C ryptocurrency has crashed, and the markets have been on a rollercoaster ride careening from great heights to deep chasms over the past year. But there is one investment that seems to be proving itself a safe bet – the rare whisky market. According to recent data, “fine and rare” single malts have risen in value by 23 percent over the last year, and this is a trend that shows no sign of slowing down. Bottles, as well as entire barrels, have sold at auction for record amounts as collectors and aficionados realise that this is a rising tide that may not recede anytime soon. One category that has been riding the crest of this wave is Asian spirits, particularly when it comes to Japanese whisky which has exploded in popularity over the past decade.
Suntory leads the Japanese whisky market, with its three distilleries producing some of the most popular single malts and blends. Whisky from the Yamazaki distillery has become particularly desirable, leading to skyrocketing prices of age statement bottles as demand has outpaced supply. In the face of this challenge, or perhaps because of it, Suntory continues to release special editions like the limited-edition Cask Series that first launched in 2020. A newer edition came to market in 2022, but the inaugural release wasn’t actually available to the general public, instead finding an exclusive home at on-trade sites like bars and restaurants. That makes these bottles even more valuable, each of which showcases a different type of barrel used for maturation which are ultimately blended together to create the signature Yamazaki flavour profile. These include American oak puncheons, French oak wine casks, Spanish sherry butts, and the highly coveted Mizunara or Japanese oak.
Of course, it’s not just Japanese whisky driving the luxury Asian spirits market. In fact, by pure volume and sales baijiu leads all categories, especially in its home country of China. Large drinks corporations are starting to recognise the value of this unique spirit, and in 2021 Pernod Ricard announced the opening of a new distillery focused on baijiu production in the Sichuan province. Moutai, perhaps the most famous brand, is made from red sorghum at the Kweichow Moutai distillery and has a reported market value exceeding US$300 billion. Special edition bottles are released from time to time and often become instant collector’s items. The Sun Flower 1974 series of 24 bottles sold for a record £1 million (US$1.4 million) at Sotheby’s in London in 2021, and releases like the Macau Reunification with China 17th and 18th Year Anniversary Edition show great promise for a huge uptick in value as well.
While single malt scotch whisky remains the most powerful force in the secondary market and continues to shatter records at auction, it’s facing some stiff competition from Asian spirits brands that collectors are eager to find. Whether it’s a bottle of Yamazaki 25 Year Old Bill Amberg Edition, an even rarer expression of this already highly desirable luxury single malt, or vintage lots of special-release baijiu, the growth and potential of the Asian spirits secondary market looks like it will continue its impressive upward trajectory over the coming years.