WHEN Alfred Dunhill started his upmarket products company 100 years ago, he little realised that its centenary would be celebrated by a bunch of freeloaders standing in a basement in Hongkong drinking outrageously expensive whisky. Yesterday Alfred Dunhill launched its Centenary Blend, claimed to be the most expensive whisky in the world, in its shop in the Prince's Building as its contribution to reversing the downward trend in inflation. ''I know gentlemen never discuss numbers,'' said Mr Bruce Hyde, managing director of Dunhill Scotch Whisky Sales. ''But we're asking GBP43,000 or about HK$500,000 for a cask.'' Mr Hyde was so protective of the liquid, which he described as ''my baby'', that he refused to allow the mix of customers and journalists to try it without giving strict instructions on consumption. The whisky qualifies for the ''most expensive'' tag only because it is being sold by the hogshead - 360 bottles worth. Just 100 casks have been made. Customers will be flown to Scotland to write their names on their own casks, which Dunhill will continue to store. The company will then send bottles out as needed. Mr Hyde expects most of the whisky to be bought by rich people will who use the bottles ''for gifting purposes''. It is testimony to Asia's ever-increasing importance to luxury goods companies that all sales so far have been in the region: four in Taiwan, and one each in Singapore and South Korea. A Euromonitor report released yesterday said Thais and Koreans were now the world's biggest whisky drinkers, while Hongkong and Taiwan had some of the most avid brandy drinkers.