Fine Scotch whisky pleases more Asian palates

Tue Dec 1, 2009 8:42am EST
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By James Pomfret

HONG KONG (Reuters Life!) - From ancient, windswept Scottish distilleries to the bustling neon-lit cities of Asia, the flow of fine whisky to the region has been steadily growing as Asians acquire a taste for the so-called water of life.

Not the easiest of drinks to appreciate with its strong, smoky aroma and high alcoholic content, Asians, particularly those in South Korea, Singapore and China have been increasingly drawn to the tipple, accounting for around 20 percent of the 3 billion pound ($5 billion) a year industry in 2008.

"It's huge and vital. Asia is the future," said James Espey, an industry veteran and founder of The Keepers of the Quaich, an elite clan devoted to promoting Scotch whisky heritage worldwide.

"Europe has plateau-ed, whereas America was the leading market for years, but then there was a white spirits explosion of vodka and rum," added Espey who runs one of the world's most exclusive whisky brands The Last Drop, which was rated "blended Scotch whisky of the year" in Jim Murray's 2009 Whisky bible.

In Hong Kong, which has been gaining traction as an Asian wine hub after abolishing wine duties, auctioneers Bonhams recently held the city's first ever whisky auction, putting up for sale part of the Willard Folsom collection, considered one of the best private stashes of rare whiskies in the world.

The sale, which attracted mostly Asian and Chinese buyers in a packed auction room, was 82 percent sold by lot in a sale worth around $70,000, though like many other places in Asia such as India and China, high import duties weighed on demand.

"Local collectors are willing to pay the 100 percent duty to secure fine and rare vintages. If (Hong Kong) creates a brilliant market development initiative as they did with fine wines a year ago, the whisky market could grow equally dramatically in Hong Kong," says Colin Sheaf, chairman of Bonhams Asia.

SIPPING HISTORY   Continued...

<p>A waiter offers whisky in a file photo. REUTERS/Jorge Silva</p>