Chris’ note: As we wave farewell – or perhaps good riddance – to 2022, we’re reflecting on the last 12 months. And we have something a little different to share with you for our first dispatch of 2023.
It’s a bit of wisdom from colleague Jeff Brown. Jeff lived and worked abroad for two decades. He spent most of that time in Tokyo, Japan. And below, he shares and experience from that time… and a “missed” opportunity that put a big smile on his face.
It’s all to do with a high-quality whisky vintage. So, cozy up with your favorite drink. Then sit back and enjoy.
Living in Tokyo has its perks …
For instance, you have world’s best products and services at your fingertips.
And in Japan, there’s a refinement to what folks in other countries present with great fanfare.
Amid the bright lights and electronics, some of the best restaurants and stores are tucked away – almost as though trying not to stand out.
One of my favorite spots was my local liquor store in a town called Ebisu in Tokyo.
On Friday night, after a busy week of work and travel in Asia, I’d enjoy a solitary walk into town to buy a bottle of nihonshu (what most people call sake), shōchū (distilled from rice, barley, potato, or brown sugar), or whisky.
Japan loves its whisky. The range of Scottish single malt whiskys there is better than anywhere else in the world outside of Scotland. I felt spoiled by the variety of what was available.
There was a wide range of Japanese whisky to buy also. The country is known for mastering blended whiskies with remarkably smooth tastes.
They’re fantastic. But I’ve always been drawn to the distinct flavors of single malts.
Which is why a particular bottle caught my eye one evening…
It was a single malt whisky from the Hanyu distillery outside Tokyo. I knew it had closed, which is what made the bottle so interesting.
I found out the grandson of the distillery’s founder had bought all its remaining barrels. The grandson, Ichiro Akuto, was building a new distillery. And he was bottling Hanyu’s final vintage – the 2000 vintage – which was 10 years old at the time.
I bought two bottles. Each cost about $80, well above normal. But I’m always excited to try something I haven’t had before.
It was spectacular. Unlike anything I’d tasted before in Japan. And it quickly became one of my favorites.
Those bottles weren’t on the shelf every week. But when I saw them, I bought them all. I couldn’t believe something that good was selling at that price.
I brought a bottle of the final vintage with me on a trip to Scotland.
A group of friends had traveled there to see the country… play a round of golf… and hunt a red stag by foot in the Highlands.
We wanted to experience a traditional driven grouse hunt, eat haggis, fish, and of course, drink whisky.
One evening, we met with the master distiller of Johnnie Walker whisky. He had held that post for 20 years. He brought a bunch of whiskies for us to try.
And I had my special bottle from Japan.
To say he was impressed is an understatement. He couldn’t believe where it came from.
Over the course of a year or so, I gave a few bottles to friends and colleagues. I had the pleasure of sharing bottles with close friends, too.
I even traveled with bottles whenever I returned to the U.S. And every week I’d stop in my favorite shop to see if there were more.
About a year after my discovery, the whisky’s availability began drying up. I searched other shops with some luck, but it wasn’t easy work.
Then one day, it was gone. After all, it was the final vintage.
How I Missed a 4,300% Return
I knew the day would come…I just hadn’t wanted to think about it.
Each bottle was hand numbered. How many in total? How close had we been to the end?
I didn’t know. I didn’t want to know.
More than a year later, my friend reminded me of the bottle I gave him. That led me to check if by some miracle I could find it selling somewhere.
And I did. A bottle was up for auction at a famous auction house in Hong Kong… for about $3,500 a bottle.
Had I held those bottles for less than two years, I would have been sitting on a roughly 4,300% return.
But when I saw the bottle listed at the auction house, I smiled. I had a big laugh… the kind that comes from deep in your belly.
I miss the vintage dearly. But I got great pleasure from it when it was available. And I was able to share it with friends.
Lives Well Lived
I’ve often wondered about how much fun it would be to create something that good – a world-class whisky or bourbon – and have the resolve to let it mature for a decade.
One thing I know is I’d want people to enjoy my finished product. I wouldn’t want it to sit on a shelf as if it were a trophy.
I’d much rather know people were appreciating and celebrating it as part of life among people who care about one another… part of lives well lived.
So I don’t regret enjoying those fabulous bottles while they lasted. I don’t regret enjoying them with family and friends.
It’s okay to miss out on some profits when you’re enjoying life.
Happy New Year!
Editor, The Bleeding Edge