Japanese Whiskey in Orbit, and Fetching Out-of-This-World Prices

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A few interesting drams of news from the Japanese whiskey world recently: as the beverage becomes all the rarer, bottles of the spirit are fetching astronomical prices. And, for the sake of science, the “water of life” is getting chance to age in an unusual location—orbiting the Earth.

Two weeks back, the Suntory Global Innovation Center launched a rocket with several bottles of whiskey into orbit, according to Space.com. The orbital craft docked with the International Space Station last week. This special cargo wasn’t shot up with the idea of giving the astronauts their Bill Murray moment, though; the drinks company—whose expansive cabinet of brands now includes Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, and Canadian Club—was interested in studying the potential “mellowing” effect that Zero-G aging would have on the beverage. The bottles will be kept in the Kibo module in the ISS, which is run by the Japanese space agency, JAXA; some of them will age for a year, while others will get a chance to age for two years or longer. For research purposes, the bottles will be tested by scientists—and we’d imagine, whiskey connoisseurs—against terrestrially aged whiskey.

Meanwhile, following a boom in interest that was already gaining momentum even before a single-malt Yamazaki was named “Best Whisky” for 2015 by “Whisky Bible” author Jim Murray, Japanese whiskeys have been drawing plenty of attention from buyers around the world. According to a recent Bloomberg piece, Western demand for whiskeys from the Land of the Rising Sun has reached such a fever pitch that Japanese producers and U.S. importers are beginning to reduce their allotments of aged whiskey, and are beginning to market “non-age-statement” products to meet the needs of thirsty buyers (check the article for an impressive list of Japanese whiskeys you might want to get your hands on before they become too popular).

And so, with that scarceness comes plenty of cache for those who can score the old stuff—if they can afford it. As the Wall Street Journal reported earlier today, a Southeast Asian buyer plunked down $118,540 for a single bottle of 1960 Karuizawa, which was described by Bonhams (the house that ran the auction) as “becom[ing] more velvety as it continues to open, fluxing between damask rose and, at its height, a fungal, mossy note like old woods in autumn.” Perhaps feeling a bit heady after that first purchase, the same buyer spent $489,968 to secure a 54-bottle collection of whiskeys from various Japanese distillers. Both of the bids were record-breakers: one for a single bottle purchase of Japanese whiskey, and the other for a set.

With that kind of cash, this fellow might be able to charter his own orbital whiskey aging operation…

—Alec Jordan

Image: A few members of the $489,968 set (Bonhams)

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