Asia – The “Wild West” of Whisky

Happy Chinese New Year!

We love Japan, but today we’ll be taking a look West, beyond the mystical land of the rising sun, at Asia. 

When it comes to whisky, the world is changing. Once upon a time, Scotch was the biggest and only fish in the pond. Everyone swore by Scotch, lesser bottles gained fame just by being labelled as such. But the whisky world is expanding, as competition pops up in places no one would expect.

The bourbon and American whiskey scene in the US is booming, Japanese whisky is taking the world by storm, and Asian whisky is shocking drinkers the world over.

You may be wondering, what exactly is going on in Asia? Let’s take a peek.

Did You Say “Auction”?

“A bottle of *insert name* sold at an auction in Hong Kong for *insert number*”. If you follow whisky news, you’ve definitely read that sentence.

Asia has become the hub for auctions and sales of rare bottlings, something seen each and every year. Let’s look at 2017.

A full set of the world-renowned Hanyu Playing Cards released by Ichiro Akuto of Chichibu sold for $480,000 via Bonhams Hong Kong in the summer of 2015. Another set was scheduled to go on auction again, at the end of 2017. Sotheby’s sold the record-breaking Yamazaki 50 Year-Old in early 2018 for around $300,000. Another bottle of Yamazaki 50 sold in 2016, again in Hong Kong.

Spink in Hong Kong broke a record for the most expensive cask to sell at auction, with a Macallan 30 Year-Old going for $375,000.

Coming in third, Hong Kong buyers bought were responsible for buying a whopping 40 bottles in the large Karuizawa auction held in spring 2017.

Seeing a trend? The list goes on, and on, and on, but the takeaway point is clear. Asian auction houses sell the very rarest bottles, of which most are bought by Asian buyers, who see price as no object.

While there are few better markets for whisky consumption to grow, are these auction results partly responsible for the skyrocketing whisky prices?

Make It Quick

Looking at whisky-making, a few countries in Asia are making some amazing progress. While Japan still leads the way, Taiwan has risen quickly in the whisky industry, with the famous Kavalan distillery.

The distillery has only been producing whisky since 2006, but their expressions have already risen through the ranks, and taken awards over some of the most famous brands in the world of Scotch and Japanese whisky. That’s right, with expressions way under 12 years, Kavalan is making a huge mark globally. How?

Well, the country’s warm climate causes whisky to mature much faster. What takes 10 years in a cold climate, takes 4 in Taiwan. The angels share loss is huge, but as Kavalan is backed by the huge King Car company, the distillery resembles a factory in size.

India, with their Amrut and Paul John distilleries, is also creating immense expressions, with the climate helping them speed up maturation also.

The South-East Asian climate is expected to be the birthplace of many more distilleries in the coming years. We wonder which country is next. Even Paul Giamatti said it on Showtime’s show, Billions, as he drinks some Kavalan. “The Taiwanese do it better than the Scots these days.”

We didn’t say it, he did!

Whisky, Please

Looking towards consumption, some of the largest export markets for Scotch are in Asia. According to the export analysis of 2017 by the Scotch Whisky Association, India ranks at number 3 in terms of total volume, just behind France and the US.

Looking at the value of exports of rare, more expensive bottlings, Singapore took third place with around $200 million, with Taiwan in fourth place with $165 million.

Whisky is rising in Asia, and quickly. Lack of regulations and competition makes things easier in many countries, whilst the rising demand and prices make the region extremely attractive to whisky-making countries around the world.

As consumption and imports grow in China, whisky’s scene is expected to continue changing rapidly.