Why Yamazaki 50 Year Old First Release is Such a Collectible Japanese Whisky

Why Yamazaki 50 Year Old First Release is Such a Collectible Japanese Whisky

The story of a bottle so coveted it is believed there are but a dozen bottles remaining in the market.
The story of a bottle so coveted it is believed there are but a dozen bottles remaining in the market.

T here are few names in the world of Japanese whisky that have as much cache as Yamazaki, and for good reason. This distillery is part of the House of Suntory and became the first malt whisky producer in Japan when it was built in 1923. Yamazaki has been a beacon in the world of Japanese whisky since its first single malt release in 1984, and a key component in Suntory’s blended whiskies for decades prior to that. The distillery’s core range of age statement expressions has increased exponentially in value (and, unfortunately, decreased in availability) over the past decade as the Japanese whisky category exploded in popularity. And in recent years, Yamazaki has released several ultra-aged single malts in very limited numbers that have immediately become valuable collector’s items and thoroughly excited the greater whisky world.

A pinnacle of these older age statement expressions is Yamazaki 50 Year Old, which was first released in 2005. At the time, it was the oldest expression to ever have been bottled in the distillery’s long history. There have been a few subsequent releases of this half-century-old whisky, as well as even older expressions like a 55-year-old single malt that came out in 2021. But Yamazaki 50 Year Old First Release remains the peak of rare, collectible Japanese whisky, especially given that there are said to be only about a dozen bottles remaining of the original 50.

The whisky was distilled in the 1950s and spent its entire lifetime slowly maturing in Japanese mizunara oak, a detail that makes this bottle stand out. Mizunara is native to Japan, and barrels made from this type of wood have become quite popular to use for finishing whisky from around the world. Mizunara is notoriously difficult to work with, so the fact that this single malt spent 50 years in this type of barrel is a testament to the careful maturation process employed by Yamazaki and, indeed, Suntory as a whole. While Yamazaki uses many different types of barrels to age its whisky (including bourbon, sherry, and wine casks), mizunara is a key component of the distillery’s defining flavour profile and is known for bringing notes of sandalwood, citrus, and spice to the palate.

In 2019, the sale of a bottle of Yamazaki 50 Year Old First Release set a record at auction in Taipei, selling for over US$400,000 and breaking a record set by the same whisky the previous year. Expectations for the value of this bottle at auction are even higher now, with estimates ranging from HK$3.5 million to HK$5 million. Indeed, this is a chance to own a literal piece of Japanese whisky history, and one that will never be repeated. Once this whisky is gone, it’s gone forever – such is the ephemeral pleasure of any spirit, but especially when there is so little liquid remaining. Whether you choose to hold onto this bottle (which will surely appreciate in value) or enjoy it on a special occasion, this liquid snapshot of the Yamazaki distillery’s history is one that will not disappoint any collector.

Whisky & Spirits

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