This week, the world’s largest collection of rare Karuizawa Japanese whisky will go up for auction at the Whisky Auctioneer and is predicted to top $2,500 per bottle, with some rarer pieces of the private 290-bottle collection expected to go for as much $25,000. These astronomical numbers may be difficult to swallow — unlike the smooth, nuanced spirits inside the bottles themselves.
The online auction will open on April 5 and will close on April 17.
Karuizawa’s single malt whiskies are legendary in the spirits world and will regularly sell on collectors’ websites for between $3,600 and $4,600. The original distillery in Miyota, Japan, closed in 2011 and its remaining stocks were bought by the U.K.-based company Number One Drinks. The business’ folding only increased the value of the much-sought-after bottles.
We spoke with Iain McClune, founder and owner of Whisky Auctioneer to learn more about the bottles for sale.
How does the world's most expensive whisky taste in comparison to regular whisky? How would you describe the difference to a beginner?
Whisky can vary incredibly, and most have qualities that can be appreciated by someone. Whisky is very similar to art in that it is subjective and the quality and appreciation is dependent on the individual. Taste is very much a personal thing and what one person likes about a whisky another can dislike.
Quality of whisky and price are not as closely related as you would think. Price can often come from rarity, although quality is part of it. … The value from Karuizawa is that it was produced in limited quantities and has now been closed for many years. The stock that was available has mostly been consumed by greedy whisky geeks like ourselves. This leaves what's left to greatly accumulate value as the distillery’s history, character, and flavor are about to fade into the mists of time. So to explain to a beginner, you could say that Karuizawa is slightly more complex and finely balanced than most, but that is only an opinion.
Usually people think of the United States, Ireland, and Scotland as the largest whisky producers, but Japan is right up there. What is the style of Japanese whisky?
Karuizawa’s style is considered to be very similar to Scottish whisky. This stems in part from Masataka Taketsuru, who is considered to be the founder of Japan's whisky industry. He learned his craft doing apprenticeships at various distilleries in Scotland in the first half of the twentieth century. Japanese distilling techniques are, as a result, similar to those used in Scotland. Also similar is the climate in which whisky is matured, and in the case of Karuizawa, the barley used was imported from Scotland.
How much are these bottles expected to go for?
Every bottle will start at zero but we expect individual bottles to go for upwards of 2,000 pounds ($2,500) each. There are a couple of special bottles in the collection that could reach between 5,000 and 20,000 pounds ($6,237 and $25,000). For example, the Karuizawa 1960 last sold at auction in Hong Kong for 96,000 pounds in 2015, setting a new record for a Japanese whisky. The collection also includes some exceptionally rare bottlings such as the 1963 50-year-old and the 1964 48-year-old.