.
The secondary market for Karuizawa is predominantly conducted through live auctions in Hong Kong, and online auctions based in Europe. Although only live auctions contribute to the WMI, online trading in Karuizawa has been a significant factor in the growth of the market. Online prices rose steeply over the tail end of 2014 and through the first six months of 2015. The second half of the year has seen a consolidation of values as prices stabilised, though scarcity continues to be a driver. Scotch Whisky Auction’s top three Karuizawa bottles of the year were £11,000 for the Karuizawa 1995 18 Years Old Ghost Series Cask #5022 (22 bottles only), £9,000 for the Karuizawa 1983 Geisha Cask #8333 (68 bottles only) and £9,000 for the Karuizawa 1983 Nepal Appeal Cask #3557 (50 bottles only). Whisky Online Auction’s best three were £17,600 for the Karuizawa Wealth Solutions 1964 48 Years Old (143 bottles), £8,200 for the Karuizawa 1981 Cask #158 (45 bottles only) and £8,000 for the Karuizawa 1967 Cask #6426 (229 bottles).
Now that it has reached the top, can it hold the position? Time for some back of the envelope calculations. If there were 400 single casks and each yielded an average of 250 bottles, that makes a conservative estimate of 100,000 bottles before you factor in the multi-vintage and more plentiful vatted NAS releases (ok, some of them were consumed). Realistically, only a small proportion has been sold to date. The average price of Karuizawa on the WMI is currently £2,500 a bottle (in contrast, The Macallan is £1,700), meaning the potential Karuizawa market alone could be worth tens of millions of pounds. Certainly, The Macallan has a vast back catalogue that overshadows the volume of remaining Karuizawa, and The Macallan values remain consistently strong, but the momentum currently rests with the Japanese single malt. Keep watching.
Did You Know?
The Macallan holds the record for the longest spell at the top of the WMI with a residency of 95 consecutive months, just shy of eight years. The average price of The Macallan first broke through the £1,000 barrier in July 2013 and peaked in June 2015 when it reached £1,976. Bowmore came closest to the top slot in early 2010, but this year they have slipped to their lowest ever ranking of eighth. Ardbeg briefly challenged when they were in second place in 2013, but Macallan were uncatchable at the time. Glenfiddich’s best shot was in 2012 during the global charity auctions of Glenfiddich Janet Sheed Roberts Reserve 1955 55 Years Old. In second place, The Macallan is in no danger of going anywhere but up; the question is not if, but when?