Yamazaki 55-Year-Old Smashes Record for Priciest Japanese Whiskey

Amazingly, the bottle was only released this year.

Anyone who's paid attention to the world of whiskey knows the auction market has been going absolutely bonkers: In the past two years, we've seen the record for the most expensive bottle nearly double, first breaking the $1 million mark in 2018 before nearly topping $2 million this past October. And though those bottles were Scotch, Japanese whiskey has also seen its value soar: Last August, a 54-bottle Japanese collection sold for $917,000—twice its selling price from four years earlier.

Now, Japanese whiskey is back with a new, eye-popping record that could signal an unprecedented run on the spirit. On Friday, at a Bonhams Fine & Rare Wine and Whisky Sale in Hong Kong, a single 700-milliliter bottle sold for a new record price of $795,000, smashing the previous record of $475,000 set this past March. Even more incredible, the bottle—a Yamazaki 55-Year-Old single malt—was only released this past June during a limited-edition 100-bottle run. (I can only assume about 99 other bottle owners were carefully watching the result of this sale.)

Yamazaki 55 year old whisky bottle and box

"The stunning price sets a new milestone for the market of Japanese whisky, testament to collectors' desire and determination to acquire the very best the market has to offer," Daniel Lam, Bonhams' director of wine and whisky for Asia, said in announcing the result. Stunning indeed: The presale estimate was apparently a mere $75,000 to $100,000.

So how did a "brand new" whiskey manage to set an all-time record? Well, as you can guess, though the bottling is new, the whiskey itself has an incredible pedigree. Upon its release by drinks giant Suntory, this Yamazaki 55-Year-Old was billed as the oldest Japanese whiskey ever released. The 100 bottles were only available in Japan through a lottery system. Winners of this lottery were then granted the privilege of being able to buy the booze for about $27,500—a deal that suddenly looks even better than it did at the time. In January, Forbes predicted the price of these bottles would "likely skyrocket," but even they probably didn't see this coming.

As for the whiskey itself, which was distilled in the 1960s, Bonhams described it as "matured in both Japanese Mizunara oak cask from 1960 and white oak cask from 1964, the year of the previous Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics." (The bottles were originally intended to be a tribute to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics that were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.) Bonhams continues, "Distilled to 46-percent ABV, it has a deep reddish amber color with a complex agarwood and sandalwood nose, rich in fruity scents with a sweet aftertaste. The gold-dusted bottle is housed in a black Mizunara oak box with Suruga lacquer. The bottle mouth is wrapped in handmade Echizen Washi and tied with a traditional Kyoto braided cord."

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