Chinese liquor fetches $1.4 million at auction at Sotheby

A rare case of China’s fiery national liquor has sold for more than $1 million, more than five times what experts had estimated it would fetch.a close up of a bottle: The rare 1974 "Sun Flower" Kweichow Moutai sold at auction by Sotheby's this month.The rare 1974 “Sun Flower” Kweichow Moutai sold at auction by Sotheby’s this month.

Sotheby’s announced on Friday that it had sold a crate of the beloved spirit, Kweichow Moutai, for an eye-popping £1 million (almost $1.4 million) in London. That’s the highest price ever paid at an auction for a single lot of Moutai outside China, according to the auction house.

It said the winning bid had come from an Asian collector, thought it did not disclose the buyer’s identity.

The lot included 24 bottles of 1974 Moutai sold under the “Sun Flower” brand which had temporarily replaced the company’s flagship “Flying Fairy” logo for export sales during China’s cultural revolution according to Sotheby’s. It said that the line had first been introduced in 1969, with relatively limited production for the year of 1974, making it “highly sought after.” However, the red-hot response has caught even experts by surprise.

According to Sotheby’s, 14 bidders drove up the sales price to £1 million, up from pre-sale estimates that had ranged from £200,000 to £450,000. It added that the record-breaking sale was just its first lot of Moutai to be presented for auction by Sotheby’s in the United Kingdom.

“We have seen some spectacular results for Moutai sold in Hong Kong, but this momentous price takes the baijiu spirit’s standing amongst collectors to new heights,” Paul Wong, Sotheby’s Moutai specialist, said in a statement.

“Whilst current travel restrictions may prevent our clients from moving around, this has proved no impediment to the growing momentum of Moutai’s popularity outside Asia.”

Kweichow Moutai, which is part state-owned and part publicly-traded, is China’s most valuable firm outside of technology, worth more than the country’s four biggest banks.

Even amid a global pandemic, the company had a banner year: its stock surged around 70% on the Shanghai Stock Exchange in 2020. It is up about 4% so far this year.

Moutai baijiu — the type of liquor the company makes is a clear, potent spirit that’s been dubbed “firewater,” thanks to the fact that it’s 53% alcohol. The red-and-white bottles of its flagship product, “Feitian,” or “Flying Fairy,” are a staple at Chinese state banquets and business events.

Known as the favorite tipple of Mao Zedong, founder of Communist China, and as the “drink of diplomacy,” it was famously used to welcome former US President Richard Nixon on his historic trip to China in 1972, and again in 2013 when Chinese President Xi Jinping met with his US counterpart, Barack Obama, in California.

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