S otheby’s Hong Kong online spirits sales are well-known for their eclecticism. This April’s sale is exactly that, featuring collectible whiskies from Japan and Scotland, Kentucky Bourbon from the U.S., Grappa from Italy, and Moutai from China. With more than 130 lots, this is our largest online sale to date in Hong Kong and brings with it a plethora of choices. Below we have selected ten sale highlights well suited for all enthusiasts, from the seasoned collector to those just beginning their journey in fine spirits.
This whisky is a must have for any serious collector for one simple reason: this is the oldest whisky ever bottled. Gordon & MacPhail previously set the record for the oldest age statement whisky ever with their 70 Year Old Mortlach under the same Generations series. This was soon followed by a 70 Year Old Glenlivet Generarions.
Originally established in 1895, Gordon & MacPhail is one of the oldest and most revered independent bottlers in Scotch Whisky’s history. Since 1915 G&M has been in the hands of the Urquhart Family and as their knowledge and experience was handed down from generation to generation, their whiskies were maturing in their Speyside warehouse.
Silvano Samaroli’s whiskies are known to be among the best in the world, with his bottles of Laphroaig and Bowmore achieving the highest scores on Serge Valnetin’s WhiskyFun.com. Out of the top 1000 whiskies on WhiskyBase.com, Samaroli takes all of the top five spots. After beginning his journey into whisky bottling by commissioning some Cadenhead’s whiskies for Italian import Samaroli began his independent bottlings in earnest with the Samaroli Flowers series. These whiskies were carefully selected and the label designs were drawn by Samaroli himself. This Coleburn is one of this inimitable series, and to increase its desirability, Coleburn itself is a closed distillery, so very few of its bottles exist.
The Bowmore Bicentenary is one of the most iconic of any Islay whisky and offers a unique glimpse at old-style peat smoke. The rich colour of this whisky is a pleasant surprise and sweet peat, tropical fruit and some cured meat over soft alcohol makes this a truly classic Bowmore. As this bottle is ceramic, its porous surface causes micro-oxidation of the whisky over time, maturing and developing nuance, meaning that this liquid certainly ages in the bottle and each bottle displays its own individual character.
While it may seem on the surface like a simple 12 year old, this Glenfarclas is a truly rare find. It was bottled at some point between 1961 and 1963 for the U.S. market, meaning that the liquid within is from the early '50s or potentially the late '40s. The sherry casks used for the early Glenfarclas releases were of incredible quality with thick oak staves and rich seasoning. The result is a single malt with a bold, rich character of dried fruit and leather.
Pappy Van Winkle
Of all Kentucky’s whiskeys, Pappy Van Winkle is surely the most acclaimed and the most in-demand. Van Winkle himself was a distiller, remembered for his work at Stitzel-Weller distillery and most notably for developing a mash bill for his spirit that substituted rye for wheat. Now produced by Buffalo Trace, the Van Winkle series is renowned as the most unobtainable bottles and the cornerstone of any American whiskey collection. Here is the opportunity to create a vertical of 15, 20 and 23 year old expressions in a single lot.
Since March 2020, a 52 Karuizawa has held the record for the most valuable Japanese whisky ever sold when it achieved £636,000 at Sotheby’s in London. This 50 Year Old from cask #6223 known as “Aqua of Life” is one of an incredibly limited release of only 248 bottles released in 2018. Since Karuizawa’s closure in 2011, no new whisky has been distilled and existing stocks are becoming more and more limited as time goes by. This is an incredible opportunity to be able to collect not only a coveted bottle from Karuizawa, but also one of the only whiskies from Japan that has achieved 50 years of maturation.
Part of what is possibly the most iconic expressions in all of whisky, Ichiro’s Card Series from closed Japanese distillery Hanyu are a must-have for any serious or budding collector. A few years after Hanyu’s closure in 2000, Ichiro Akuto managed to purchase some casks that were lying in the warehouses. He bottled his first few casks, each identified by a different playing card. Their success was such that he went on to complete the set with 58 cards produced in total. The Ace of Clubs is particularly interesting as this was bottled from a Mizunara Puncheon. Mizunara, of course, is Quercus Mongolica, or Japanese Oak, a very rare and valuable hardwood with aromatic properties.
While Grappa may not seem the obvious choice for collectors, Romano Levi’s liquors are considered to transcend the category. Spirits collections are built on the pursuit of something unique, which is a quality that these Grappas from Levi Serafino Distillery offer in abundance as each label is written and drawn by hand. Since Romano Levi’s death in 2008 these bottles have increased dramatically in value and desirability.
“Precious” Flying Fairy Moutai made its debut in 1986, aimed for the premium market at that time. Not only does it have a different labels and packaging to the regular Flying Fairy bottling, the blend has included components of longer aged “Reserve” Moutai in it, rendering the spirit with higher complexity and a longer finish. Compared with the higher profile “iron cap” Moutai in the early 1990s, these represent very good value for their exceptional quality.