We spoke with George Koutsakis, Japanese whisky specialist, auctioneer, and writer, about our current Exclusive Japanese Whisky Auction. George is a contributor to Forbes.com, SCMP, The Japan Times, Food & Wine, Wine Enthusiast, and Liquor.com. Take a look below at his auction review:
Whisky Auctioneer’s current offering is one of the largest and rarest Japanese whisky selections to ever go up for sale on an online auction. It's a very exciting yet challenging time to be a collector of Japanese whisky. The rarer bottles only grow harder to find and as most single casks and limited releases can't be found at all, the premium expressions continue to rise in price. Without a doubt, seeing a selection this varied and large go up in one single auction is highly unusual. Let's take a deeper look.
Kicking off with over 60 lots of Chichibu, the rising star of the new, small distillery movement in the Japanese whisky world. Chichibu, led by Ichiro Akuto, has shown incredible growth in the secondary market over the past few years. The distillery’s romantic story of rebirth after the Akuto family-owned Hanyu distillery shut down, paired with the young, passionate team, skilful production methods, great branding and global strategy have been more than enough to send every bottle the distillery releases skyrocketing in price. With single casks launching across the globe, exclusive to different markets, many collectors will stop at nothing to get the newest, most limited releases.
HAKUSHU, YAMAZAKI AND HIBIKI
We then move on to the biggest, most global player with a huge selection of Hakushu, Yamazaki, and Hibiki bottlings, all by the Japanese drinks giant and leader, Suntory. Beyond the famed classics and award-winners, like the Hakushu 25YO, Hibiki 17 and discontinued 12YO, and the Yamazaki 18 and 25YO to name a few, the selection goes above and beyond with expressions seldom in the whisky market nowadays. The Hibiki 12YO Egret, and even rarer Hibiki 17YO Egret White Heron appear in the list alongside several Yamazaki Owner's Casks, an extremely rare Yamazaki 50YO from the 2011 release, and a large number of miniatures. Several Yamazaki 2013 Sherry Cask bottles are available for collectors eager to get their hands on the release previously named the best in the world, or the Yamazaki 2017 Mizunara Edition- a perfect taste into the world of the highly sought-after Japanese oak.
HANYU AND KARUIZAWA
The grand finale? A huge selection of both Hanyu and Karuizawa bottlings, for the collectors looking for whisky from lost, shut down distilleries. Many fans may know that 2020 is expected to be the year when the final Karuizawa casks are bottled, near the time of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Understandably, many bottles available in this auction are expected to raise greatly in price in the coming year, especially the bottles featuring cask numbers and full transparency, released by long-time trusted bottlers such as Numbers One Drinks, LMDW, The Whisky Exchange, and Spirits Shop Selection.
Scarcity is the word used to describe the Japanese whisky world nowadays as most big producers cannot meet demand due to limited aged stock. Decades back the West had not yet discovered Japan’s whisky and locals were developing a taste for beer and the local spirit, shochu. Whisky began to suffer and this was when the Karuizawa distillery and other producers faced a very difficult time, with many shutting down and others (Nikka) halting production completely for years. This is still impacting the industry today, as popularity and demand soar and supply unable to keep up. The maturing whisky is slowly coming of age and catching up, but for brands like Karuizawa, Hanyu, and the single cask Suntory and Nikka releases (which the companies do not release anymore) there will be no return.
What happens when supply catches up and releases become less limited? Will the current expression then become even rarer? Only time will tell, for now all we can do is drink, collect, and keep a close watch on the land of the rising sun and their liquid gold.