The ultra-luxury segment in airport retailing looks to be alive and well based on bids for a very exclusive bottle of Yamazaki 55 Years Old whisky. The auction has reached €675,000 ($788,000) at a wine and spirits store dedicated to high-end products at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport—with just a couple of days left to go.
The current bid is on a par with the world record-breaking price fetched in August 2020 at a Bonhams rare wine and whisky sale in Hong Kong.
The Dutch airport store, called ExQuisite and run by Schiphol Airport Retail, has just one bottle of Yamazaki 55 available—and it made the smart decision to run an auction given that it is the oldest single malt whisky in the history of the house of Suntory, and is in high worldwide demand.
In a social media statement, the retailer—a 60:40 joint venture between Germany’s Heinemann and the Dutch airport operator Royal Schiphol Group—said: “This is not a sale, it’s better. ExQuisite provides the bottle, you name a price. What are you waiting for?”
There was an initial wait. The bid process started slowly on 1 October at €501,000 with three bids after the first week taking the price to €504,000. But by Wednesday, 19 bids had been placed. Before the auction closes at the end of October, Schiphol Airport Retail will, no doubt, be hoping to reach nearer to €700,000.
Yamazaki 55 had its first release in Japan in 2020 to celebrate the eventually postponed Tokyo Olympics. Suntory describes the liquid as “a spiritual blend” of a Japanese Mizunara oak cask whisky distilled in 1960 under the supervision of founder Shinjiro Torii, and white oak cask whisky distilled in 1964. It has been created as a tribute to the Showa era of the 1960s, when the distillation reins were passed from father to son, and when the name Suntory was first introduced to the world. Brand owner, Beam Suntory, has limited the quantities to just 100 bottles globally.
The 46% ABV blend is presented in a crystal bottle with the word Yamazaki engraved in sandblasted calligraphy featuring real gold dust and lacquer on the age marking. The bottle’s opening is wrapped in handmade Echizen washi paper and bound with a Kyo-kumihimo-plaited cord, a traditional craft from Kyoto. Each bottle comes in a bespoke box made from native Mizunara wood and coated with Suruga lacquer.
Limited rollout in travel retail
On Monday this week, Suntory announced that some further bottles of Yamazaki 55 would be placed in the global travel retail channel at a nominal recommended retail price of $60,000. Locations will be London, Paris, Hainan, Hong Kong, Taipei, Amsterdam, Seoul, Delhi, Istanbul, Dubai and Singapore, though the exact airports and retail partners have yet to be disclosed.
Beam Suntory’s global travel retail marketing director, Manuel González, said: “This highly limited-edition product will be showcased in some of our best locations. We are committed to growing travel retail by reinforcing our offering.”
Whether these locations choose to follow the Schiphol Airport Retail auction route remains to be seen, but it seems likely. Beam Suntory says it will donate $500,000 ($5,000 for every bottle in the collection) to The White Oak Initiative, dedicated to the sustainability of white oak forests in the U.S.
Commenting on the current 2020 release, Suntory’s fifth-generation chief blender Shinji Fukuyo said: “While I often view other extra-aged whiskies as art, I consider Yamazaki 55 to be more like a Buddhist statue: calm and mysterious, requiring time to truly enjoy the inner beauty.”
Demand for whisky limited editions is rising
Limited edition whisky in travel retail is on a roll. While not in the same league as Yamazaki 55, Ian Macleod Distillers sold out “within hours” of its new release from Chieftain’s at ferry group Viking Line’s whisky fair last month. The pricing was not disclosed.
Chieftain’s 24-year-old old Cigar malt single cask is the oldest bottling to date—distilled in March 1997—and just 518 bottles were available, all exclusive to Viking Line.
Ian Macleod’s global travel retail director, William Ovens said: “We were confident this Speyside single malt Scotch would do well as an earlier Chieftain’s cask sold out during the previous fair. However, we did not anticipate this exceptional level of demand. This was a very positive and encouraging result, especially given the context we find ourselves in.”
It is very likely that the next cask releases from the brand will be priced significantly higher. In December, there is also an expectation that Ian Macleod will release the oldest ever Glengoyne, at over 50 years of age, exclusively into the travel retail channel. The quantities, pricing, and marketing on that launch, will be interesting to compare.
Viking Line’s whisky fair is attended by major whisky brands and regarded as a bellwether for the Nordic market. This year more than 3,000 whisky connoisseurs took to the Baltic Sea on three cruises from Stockholm.