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Whisky: China's Rich Pay £200k For One Bottle

(c) Sky News 2012

A Scottish whisky house has opened up a club in Beijing and is successfully selling whisky at prices ranging from almost £2,000 to a staggering £200,000 a bottle.

Johnnie Walker House is described by Diageo (LSE: DGE.L - news) , the company behind the venture, as "the world's largest embassy for luxury Scotch whisky, providing consumers with bespoke experiences to immerse themselves into the world of whisky and Johnnie Walker".

The opening night of the four-storey emporium to Scotch was an incongruous affair.

Bagpipes, kilts and the occasional Scotsman mixing with Beijing's mega-rich and A-list celebrities - a stone's throw from the heart of this Communist country, Tiananmen Square.

It is an odd mix until you do the maths because this is a story of simple economics; a British company harnessing an opportunity.

The Chinese love whisky and the wealthy Chinese will, it seems, pay anything for it.

"The starting price for a bottle of Johnnie Walker Scotch through the Johnnie Walker House is $3000," Diageo's Asia-Pacific President Gilberte Ghostine told Sky News.

"It starts at $3000 a bottle and goes up to $300,000 a bottle. And people are paying that."

We meet Mr Ghostine in the Blending Room, an intimate corner of the club where whisky bottles line the walls and the floors are clad with copper.

It is a place where clients can decide on their own bespoke blend of the brand.

"We have done lots of work to understand our customers here in China," Mr Ghostine said.

When you listen to the statistics Mr Ghostine quotes, Diageo's investment in China makes perfect sense.

"Eighty percent of Chinese millionaires are below 45 years old. So it's a younger profile than in the US, for example, where only 35% of their millionaires are below 45," Mr Ghostine explains.

He added: "The Chinese have an interest in brands with real heritage, history, provenance, craftsmanship and real substance. And this exactly what we have."

Upstairs, in one of the three busy bars, we bump into Jim Beveridge, Johnnie Walker's masterblender, a Scottish chemist turned whisky connoisseur whose job it is to do the blending for the millionaires.

"The whiskies used for Johnnie Walker Black Label were distilled 12 years ago and I wouldn't have dreamed back then that they would now be consumed in this way in this kind of market," he said, sipping on his favourite blend.

Scotch whisky makes up 40% of international spirit imports into China.

Combine that with the fact that they have the money to buy the very best, and the result for the Scottish and UK economy is extremely positive.

Mr Ghostine said: "It is definitely great for Scotland. Today the Scotch whisky industry is very important for the UK.

"Every second £134 is being generated by Scotch whisky for the UK and the potential is huge.

"There is a big correlation between Gross Domestic Product growth in emerging markets and Scotch whisky.

"The Scotch whisky category is 50% of international spirits market in the whole Asia-Pacific region, and so the potential is very big."

It doesn't take long to find the sort of people who are buying the whisky. Zhao Yong Yao is an advertising executive in her mid-fifties.

We watch as she samples different blends, slowly and thoughtfully.

"I think Chinese would like it. Look at my friends, they all like it. And they also can drink a lot," she said.

"Since China had opened her doors over the past few years, Chinese people have earned a lot of money and at the same time they now know how to enjoy high quality goods.

"I like whisky because it represents British culture."

After our interview, Mrs Zhao reveals that she only started drinking alcohol six months ago. She is Diageo's perfect client: rich and with a new taste for the very best Scotland has to offer.