Yamazaki 55 Year Old Becomes Most Expensive Japanese Whisky

Today saw Bonhams Hong Kong host the largest Fine & Rare auction of 2020 thus far, with highly collectable bottles of wine and whisky from around the world going under the hammer.

The auction was held in strict accordance with Hong Kong’s Covid-19 guidelines, meaning that only a few lucky buyers were allowed into the auction house on the day, with the vast majority of bids coming online or by telephone. This led to an unusually quiet auction room, but it didn’t stop the bids from coming in thick and fast.

The star of the show was set to be the Yamazaki 55 Year Old – the oldest Japanese whisky of all time – and it did not disappoint. 

Distilled in 1960, the Yamazaki 55 was then matured in a mizunara cask until 1964, when it was transferred to a white oak cask for the remainder of the maturation process. 1964 was the year that hosted the previous Tokyo Olympics, making this a rather timely release from Suntory, in a year that was meant to see athletes and sports fans from around the world descend on Tokyo once more. 

It was estimated that this incredible release would sell for somewhere between HK$580,000 – HK$780,000 (US$75k – US$106k), so all eyes were on Lot 345 when it finally came around. In the end, it eclipsed its estimation by almost 10 times, selling for an eye-watering HK$6,200,000 (US$795,000). This was a record breaking sale, smashing the previous record for a single bottle of Japanese whisky by over US$350,000. It was also a telling one, once again highlighting just how sought after the rarest bottles of Japanese whisky are and continue to be. 

Another highlight was another very-well-aged Japanese whisky, the Saburomaru 55 Year Old, also produced in 1960. The estimate for this one was a much more conservative HK$70,000 – HK$90,000 (US$9,000 – US$12,000), but it also sold higher for more than expected, fetching HK$105,400 (US$13,600). 

A number of beautiful Karuizawa expressions were also up for grabs. Most notably, the Karuizawa Vintage 45 Year Old sold for HK$198,400 (US$25,600), and the Karuizawa 1972 40 Year Old Golden Dragon went for HK$161,200 (US$20,800).

Bottles of Chichibu, Hibiki, Yoichi and Miyagikyo were also the subjects of feisty bidding wars, while Scotch from the likes of Macallan, Glendronach and Port Ellen gave a good showing too.

As usual, the auction was not only an opportunity for enthusiasts and collectors to get their hands on some of the rarest whiskies in the world, but also provided a glimpse at the current trajectory of the Old & Rare whisky market.

Given the record-busting sale of the Yamazaki 55, and the overwhelming interest in bottles of Japanese whisky from distilleries up and down the country (many of which sold above their estimation), it’s safe to assume that old & rare Japanese whisky is in higher demand now than it has ever been before. 

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