Oddly Enough

High-end whisky unveiled in China - for $2,700

BEIJING (Reuters) - A special aged Scotch whisky blend aimed at wealthy Chinese connoisseurs and their growing passion for top-end liquor has just been unveiled in Beijing.

The strong, smoky aroma and high alcoholic content of whisky may not be the easiest of drinks to appreciate, but Asians, particularly in South Korea and China, have been increasingly drawn to the tipple, accounting for around 20 percent of the 3 billion pound a year industry in 2008.

China has shown the highest growth in Scotch whisky over the last 20 years with 22 percent annual compound growth by volumes. Vietnam, Russia and India have posted the next biggest growth rates since 1990.

But it’s the growing passion of wealthy Chinese for high-end whiskies and liqueurs that inspired the Royal Salute whisky group to launch their most-aged blend, the 62 Gun Salute, in the Chinese market, unveiling it Monday.

“Well, certainly the taste is very smooth. It’s got sweetness, it’s got richness and fruitiness and the Chinese love that sort of powerful, rich taste they’re associating with Royal Salute because it’s a mature Royal Salute market out here,” said Colin Scott, Royal Salute’s master blender.

“But this really takes them several stages further into the mystery and magic of Scotch whisky,” he told Reuters Television.

Scott was responsible for choosing the whiskies to blend, each aged for a minimum of 40 years. The end product is a complex and rich combination of flavours and aromas.

Housed in a hand-crafted decanter made by Dartington Crystal, the whisky features a Royal Salute crest painted in liquid 24-carat gold, along with a 24-carat gold plated collar and a crystal stopper set with a 24-carat gold plated crown.

Unsurprisingly, the price is not for the faint-hearted. Each bottle sells for a cool 18,000 renminbi -- 1,700 pounds.

Scott said the company was aiming at Chinese who enjoy expressing their status through various high-end products.

“People who are successful entrepreneurs, great businessmen, just people in general who want to make a success of their lives, celebrate with the finest things in life,” he said.

“To me, this is one of the finest of the finest Scotch whiskies in the world.”

Scotch whisky exports to China have surged in recent years, raking in 28 million pounds ($45 million) in the first six months of this year alone, a 66 percent increase from last year and an 80-fold increase over the last decade.

The British government said last month that Scotch Whisky will get special brand protection in China, a move expected to boost sales of the spirit at the expense of counterfeit versions.

The Scotch Whisky Association estimates that exports to China could double over the next five years from an annual figure of 80 million pounds.

Editing by Elaine Lies