Like fine art from long gone masters, bottles of rare whisky are fetching insane dollar amounts these days. The most recent example came in April, when the world’s largest collection of rare Japanese whisky went up for auction. Every bottle in the sale was produced by the legendary Karuizawa distillery, a company of near mythic proportion. Scotland’s Whisky Auctioneer played middle man and the event was a big one to say the least. Indeed, early estimates predicted a grand tally in the 600K ballpark. That ended up being what someone dropped for one bottle alone. The actual grand tally? Just under a cool million. Yeah–rare whisky is definitely popular right now.
Operational from 1955 to 2001, Karuizawa remains one of Japan’s most heralded brands and the stuff of legend. The distillery was located at the base of an active volcano known as Mount Asama. Some reports suggest that the threat of being buried in hot lava was a driving factor behind the decision to shut it all down. Whatever the reasons for closing, Karuizawa left behind a small treasure trove of exceptionally fine whisky. Each batch used imported Golden Promise barley from Scotland for the mashbill. The whisky was distilled in four small stills and then aged in Sherry casks before bottling. Between the presumably amazing flavours, bold colours, eye-catching label designs and extreme scarcity, Karuizawa whisky has earned a very strong following over the years with high dollar bids to show for it. However, even with previous auctions in mind, no one was quite prepared for April’s turnout.
The recent sale put 290 bottles of Karuizawa single cask whisky on the auction block. 230 of those bottles came from one European collector and allegedly took him ten years to accumulate. By the time the last bid was placed, the auction had drawn over 5000 bids from 89 buyers in 19 different countries. Among the standout expressions was a bottle of 52 Year Old Karuizawa 1960, aka ‘The Dragon’, which is limited to 41 bottles worldwide. That one fetched a mind-blowing (and record breaking) bid of about $610,000 USD.
If nothing else, the auction was a testament to the power of rare whisky and Japanese whisky in particular. It goes without saying there are a ton of Japanese expressions simply knocking it out the park right now. Thankfully, at least a few of them are available at the nearest whisky bar.
As to whether the lucky auction winners will crack open their bottles, we’re thinking most of them will leave those babies sealed. After all, who would want to drop all that cash on whisky just to see what it tastes like? Oh, wait a second. We would!