The latest whisky auction in Hong Kong is testament to the increasing popularity of exotic liquors throughout China. In its first auction of Scotch and Japanese whisky, which ended on Friday, Hong Kong's Asian Art Auction Alliance saw 51 rare bottles traded for a total of just under HK$730,000, for an average price of HK$14,290. A 45-year Karuizawa white aqua cask#1946, estimated to be worth between HK$70,000 and HK$98,000, finally fetched HK$96,000 to become the most expensive bottle at this auction. "The results are better than expected," Elaine Cheung, the auction house's operation director, said. "Whisky is becoming more and more popular in Greater China, as our bidders mainly consist of Hongkongers and mainlanders." A shortage of the most prized bottles in recent years has successfully stirred up the appetite for whisky. Prices for the 1,000 most collectable bottles of Scotch single malt surged by 219 per cent between 2008 and the end of November 2014, according to the consultancy firm Rare Whisky 101. Earlier this year, several bottles exceeded their top estimates at Bonhams' February Whisky Sale in Hong Kong, with a Macallan Lalique 55-year-old going for HK$325,000 and Hibiki ceramic 35-year-old for HK$106,250. On the mainland, sales of Scotch single malt whisky have skyrocketed, according to Li Rougang, founder of the China Single Malt Whisky Club. Li, who began importing from distilleries a decade ago, expects imports to rise by half this year from last year's more than 30,000 bottles. His customers include a growing number of bars in first, second and even third-tier cities that cater to whisky fans, in addition to the 150 or so existing single malt bars across the nation. "Shanghai is adding 10-20 single malt whisky bars a year and Beijing is similar," he said. "Some bars offer 50 or 60 kinds of whisky and some even have 600 to 700 kinds, as people consume whisky for the unique taste." However, according to Britain's Scotch Whisky Association, exports to the major regional hub Singapore fell by 39 per cent in value to £200 million (HK$2.27 billion) last year. "This was partly down to the ongoing austerity campaign in China, the final destination for a lot of Scotch shipped to Singapore," the association said on its website. Singapore is a key distribution hub of Scotch whisky to Asian destinations. Direct exports to China, the 26th largest market by value, fell 23 per cent to £39 million in 2014, it said. Although Scotch whisky consumption in general has been discouraged by Beijing's anti-graft campaign, Li said he had confidence in Scotch single malt whisky and Japanese whisky. "They are loved by real tasters, unlike other Scotch whisky which were often used for entertaining purposes," he said. Unlike distinctive and powerful Scotch, Japanese whisky is delicate and subtle. The latter's increasing popularity could also be attributed to a weakening Japanese yen against the yuan, while the British pound remained relatively strong, consumers said. Wu Jingsi, a 34-year-old costume designer in Beijing, said she became a Japanese whisky fan after a tasting event at the Japanese embassy last year. "When I travelled to Japan several months ago, my friends suggested I bring back as many bottles of 18-year-old Yamazaki or Hakushu, or 21-year-old Hibiki 21 as I could find, and they are willing to pay a good premium to get the bottles," Wu said. "But I failed in the mission because most of them were sold out." Foreign tourists spent two trillion yen (HK$129 billion) in Japan last year, of which a quarter was spent by Chinese travellers, official data from the Japanese government shows. Mainland tourists snapped up a variety of goods in Japan, from cookers and toilet covers to whisky and cosmetics, according to media reports.