Japanese whisky prices have been on the rise for quite some time. However, the truly shocking prices come from the secondary markets, in auctions and trading, where newly released Japanese whisky expressions often sell for ten times their retail price. Well now, Suntory, the most famous Japanese whisky maker, will be raising the suggested retail prices of their most famed brands in order to increase capacity and quality even further to meet customer expectations.
The press release came at the end of November, when Suntory announced a price hike for their premium Yamazaki, Hakushu, and Hibiki, as well as a range of imported products the company brings into Japan. While this particular release concerns the Japanese market it will, of course, eventually reach export markets as well.
Suntory mentions that despite the aggressive capital invested into expansion and increasing capacity, they still cannot fulfill customer demand and thus are increasing their prices for further expansion. This is surprising, judging by the company’s continuous growth and the strong 16% ROE in the first half of 2021.
However, looking at the prices the aged range of Hibiki, Yamazaki, and Hakushu brands are traded for on auction sites and other secondary marketplaces, it makes sense that the creating company would want a larger part of that. A prime example is when the Yamazaki 55 Year-Old, which launched in Japan for US$27,500 sold two months later at auction for over US$800,000.
This hike just means that these whiskies will become even more inaccesible to the regular drinkers and fans of the brands. Here we are seeing first hand the negative impact bottle flipping can have on a category.
The price hikes, which will take affect in April, 2022 are as follows:
Hibiki 30 Year-Old – 28% Increase
Hibiki 21 Year-Old – 28% Increase
Hibiki Blender’s Choice – 20% Increase
Hibiki Japanese Harmony – 10% Increase
Yamazaki 25 Year-Old – 28% Increase
Yamazaki 18 Year-Old – 28% Increase
Yamazaki 12 Year-Old – 21% Increase
Yamazaki No Age Statement – 7% Increase
Hakushu 25 Year-Old – 28% Increase
Hakushu 18 Year-Old – 28% Increase
Hakushu 12 Year-Old – 18% Increase
Hakushu NAS – 7% Increase
Beyond these products, some Macallan and Glenfiddich expressions imported into Japan will be increased. Luckily, it’s mainly the premium expressions that will experience the biggest price increases, meaning that drinkers of more accessible no-age statement products will still be able to enjoy them.
It’s unclear how the market will react to this news, however, the main reaction I foresee is Japanese whisky traders heading out to hunt down as many bottles of the above releases as they can find, in order to turn a quick profit on them in the second half of 2022.
Japanese whisky has experienced issues with shortages of aged stock for quite some time, as the category rose to global fame suddenly and rapidly. With this newfound interest, the bigger brands could not keep up with demand as they had not put enough whisky into casks to mature in the decades prior. While the large producers, Nikka and Suntory, have steadily caught up with demand by greatly increasing supply, it seems it hasn’t been enough.
The larger brands, like Suntory, also act as baseline for many new Japanese whisky distilleries. This means that many small distilleries release even new make whisky products at the prices one would pay for an aged Scotch single malt whisky or American bourbon. Hopefully this move by Suntory won’t aid in bringing prices of young and new alcohol products from Japan up as well.
When all is said and done, it isn’t easy for brands to keep up with increasing demand and dealing with the growing pains that come with it. Let’s hope these increases aid in increased availability of Suntory products across all the aged ranges and brands.