For any collectible, there is an unattainable high point: a holy grail that is impossible to find and extravagantly expensive. But for someone equipped with the means and the drive, it is attainable. In the case of rare and highly coveted whiskies from defunct Japanese distilleries, Selangor-born entrepreneur Jason Teo Giin Liang has acquired one of these grails: a complete set of Hanyu Ichiro’s Malt Full Cards Series whiskies. These 54 bottles, named after a deck of playing cards (52 over the four suits plus two jokers) come from the Hanyu distillery which shut down in 2000. Ichiro Akuto, whose family founded the distillery, obtained the remaining stock and from 2009 gradually released it as the Full Cards Series. In August this year, one of these sets sold at auction for HK$7.2 million (RM3.8 million).
Teo’s story is a little more involved, as he acquired his set individually, bottle by bottle, from auction houses such as Bonhams and Sotheby’s, as well as from private sellers. Once, a Frenchman flew over to Hong Kong to deliver the Ten of Spades to him personally.
The most expensive one to collect was the Nine of Hearts. “I think six of seven years ago, someone opened about 60 bottles, and blended them into another collection,” Teo explains of its rarity, noting that at the time each bottle was worth much less than it is today.
Now that his Full Cards collection is complete, Teo has a singular intent: to open them at a sharing event that will surely go down in whisky history. “I always collect whisky that I like to drink. I want to know the taste of those 54 bottles,” he says simply. “If I just kept them in a cabinet for years and years and prices go up, there’s no point because I don’t know what the taste is.” Part of the reason Teo wants to host a sharing event—one with a hefty ticket price, at that—is to find like-minded people. “Only two kinds of people will come: whisky lovers and real collectors,” he says.
Teo is no stranger to collecting hard-to-find whiskies, as his dram of choice is usually a vintage, discontinued Scotch. “I don’t like new make,” he says. “I like vintages from the 60s, 70s, 80s, because the taste is way different.” A highlight of his formidable collection is a full set of Dalmore Constellation. This set of 21 bottles consists of rare whiskies that date back to the 60s, and when it was released in 2012 the set sold for £158,000 (approximately RM766,300 at the time). He also collects watches and art, but tempers his desires with a healthy dose of financial sense. “I will look for the value first. I only collect things that have a value that will go up.” he explains. “We don’t want our hard-earned fortune to become less and less in the future, right? That’s very important for me also.”
Still, Teo advocates a passion-first approach to whisky collecting, which he advises new whisky collectors to remember. “Don’t look for the fancy whiskies, the branded whiskies,” he says. “At first you must know how to drink whisky and collect the whiskies you like to drink first. Start from there, don’t treat it like an investment first. You must love whisky, and only then will you earn money from it.”