What makes a great investment? Some want a quick cash out, while others want their investments to provide a comfortable retirement in the distant future. Others invest in something they love, something they are passionate about. Whisky has become that kind of passionate investment for lovers of the spirit around the world. Fans love to drink it, collect it, invest in it; they understand it and, for them, learning more about the industry is not work, its pleasure. As prices, popularity and demand rises, Japanese whisky is now one of the top categories to invest in across the globe. And the Japanese Karuiwaza whisky brand stands at the top of them all, in terms of investment return and price increase.
As of summer 2018, statistics by Whiskystats.net, a platform which observes thousands of trades across the globe, showed that Karuizawa is the number one brand in the world in terms of price growth via trades and auctions. The company observed almost 40,000 trades from spring to summer and found that Karuizawa had overtaken hugely collected brands like The Macallan, Brora, and Port Ellen. Having risen to the top of the whisky investing world in recent years, Karuizawa is showing no signs of stopping. However, the brand wasn’t always this popular.
The Karuizawa distillery shut down 18 years ago in Japan, at the turn of the millennium. Back then whisky in Japan was having a very difficult time, as the 80s brought in the era of shochu and beer, causing whisky consumption to plummet domestically. Before these other alcoholic beverages came around, whisky reigned supreme with the Japanese population, so the crash particularly affected distilleries that had ramped up production in the years prior in the hope that consumption would grow further. Karuizawa was one of several distilleries to shut down completely, while other whisky companies, like Nikka, simply halted production for several years.
While the distillery closed its doors, some interested parties, especially Number One Drinks from Japan, could still see the beauty and potential of Karuizawa whisky. They bought up the final casks and passionately promoted the whisky to the world. Japan wasn’t interested in whisky anymore but the rest of the world sure was. And it worked, Karuizawa bottlings started appearing just as the Japanese whisky boom was taking off; when Suntory’s Yamazaki and Hibiki brands started receiving top awards at global competitions. What pushed the brand further into the whisky collecting world was that it would never be produced again. Unlike Rosebank and Port Ellen, which recently announced plans to resume production in the coming years, the Karuizawa site was completely taken apart and levelled. The stills are being used by another distillery, the site has been sold off, and the ex-master distiller in now making beer; it would take a whole lot to resurrect the brand.
Nowadays, the final Karuizawa bottlings are within view, as very few casks remain. Some sellers still release Karuizawa bottlings at affordable prices, like the recent release of the 31 and 29-year-old Murasaki Geishas by the Whisky Exchange at $7,700 a bottle. The price point is very fair, considering most prices seen on the secondary market. Aside from their beautiful design, the Whisky Exchange Karuizawa bottlings are known for being some of the highest quality Karuizawa casks in existence. Sadly, with the exception of some trusted retailers, buyers should be careful as many fake Karuizawa bottlings are making their way onto the market.
An important driving force behind Karuizawa’s growth is the regular auctions held around the world. Auction after auction puts Karuizawa bottles under the spotlight, and they continuously sell for astronomical hammer prices. Just last week at Bonhams in Hong Kong, the auction house known for holding some of the largest whisky auctions in the world, a 1960 Karuizawa bottle signed by Osami Uchibori, the ex-master distiller of Karuizawa whisky, sold for a staggering $192,000. This is just one recent example of the astonishing Karuizawa price growth over the years.
While Karuizawa whisky casks lessen and prices continue to rise, the sad truth is that fewer and fewer people manage to experience what the whisky actually tastes like. Odds are, if you’re paying over $100,000 USD per bottle at auction, you aren’t going to crack it open, at least not without a heavy heart. As a bottle’s value rises, the chances of it ever being opened lessen. Another factor that comes into play is that, by reaching such high prices, Karuizawa has played a part in pulling the entire category of Japanese whisky and it’s value, up.
Great news for investors yet not the best news for drinkers, nonetheless Karuizawa whisky has gone from a lost, bankrupt brand to the top whisky brand to invest in today. This feat alone, paired with the many gorgeous bottlings and the deep, powerful Karuizawa whisky character, make Karuizawa one of the best Japanese whisky brands around. As the 2020 Tokyo Olympics approach, around which time the final Karuizawa casks are expected to launch, the excitement around the lost brand is only expected to grow.