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Karuizawa collection breaks auction record

The world’s largest known collection of Karuizawa is thought to have set a new world record for the most expensive range of Japanese whisky sold at auction after fetching almost US$1 million.

A collection of 296 bottles of Karuizawa Japanese whisky has fetched almost US$1 million at auction

The collection, comprising 296 bottles, smashed its pre-sale estimate of £500,000 (US$610,000) to fetch £770,000 (US$985,000) during an online auction held by Whisky Auctioneer.

Within that collection, a single bottle of 52-year-old Karuizawa 1960, one of just 41 bottles originally released for £12,000 (US$15,000) in 2013, sold for £100,100 (US$128,000) – setting a new UK and European record for the most expensive single bottle of Japanese whisky sold at auction.

In October last year a first edition Yamazaki 50-year-old single malt smashed the world record price for a standard-sized bottle of whisky sold at auction, fetching more than HK$1 million (US$129,000) in Hong Kong.

Whisky Auctioneer’s Karuizawa collection had been built up over the last decade by a European collector. It contains “almost every expression” created by the closed Japanese distillery and marks the “first time such an extensive collection has been made available for auction anywhere in the world”.

Almost 6,000 bids were made for the bottles, with 89 successful buyers – the vast majority of which hailed from the US, where 84 bottles where purchased. Germany finished in second place with 43, Hong Kong with 40, the UK with 37 and Greece with 23.

The top 10 bottles by value sold during the auction fetched a combined £217,060, with seven of these bottles purchased by buyers in Hong Kong and the other three by buyers in Germany.

“I don’t think we ever expected to have this much interest in our collection of Karuizawa, regardless of its rarity and collectability,” said Iain McClune, founder and owner of Whisky Auctioneer.

“Despite being a UK-based auction, only 37 of these bottles will remain on our shores. The international profile of the winning bids truly underline the global appeal of rare whisky at the moment, with these bottles soon heading off to 19 different countries, located across four different continents.”

Karuizawa is one of the most sought after and investible whisky brands in the world. The distillery, based at the foot of Mount Asama in Nagano Prefecture, Japan, was mothballed in 2000.

In 2016, rare whisky consultancy, valuation and brokerage website Rare Whisky 101 (RW101) said while the value of Karuizawa has experienced a “staggering rise”, the brand’s trajectory was “unsustainable”.

“Given the vast demand for Karuizawa whisky in recent years, we wondered whether the market might have begun cool for this iconic distillery,” commented Andy Simpson, co-founder of RW101.

“However, judging by the global interest and the prices paid for this most recent auction, it would appear that Japanese whisky is still at the apex of many collectors’ wish-lists. What we don’t know, of course, if whether any of these bottles will resurface on the secondary market in years to come, or whether they will be opened, enjoyed and forever lost to the collector market.”

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