Editor’s Note: Today, we have something a little different for readers. Below, Jeff has a story about his life in Japan, and how he “drank” a potential 4,300% return. Read on…
Living and working in a great city like Tokyo came with benefits…
I had the world’s best products and services available at my fingertips. And in Japan, there is an inconspicuous and refined nature to what might normally be presented with great fanfare.
Amid the cacophony of bright lights and electronics, some of the best restaurants and stores are quietly tucked away – almost as if in an effort not to stand out.
One of my favorite spots was my local bottle shop in the town of Ebisu (恵比寿) in Tokyo, which I was fortunate enough to call home for almost two decades.
On any given Friday night or Saturday afternoon, after a terribly busy week of work and travel in Asia, I enjoyed a solitary walk into town to buy a bottle of nihonshu (日本酒 – which is what most people call “sake”), shōchū (焼酎 – distilled from rice, barley, potato, or brown sugar), or whisky.
Japan loves its whisky. The availability of Scottish single malt whisky in Japan is better than anywhere I’ve ever seen in the world. I felt spoiled by the sheer breadth and depth of what was available.
And of course, there was a wide range of Japanese whisky available as well. Japan is known for mastering blended whisky with remarkably smooth tastes. They’re fantastic, but I have always been drawn to the distinct flavors presented by single malts.
Which is why a particular bottle caught my eye one evening…
The Old Hanyu Distillery
It was a single malt whisky from the old Hanyu distillery outside of Tokyo. I knew that distillery had been shuttered, which is what made the bottle so interesting.
As it turns out, the grandson of the founder of the Hanyu distillery purchased all the remaining barrels of the then-defunct distillery.
The grandson, Ichiro Akuto, was in the process of building a new distillery – the Chichibu distillery – and was bottling the old 2000 vintage, its final vintage, which was 10 years old at the time.
After inquiring about Ichiro’s Hanyu “final vintage,” I bought both bottles on the shelf.
They cost about $80 a bottle at the time, well above what was normal. But I’m always excited to try something I haven’t had before.
It was spectacular.
Unlike anything I had ever tasted before in Japan. In fact, it quickly became one of my very favorites. Those bottles weren’t on the shelf every week, but when I saw them, I bought them all. I simply couldn’t believe something this good was selling at that price.
A Japanese Whiskey Goes to Scotland
I remember bringing a bottle of the final vintage with me on a trip to Scotland.
One evening, I met with the master distiller of Johnnie Walker, who had held that post for 20 years.
He brought with him a bunch of whiskies for us to try, and of course, I had my special bottle from Japan.
It was an understatement to say that he was impressed. He couldn’t believe where it came from.
Over the course of a year or so, I gave a few bottles to friends and business colleagues when I had them. I travelled with bottles when I returned to the U.S.
And every week I’d stop into my favorite shop to see if there was more.
About a year after my discovery, the availability became less frequent. I started to search other shops with some luck, but it wasn’t easy work.
And then, one day, it was gone. After all, it was the final vintage.
A Potential 4,300% Return
More than a year later, I did find a bottle for sale. It was at a famous auction house in Hong Kong. The bottles I had been buying for around $80 were now going for close to $3,500.
Had I simply held those beautiful bottles for less than two years, I would have been sitting on roughly a 4,300% return.
It was such an obvious investment. I deeply understood the quality and the scarcity of the whiskey. And I understood how undervalued it was.
But I didn’t regret it. And I still don’t.
I wouldn’t have wanted those bottles to sit on a shelf like a trophy. A whiskey like that is meant to be appreciated, celebrated. It was part of life among people who care about one another… A part of a life well lived.
I don’t regret enjoying those fabulous bottles while they lasted. I don’t regret enjoying life with family and friends.
To me, that was better than any investment return I could have made.
Editor, The Bleeding Edge