18th February, 2016 by Lucy Jenkins
Hong Kong’s undiminished thirst for Japanese whisky has suppliers unable to keep up with demand, says the general manager of Fine Vintage, Howard Palmes.
Speaking to the drinks business HK, Palmes said: “The problem we in the trade face is that Japanese whisky is just not that readily available. The distilleries don’t release large quantities of bottles and they sell out immediately.
“One way is to go through the auction houses – Sotheby’s, Bonham’s, Christie’s – but ordinary suppliers like us typically only have a couple of bottles of Yamazaki 12 for example, at a time. Also a big issue is that people collect Japanese whisky they don’t drink it. Because of its incresingy scarcity and also beautiful packaging people just hold on to them.”
Acknowledging the unstoppable trend in Hong Kong for Japanese whisky – which saw a bottle of 1960 Karuizawa sell for a record-breaking HK$918,750 at Bonham’s last summer, Palmes pointed out there is less of a ‘stigma’ about drinking spirits, at any age which has helped keep whisky sales bouyant.
“Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea have an emerging niche market of young, female drinkers. You go into any of Hong Kong’s whisky bars – Angel’s Share for example – and there’s no one under the age of 40. People have been brought up in families drinking spirits – baijiu, soju – we certainly don’t have this nannying culture like they do in the UK where we’re told to only drink 10 units a week.“
Faced with rising prices of Japanese whisky as well as the difficulty in obtaining bottles from closed-down distilleries such as Karuizawa, Hong Kong’s drinkers have also shown a preference for Kavalan, Taiwan’s sole, premium offering – even more so since its Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique scooped top place in the 2015 World Whisky Awards. Kavalan will also release its Amontillado and Manzanilla cask Solist expressions to the Hong Kong market this April to a thirsty, eager audience.
Along with Glenfarclas, Benromach, Amrut and Springbank, Fine Vintage will be presenting Kavalan at the forthcoming Whisky Festival, Hong Kong’s first which occurs just before the Malt Masters which is now in its third year.
“The fact that you have the Whisky Festival and then the Malt Masters the week after speaks volumes about Hong Kong’s fondness for it. The whisky market is still in its infancy here but it’s very clear that consumers just can’t get enough.”