The Price to Taste a 60-Year-Old Japanese Whisky? $7,000.
You’ve heard of $150 coffee—this February, Proud Mary’s Portland location sold a limited run of just 10 cups of an award-winning Gesha coffee from Panama. But how much would you pay to be one of just two dozen people in Portland to taste a 60-year-old rare Japanese whisky?
The going price for a tasting ticket: $7,000, which gets you a one-ounce pour of whisky in a Pinot Noir glass. This is no ordinary whisky, of course—there are only 100 bottles in the whole world, and only 20 of those are in the United States. The rare whisky in question, The House of Suntory’s Yamazaki 55, is a special blend of Japanese single malt whiskys distilled in 1960 and 1964. It’s by some measures the oldest Japanese whisky ever released, and when it launched in June 2020 by lottery to Japanese residents only, the suggested retail price was 3 million yen, or $27,500. In June 2022, a bottle sold on Sotheby’s for $600,000, even higher than the auction house’s estimate of $400,000-$500,000.
In many ways, it’s a needlessly extravagant event that doesn’t quite seem to add up in humble little Portland. You might expect to see a $7,000 whisky tasting in a New York country club or a swanky bar in Los Angeles. That said, Portland is famously obsessed with whisk(e)y. Our city has longstanding cultural connections with Japan. And Downtown Portland's Multnomah Whisk(e)y Library, with its Ivy League-library vibes and the biggest selection of whisk(e)ys in all of Oregon neatly arranged along its wall-length shelves, is one of the few spirits-obsessed clubs of its kind in the country. Adding up all these factors, Portland makes a lot of sense as a destination for a bottle of Yamazaki 55. Will the event take off in Portland, though? Will people travel to Portland just to try this rare whisky?
The Multnomah Whisk(e)y Library was invited—invited!—by The House of Suntory to purchase a bottle of the whisky, one of just a few bottles on the West Coast, at the relatively modest list price of $60,000.
"Suntory, like most distilleries, doesn’t want it to just derive value from being passed around like art. They really want people to drink it,” says Lani Sickman, Multnomah Whisk(e)y Library’s general manager. “It came with a really steep price tag, but the bottle represents a level of craftsmanship and the art and distillation, and the rarity of it—we couldn’t really pass it up."
To put things in perspective, the second-most expensive pour on Multnomah Whisk(e)y Library’s menu is the Macallan M, which costs $725 for a 1.5-ounce pour. The oldest whiskies on its massive, pages-long Whisk(e)y Bible menu right now are around 30 to 40 years old. But when MWL staff picked up the bottle of Yamazaki 55, Sickman was surprised at the lack of fanfare.
“It comes shipped with a bunch of other stuff, and it goes to the [Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission] warehouse as all liquor does in Oregon, and then it goes to a store and we pick it up. And there it was—in a cardboard box, with another box inside of it, a really gorgeous box that held the bottle.”
The Whisk(e)y Library is turning the tasting, which was delayed for several years due to the pandemic, into a full-blown two-day event from July 21-22. It includes a guided tour at the Portland Japanese Garden followed by talks from Suntory’s master blender Shinji Fukuyo, world-renowned spirits writer Dave Broom, and Portland cocktail virtuoso Jim Meehan. The event will wrap up with other Yamazaki pours like the Yamazaki 12 and 18, craft cocktails from Meehan, and a tasting menu. The next day’s events include a one-ounce pour of the Yamazaki 55, followed by a five-course dinner.
There are only 21 tickets remaining for the event, which are available online to the public starting at 1 p.m. on April 5. So far, the Whisk(e)y Library has sold just two during its members-only presale. There are also a number of companion tickets available for $500 for those who want to participate in the events but don’t need a whole pour of whisky for themselves. Multnomah Whisk(e)y Library will donate a portion of ticket sales—a total of $10,000—to the Portland Japanese Garden.
A $7,000 one-ounce pour is certainly a better deal than trying to find one of these rare bottles, which contains just a little over 25 ounces, at auction. But, says Jim Meehan—even he hasn't gotten the chance to taste the whisky yet—you're not just paying for the whisky itself, but a chance to meet some of the most influential minds in the world of whisk(e)y. "They will be flying Dave Broom, who's one of my heroes, in from Scotland, and the master blender of Suntory in from Japan for a relatively small group, so I suppose the ticket price needs to reflect the costs of setting up this opportunity," he told Portland Monthly.
“We know it obviously excludes a big chunk of people from being able to attend, but it's kind of one of those things where it is what it is,” says Sickman. “We’ve been trying to figure out ways to do other events that involve Japanese whisky and Suntory and Yamazaki throughout the year that are much more approachable.”
That said, it's no secret that joining the Multnomah Whisk(e)y Library as a member is prohibitively expensive for many. It costs $850 for a year-long individual membership, with a waiting list that runs nine months to a year—though thanks to MWL's new diversity program, your application gets priority if you can bring some diversity to the membership, which on average leans late-thirties and predominantly male. While you can access a lot of the Multnomah Whisk(e)y Library's goods at the open-to-the-public adjoining bar, The Green Room, you’ll need to be a member for first dibs on the Library's tasting events, which tend to sell out quickly. So if you want to explore the world of Japanese whisky at the Multnomah Whisk(e)y Library, you’d better start saving up—or be ready to jump on any non-member tickets still available.