Ok, if you come from Europe or the UK you might being saying yeh so what, we already know. That’s because you would have witnessed the steady and more often that not, huge increase in the price of Japanese whisky over the last few years in those places, especially single cask stuff and even more particularly whisky from Karuizawa and Hanyu. But in this case I am not talking about prices in the UK or Europe, but Japan.
The fact was, that if you lived in Japan or had contacts there up until 12-18mths ago you had access to some rare, though not always good Japanese whisky and a lot of it. Primarily I’m talking about old whisky not new releases. Happy days if you had some spare cash and a crystal ball. Now for the most part I’m not a fan of Karuizawa, but these and I mean Japan only release stock, could be had between 80 and 150 bucks all day long. In fact sellers had a hard time offloading them. Hanyu, even new releases up until about 18 mths ago would often not sell for 6mths. No fighting to get in line, if you had the readies then the Japanese whisky world was your oyster. At this stage I will add that even although I have a decent amount of Japanese whisky here at Casa Dramtastic, there were many bottles that I had to let pass by due to lack of funds.
So why the change of attitude about the collectability of their own whisky by our friends in Japan. Is it because they finally realized that they make world class whisky that competes with the best from Scotland? I really don’t think so. The Japanese love their Yamazaki, Hakushu, Yoichi and Miyagikyo. Those distilleries have not had to worry about demand for their ‘standard’ lines for a number of years. Nope, I just reckon the speculator market has taken hold as news of what’s happening to prices of rare Japanese outside of Japan has reached Japanese ears. The presales of new releases of single casks from Karuizawa and Hanyu released in Japan that appear within a week at double the price and more on the auction scene smack of we don’t know if it’s good or not but we figure we can make a quick buck by flipping whatever we can get our hands on. There are probably not any more rare Japanese whiskies hitting the auction market than there was a few years ago, but the prices being asked are out the of reach of most mere mortals. That is not to say people aren’t bidding, almost anything but the most basic blends attracts bids and a lot that are totally crazy. Why crazy, because I’ve tasted a number of them and they aren’t that good or not as good as the prices fetched would indicate. Recently there was a bottle of 21YO Karuizawa for sale, don’t know what it went for, but bids were up to Y100,000(USD1000) with a number of days left on the Auction. For sure this was a rare bottle in terms of how many I’ve seen over the years, maybe 3, but it wasn’t a single cask and very few people would have tasted it. The bottle wasn’t even full with evaporation dropping the level down by 15%. Crazy!
So what does it all mean for those who’s means are only average. Forget about getting your hands on this stuff anymore. I for one am not going to pay the 400 bucks being asked for a 6 year old Hanyu I saw for sale the other day. I have picked up a few rare Kirin recently that are in relative terms good value and often good quality. Beyond that I am trying to grab new releases before they sell out. Will the bubble burst, not in the short to medium term me thinks especially when the last stocks of Karuizawa and Hanyu have dried up.