Bonhams Presents Rare Whisky Bottles ‘Ghost Series’ and Samaroli in Hong Kong

At Bonhams’ upcoming spring sales in Hong Kong, two rare sets of special whisky bottles will be offered. Highlighting the Japanese whisky section is the ‘Ghost Series’ featuring labels of ukiyo-e printings, a collection that no one could ever get the ‘complete’ set. The scotch whisky will be led by whisky from the late legendary bottler Silvano Samaroli.

We have invited Daniel Lam, Bonhams’ Director of Wine & Spirits, Asia, to introduce the selected highlights and tell us how special they are.

The “Incomplete” “Ghost Series” Whisky
The “Ghost Series” was once offered at Bonhams in 2017 and the final price sold was beyond our expectation. Excluding the latest one, the “Ghost Series” should have 8 bottles. It was launched by a Japan-based European called Stefan van Eycken.

Stefan’s favourite distilleries are Karuizawa and Hanyu because they are both directly under Ichiro Akuto, founder of Chichibu. In 2013, Stefan launched the series with Ukiyo-e images on the bottles. (Each bottle features a signature print from ‘New Forms of 36 Ghosts’ by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi)

The ‘Ghost Series’ Japanese Whisky

‘New Forms of 36 Ghosts’ by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi features 36 ukiyo-e images

Who is Stefan? How did he get famous distilleries to work with him?

Stefan is a Japanese whisky fanatic. He records every detail of whisky production and history. He even went to interview Karuizawa’s retired winemaker and wrote this comprehensive book (titled ‘Whisky Rising: The Definitive Guide to the Finest Whiskies and Distillers of Japan’) providing insider information about lesser-known Japanese whiskies.

Stefan van Eycken

'Whisky Rising: The Definitive Guide to the Finest Whiskies and Distillers of Japan' by Stefan van Eycken

How was the “Ghost Series” distributed in Japan?

The quantities produced for each bottle are different, some over a hundred, and this (the 2nd edition), only twenty-two. That means there are only 22 full sets. For editions with over a hundred bottles, some went directly to bars. If the production was small, then there would be a lucky draw or a charity sale.

The 6th bottle is missing here. It goes before the 7th and 8th bottles in the “Ghost Series”. Stefan was determined to open all 6th bottles. These bottles are mostly delivered to Japanese bars for drinking, so Stefan decided that all “6th” bottles have to be opened. Nobody can collect it so you cannot find it anywhere. Collecting the “Ghost Series” is as difficult as collecting Ichiro’s “Full Card Series”. The 9th bottle was released recently, which is a vatting of Hanyu and Chichibu.

The 6th edition (which goes between the 5th and the 7th bottles in the series) is missing

The 9th bottle Hanyu x Chichibu|Double Distilleries + Peated was released last year

How does Stefan choose whisky?

He chooses ones that can represent the distillery. For example, this 1st bottle is an old edition from Karuizawa with Bourbon cask. The 2nd bottle is rarer, matured in wine barrel. The 3rd and 4th are matured in Grappa (Italian brandy) barrels. Some editions are peated or vatting of Hanyu and Chichibu.

1st bottle: Karuizawa-16-Year-Old|1996

2nd bottle: Karuizawa-18-Year-Old|1995

3rd bottle: Hanyu|2000|Bar Killer

4th bottle: Kawasaki-33-Year-Old|1980

5th bottle: Karuizawa|1996 & 2000|4 Decades

7th edition: Karuizawa x Kawasaki|1970s|Time Slip

8th bottle: Hanyu x Chichibu|Double Distilleries

Will there be new additions to the “Ghost Series”?

Stefan has never confirmed this. If there were new additions, people would expect whisky from rare distilleries like Karuizawa and Hanyu. But they have closed down, leaving a limited source of supply. Maybe Stefan would have to choose other distilleries for new production.

The unique “Silvano Samoroli”

Samaroli passed away two years ago. He was a pioneer in whisky bottling in Italy. He started using single cask very early on.

Silvano Samaroli

Bowmore Flower Label - 1972 (Samaroli)

The label was signed by Samaroli

Every cask that he chose was special. To pick the best cask, he went to distilleries to examine every cask. That’s why independent bottling is unique, there are only over 200 bottles. Once they’re finished, they’re gone. That’s why they are valuable. Many praise the quality of the casks that the brand chooses. This “Bowmore 1972” is from “The Flower Series” There are only 290 bottles.

Four years ago, I presented a batch of Samaroli but almost 70% failed to sell. But the price was only one fourth of what it is now. It might be due to the death of Samaroli two years ago, his bottles became very popular after he passed away, especially those bottled in the early 80s.

Selected highlights

The ‘Ghost Series’ Japanese Whisky (7 bottles) (from left to right)

Hanyu|2000|Bar Killer
Karuizawa|1996 & 2000|4 Decades
Karuizawa x Kawasaki|1970s|Time Slip
Hanyu x Chichibu|Double Distilleries
Estimate: HK$500,000 - $700,000

The 9th Edition Bottle from The Ghost series: Hanyu x Chichibu|Double Distilleries + Peated

Estimate: HK$56,000 - $70,000

Bowmore Flower Label - 1972 (Samaroli)
Estimate: HK$38,000 - $45,000

Auction details

Auction house: Bonhams Hong Kong
Sale: Fine & Rare Wine and Whisky Sale
Sale date: 17 May 2019
Viewing: 14 - 17 May 2019