Cultural Gifting in the Year of the Rabbit

© Beamish International

Why has rare whisky become such a popular gift, particularly in Southeast Asian countries? Charles Beamish, CEO and Founder of Beamish International, explains

Over the past decade, the global market for Scotch rare whisky has exploded. Buyers from around the world are appreciating the liquid as drinkers and collectors, and one of the most fascinating streams of new buyers are those buying it specifically for gifting. Across Southeast Asian countries, gift-giving traditions have begun to include rare whisky as one of the most coveted gifts to receive.

Having founded a rare whisky global private office, working with international private clients and the leading distilleries to organise the acquisition of some of the rarest whisky treasures, I have experienced first-hand this boom in cultural gifting of rare whisky. Herewith, I will elaborate how and why rare whisky has become such a popular gift in many Southeast Asian countries.


Firstly, buyers hailing from countries such as China, Thailand and Taiwan prefer to buy from Speyside distilleries. Although not a solid rule for tasting profiles, single malt releases from this whisky region on the North Sea coast tend to be graceful, light and rounded. There is a sweetness in many Speyside whiskies that are hard to find elsewhere. We have discovered that buyers may purchase rare whiskies to suit their own palate, and return each time to Speyside, because they know it will be enduringly popular for their recipients.

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Charles Beamish of Beamish International running a client meeting and tasting© Beamish International

Year of the Rabbit

The beginning of the new lunar year, the Year of the Rabbit (22nd January), brings with it meetings of families and loved ones, wishing good fortune and wealth to one another. The millennia-old tradition of gift-giving around this time has seen gifts of money regularly exchanged, but gifts of clothing, technology and food have been common too. Whisky has become a popular gift because the object is imbued with some of the most valued characteristics. The monetary value of high-age releases is clear, with single bottles regularly being sold for tens of thousands of pounds. This value is found in the fact that the quality of these liquids is completely unrivalled, having been expertly matured for decades and bottled at the perfect time. The planning, care and time taken to create high quality rare whiskies, along with the process to package it make it more than simply a product; it incorporates a sense of provenance and craftsmanship as well.

Beyond a feast for the senses – to see, smell and taste – the existence of the intangible qualities in the item is seen as equally important. The romance, history and prestige of Scottish distilleries adds to the mystique, elevating it as a gift.  The successful uniting of the intangible with the tangible is the a key reason for Scotch rare whisky’s popularity as a gift.

In China, gifts are always given with reciprocity (礼尚往来 – lishang-wanglai) in mind. Giving rare whisky implies that a similar gift will be returned, and the number of Scotch distilleries with high age offerings means there is always an opportunity to find a liquid akin to what has been received in order to reciprocate in kind. The gift must also align with the recipient’s self-identified ‘face’ (面子 – mianzi), so a high quality gift from a prestigious distillery is an ideal gift for a respected family member or loved one.

Charles Beamish and Charlie MacLean of Beamish International visiting a distillery – © Beamish International


As European luxury products have become more familiar in Chinese gift giving practices, demand has grown from the highest end of the market for gifts that are a cut above the rest. This has particularly come from buyers who have worked, lived or been educated in Europe and may have some knowledge of their selected industry whether it be wine, watches or whisky. Younger whiskies are no longer an option for buyers of this calibre so gifters begin to look for unrivalled provenance, rarity and quality. The best way to achieve this is to work directly with the distilleries (instead of the secondary market), which Beamish International makes possible. We work with brand owners directly which means that the provenance is cast-iron, ensuring that there is no risk of a client purchasing a product that is anything less than legitimate.

The increasing practice of purchasing rare whisky for cultural gifting in China and other South East Asian countries has forged a link between the distilleries of Scotland and high income buyers on the other side of the world. We operate as a conduit for this connection, ensuring collectors and gifters of the liquid can access their desired liquids, playing our part to make sure the romance of the dram is spread globally.

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