Scotch Malt Sales was an importer, and later bottler, in Japan that offered some now famous early bottlings in striking 50cl sample bottle presentation. The company started life as an advertising agency called Oskar in 1971, under ownership of the Simamura family. In 1977 the company entered an agreement with Morrison Bowmore to import and sell their products in Japan. This kindled a deeper interest in whisky for the company which led to them opening a member's bar - 'Bar Bowmore' - in Tokyo, and eventually merging with liquor company 'Takaraya' in 1980. The result of this merger was the new company name: Scotch Malt Sales. The importing business of whisky continued, and by 1985 they had launched a mail order business for independent single malt bottlings.
The most famous Scotch Malt Sales bottlings are undoubtedly the 50cl sample type bottlings without seals. These were created by decanting Signatory bottlings, so the stocks technically come from Signatory, which is logical looking at the releases Signatory was putting out at the time such as the 1967 Laphroaigs. The lack of seals, although unthinkable to most whisky bottlers and enthusiasts today, simply reflects the vastly more innocent era in which the presumptive fate of these bottles was short term consumption.
Irrespective of these somewhat questionable practices, there are some remarkable whiskies sheltered in these early series by Scotch Malt Sales. Stunning examples of 1960s and 1970s whisky making that helped to further entrench a passion for Scotch Whisky in Japan, and to help the ongoing growth of independent bottling and wider interest in single malts. Highlights undoubtedly include the 1967 Laphroaig, from the same parcel of casks that Signatory originally purchased from US Laphroaig importer John Gross, this stands as one of the pinnacles of 1960s Islay single malt. Other remarkable bottlings in this auction include the 1964 31 year old Glenfarclas and a 1969 26 year old Springbank: both exemplary illustrations of their respective distillery styles during those classic production eras.
For a long time these bottlings, like many of the most legendary Japanese market releases, have been highly elusive and hard to come by. Unsurprisingly many were consumed, or disappeared into Japan's labyrinthian network of independent whisky bars. For whisky lovers who got into single malts in the 1990s though, they remain an immediately recognisable series of labels and still command great affection. Helped of course by the fact that the whiskies themselves were often stunning, superbly selected examples. To see them at auction today in the UK is a vanishingly scarce occurrence.