Why Is Japanese Whisky So Expensive?

Over the past few years, the popularity of Japanese whisky has grown continually, and it certainly doesn’t look like the trend is set to stop any time soon. However, as more turn to the world of Japanese whiskies, we have seen price tags skyrocket. What was once a modest interpretation of Scottish malt whiskies has become an industry where it isn’t surprising to see a bottle with a £1,000 price label. In fact, for many bottles coming from Japan, this is a reasonable figure!


Why do Japanese Whisky Prices Keep Rising?

While some price rises will naturally be linked to the increased interest in the drink, it doesn’t immediately explain why some bottles will have £100,000 price tags.


Closed Distilleries

One of the key reasons that Japanese whisky is so expensive is that there is simply not enough supply to meet the ever-growing demand. While whisky boomed as an industry in the early days, when it first started to be made in Japan in the late 1930s, by the 1980s other alcoholic beverages such as beer and shochu, a spirit made from rice, had taken over as the most popular drinks.

Due to the change in demand, in the 1980s, many distilleries were forced to close their doors, or dramatically slash the amount of whisky they were producing. Even some of the biggest names in the whiskey industry, such as Nikka, stopped producing whisky for a number of years as the demand was just not there!

With many of the best bottles of whisky requiring an ageing time of between 12 and 30 years, the whiskies that would have been made during the ‘80s would be ready for sale over the past few years. However, as the distilleries closed for business around 30-years ago, the bottles do not exist!


Awards Increase Demand

While the 80s saw a decreased interest in Japanese whisky, this all changed in the early 2000s, when Suntory’s Yamazaki 12-Year-Old was recognised with an international accolade, winning gold at the International Spirits Challenge in 2003. The next year Hibiki 30-Year-Old took home a trophy at the same whisky competition. Since then, the demand for Japanese whisky has only risen, and the awards keep rolling in, with Japanese whisky even being named the Best Whisky in the World in recent years!

With more and more awards being presented to Japanese whisky, the demand for these award-winning bottles keeps increasing. However, due to the distillery closures, there is very limited stock of many of these bottles, and some are not being produced at all anymore. Because of this, the price of each bottle continues to rise. An example of this is the 52-Year-Old Karuizawa Archer, which sold for $128,000 at auction in 2017, yet the Karuizawa distillery stopped production in 2000 and was closed for good in 2011.


Price Rises Draw In Collectors

We can see how rapidly whisky prices have risen, as more and more people try to get in on the Japanese whisky hype. In 2016, Yamazaki 50-Year-Old sold for $129,000 – then the most expensive bottle of whisky sold at auction. At the start of 2018, another bottle of Yamazaki 50-Year-Old hit the auction again, selling for $299,000 – a staggering increase of $170,000 in just over a year!

With prices rising this extremely, and demand ever-growing, collectors and investors are willing to spend thousands or even hundreds of thousands of pounds on bottles as they know that they can get a higher return within a few months.


The Future of Japanese Whisky

Larger distilleries are set to be back on track with production and distribution to keep up with the new demand by 2020. Despite this, prices are not likely to drop as the rarity of Japanese whisky at present has developed it a reputation of being luxurious and good quality.


Is Japanese Whisky Worth It?

Ultimately, the answer to this question is all down to your intentions. If you find a good bottle of Japanese whisky for £10,000, then it would be well worth it as an investment opportunity, as it is likely to be resold for far higher at a later date, whereas you probably won’t get £10k worth of enjoyment out of taking a sip! There are many more reasonably priced bottles of Japanese whisky in the UK for those who are more into drinking their whiskies than shelving it. However, unfortunately, many commercially produced bottles also have inflated prices due to the skyrocketing figures attached to the rarer blends.


What are your thoughts on Japanese whisky? Let us know whether or not you think Japanese whisky is worth the price in the comments below!

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