W hen it comes to Japanese whisky, the first name that probably comes to mind is Suntory, and for good reason. This is the company that put Japanese whisky on the map after founder Shinjiro Torii built the Yamazaki Distillery in 1923 and launched the Shirofuda expression six years later – the first Japanese whisky ever to come to market. Fast forward to 2005, when the first bottle of Yamazaki 50 Year Old was released, a pinnacle expression of the growing category even before it really exploded in popularity about a decade later. Distilled half a century before in 1955 and bottled at cask strength of 53%ABV, this whisky was the oldest from the distillery at the time and became an instant collector’s item with only 50 bottles available. It was aged entirely in mizunara oak, a notoriously difficult type of wood that is prone to leaking, but imbues whisky with delicate notes of incense and spice as it ages.
But the story did not end there. Two more lots of the 50-year-old would be released, one in 2007 and a final one in 2011. Both are incredibly rare bottlings of this sublime single malt whisky, true snapshots of different moments in the history of the esteemed Yamazaki Distillery that can literally never be repeated. The 2007 release will go up for auction on 24 November as part of The Epicurean’s Atlas: The Encyclopaedic Cellar – Extraordinary Whiskies collection. One of only 33 lots going under the hammer in this sale, this exceptional malt whisky will surely command unprecedented interest and attention. Previous bottlings have shattered records at auction – the 2005 set a lofty benchmark earlier this year when it sold for US$614,784, surpassing the 2019 sale by about US$200,000. Consider that this whisky came with a price tag of US$9,500 when it was originally released, and that should provide some insight into just how valuable these bottles have become.
Yamazaki isn’t the only highly coveted and extremely collectible whisky in the auction. The Macallan Fine & Rare Collection, a series of whiskies that fans of this Speyside scotch distillery hold in very high regard, will also be available. The Macallan is famous for maturing its single malt in sherry-seasoned oak casks sourced from Jerez, Spain, imbuing the whisky with natural colour and notes of dried fruit, spice, and vanilla. Fine & Rare is said to be the “largest assembly of vintage-date single malt whiskies in the world,” according to The Macallan. There are bottlings spanning nearly a century, from the 1920s to the 1990s, each capturing a moment in time with distinctive flavours and characteristics from different moments in The Macallan’s 200-year-history. Whether you’re looking for a vintage Speyside single malt or a half-century-old Japanese whisky, both of these lots offer one-of-a-kind chances to experience whisky history.
In recognition of the global appeal of this auction series, Sotheby’s will be offering free consolidated sea shipment for all buyers after every sale, between the following locations: Hong Kong; New York; London; Singapore; and Bordeaux and Beaune in France.