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Bottle of Japanese whisky sells for record $343,000

Auction of 50-year-old Yamazaki in Hong Kong comes amid industry boom

The Yamazaki first edition was initially released in 2005, with 50 bottles. (Photo by Dean Napolitano)

HONG KONG -- A bottle of rare Japanese whisky sold at a world-record price on Friday, the third record shattered this year for a single malt from the country.

The 50-year-old Yamazaki first edition went for 2.695 million Hong Kong dollars ($343,000), including the buyer's premium, at a Bonhams auction in Hong Kong. The buyer chose to remain anonymous, Bonhams said, but the auction house disclosed that the winner -- who placed the bid by phone -- was from Asia.

The previous record for a bottle of Japanese whisky was set in May, when an Expression of Karuizawa 1960 52-year-old The Dragon fetched HK$2.45 million at Bonhams in Hong Kong. In January, a Yamazaki single malt aged 50 years sold for HK$2.337 million at a Sotheby's auction, also in Hong Kong.

"The Yamazaki 50-year-old is a very rare and special whisky, and I am expecting a lot of interest from collectors," Daniel Lam, Bonhams' head of fine wine and whisky in Hong Kong, had said in a statement prior to Friday's auction.

The auctioneer brings down the hammer at the auction of a bottle of Yamazaki 50 whisky at Bonhams in Hong Kong. (Photo by Dean Napolitano) The auctioneer brings down the hammer for the 50-year-old Yamazaki first edition. (Photo by Dean Napolitano)

When the Yamazaki first edition was initially released in 2005 with 50 bottles, it sold for 1 million yen, or about $9,000 at the current exchange rate, Christopher Pong, Bonhams' specialist for wine and whisky, said after the auction hammer came down on the winning bid.

"That's why most of the bottles went to the local bars, and they opened it and enjoyed it right away," Pong said in an interview.

Two additional editions of the 50-year-old Yamazaki were released: The second came two years later with 50 bottles, and the third in 2011 with 150 bottles.

Yamazaki is Japan's oldest whisky distillery, established in 1923. It is owned by Suntory Holdings.

Demand for fine and rare whiskies has surged in recent years. At a Bonhams sale in Hong Kong in May, a record was set for any whisky sold at auction when a Macallan Valerio Adami 1926 60-year-old bottle from Scotland brought HK$8.64 million.

The search for premium Japanese whiskies has become a "treasure hunt for connoisseurs," the Nikkei Asian Review reported earlier this year. The market was suffering a decade ago, but Suntory has led the revival. Now, however, there are concerns of a market bubble, Nikkei reported.

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