Japanese whisky is quite expensive. Well, that’s what many people say. A bottle of Suntory Yamazaki 50-Year-Old whisky that was released in 2005 goes for $343,000.
Granted, this is a collector’s dream, and you won’t be finding it on your local pub’s shelf any time soon.
However, any other bottle of Japanese whisky will set you back hundreds of dollars on average. Why are these prices so high?
Japanese whisky is primarily expensive because its market demand is higher than the supply. Japanese distilleries did not foresee the current rise in demand and produced an unsatisfactory stock of their aged bottles. With the current demand, this stock is running dangerously low, raising the prices.
But what makes Japanese whisky so popular?
What is Special About Japanese Whisky?
Japanese whisky is made after the fashion of Scotch whisky. It is usually double distilled and then aged in wood barrels.
Japan distilleries also import most of their raw materials from Scotland. These include malted and sometimes even peated barley.
Additionally, for bottles produced after WWII, the whisky brand Karuizawa was permanently closed down. As nostalgia for the famous drink grew, auctions for the last remaining bottles became the norm.
New price records for whisky sold at auction were set, and the trend has continued to date. Rarity became associated with Japanese whisky.
However, the most unique factor that sets Japanese whisky apart is the mythical waters that come from the mountains near Tokyo.
Experts agree that good whisky production is largely dependent on the water used. The water used by distilleries in Japan is low in minerals and has such a high quality that the legendary tea master Sen no Rikyū built his first tea house there in the 16th century.
These waters are heavily attributed to the unique taste of Japanese whisky.
Why is Japanese Whisky So Rare?
Japanese whisky is usually aged for a number of years. The minimum age is three years, but for most brands, this goes up to 11, 12, and even 40 years.
As such, if demand increases after production, the distilleries cannot make up for it in good time. This is what happened with Japanese whisky.
Aged whisky was produced in finite barrels about 20 years ago when the demand was primarily domestic. In later years, both local and international demand kept growing.
However, the aging process cannot be rushed. The bottles were snatched up as soon as they were in the market, and this has led to scarcity.
Most Expensive Japanese Whisky
Many Japanese whiskeys have been sold at record-breaking prices over the years. However, some seem more popular than others.
The Hanyu Ichiro’s Full Card Series –is one of them. It sold for a whopping $1.52m. The Hanyu distillery came from a long, proud line of sake brewers.
Established in 1626, the highly sought-after whisky continues to set records at auctions.
Another interesting Japanese whisky setting new heights for whisky prices is the Yamazaki 50-year-old that sold for $430,000.
Considered the King of Japanese whisky, the rare bottle is back at auction. The estimated 2022 value is around $446,338 to $573,884.
What Makes Japanese Whisky So Expensive?
1. High Demand
Because Japanese whisky must be aged, the bottles have high demand that cannot be met. This makes available whisky very expensive to acquire.
2. It’s Very Rare
Due to the high demand and the impossibility of reproduction, aged Japanese whiskeys are very rare.
A whiskey aged 12, 17, or 21 years old is impossible to replicate. This, in turn, makes any existing collections very rare and expensive.
3. Production Regulations.
To protect the industry from fake replicas, the Japanese government came up with certain laws and regulations.
These include a minimum of three years of aging of Japanese whisky before bottling. These regulations have led to an increase in prices
Examples of Rare, Expensive Japanese Whisky
Yamazaki 50 Year Old
The Yamazaki 50-year-old had only 150 bottles released. It was produced by the oldest distillery in Japan, still in operation today.
This popular whisky has been making airwaves among whisky collectors by setting unprecedented auction prices.
Masataka Taketsuru is considered Japan’s first master distillery. He founded Nikka Whisky Distilling in 1943 and went on to become one of the most globally acclaimed whisky masters of his time.
Named after its producer, the Taketsuru 35 Year Old is one of the most sought-after Japanese whiskies to date.
Hibiki 35yo Arita Takumi & Kutani Set
Hibiki is another Japanese whisky brand that has discontinued some of its aged productions, including the Hibiki 17-year-old.
However, it’s the Hibiki 35yo Arita Takumi that is quite rare and expensive. It is so rare that you have to exclusively get in touch with vendors to get a quotation on the price.
Is Japanese Whisky Overpriced?
With bottles selling for more than $129,000, Japanese whisky may have people questioning the authenticity of the pricing decisions.
Are they just overpriced? When you look at it from an economic perspective, Japanese whisky is not overpriced. You can barely get a hold of most of the aged bottles.
Because high demand dictates that the prices will go up, it is expected that Japanese whisky is bound to be pricy.
Is Japanese Whisky Cheaper in Japan?
Japanese whisky is not necessarily cheaper in Japan. The rare aged bottles still cost about as much in Japan as they do in the US.
For foreigners traveling to Japan, it is a great experience to visit the distilleries. They sell assorted whisky shots for a fraction of the retail cost.
Read Also: Why are Macarons So Expensive in the US?
Is Japanese Whisky Any Good?
The Japanese people are known for their dedication and excellence in what they do. It is no different when it comes to the whisky industry.
Unlike the Scotch brewers who work hard to maintain the globally renowned taste of their whisky, the Japanese strive for excellence with each production.
This constant push to be better over the decades ensures top quality, and that is why the Japanese whisky has gone on to win numerous awards worldwide.