A five-bottle Rare American Whiskey Selection sold for $187,245 at a Sotheby’s auction on April 14. The five bottles were originally produced as prototypes for a shelved United Distillers collectible American Whiskey project in 1997.
Three bidders battled it out during the live auction, driving the final bid to an amount 15 times the pre-sale low estimate. An American private collector was the winning bidder.
“This result establishes not only a record price for American whiskey sold at Sotheby’s but it also stands as yet another benchmark in the auction market for collectible U.S. bottles,” said Jonny Fowle, Sotheby’s Head of Whisky & Spirits. “This is a truly unique collection—the rarest lot of its kind ever to have been offered for sale. The only set in existence and a historic record that glimpses into the potential alternative reality of American whiskey making.”
The five-bottle Rare American Whiskey Selection set included:
- Old Quaker Indiana Corn Whiskey 21-Year-Old Limited Edition Barrel Proof – 130 Proof – 1976
- Stitzel-Weller Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Limited Edition 17-Year-Old Barrel Proof – 107 Proof – 1980
- Taylor-Williams Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Limited Edition 17-Year-Old Barrel Proof – 112 Proof – 1980
- George T. Stagg Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey Limited Edition 16-Year-Old Barrel Proof – 114 Proof – 1981
- Buffalo Springs Kentucky Rye Mash Whiskey Limited Edition 15-Year-Old Barrel Proof – 125 Proof – 1982
Rare Whiskey Project
The original premise of the Rare American Whiskey Selection project was to create an annual release of five very different barrel-proof, high-age juice. Of course, the project would have preceded the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection in 2000 (George T. Stagg, William Larue Weller, Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye, Eagle Rare 17-Year-Old, and Sazerac Rye 18-Year-Old) by a handful of years.
The project was the initiative of The Classic Kentucky Bourbon Company, a subsidiary of United Distillers (UD) in 1997. At the time, UD owned the Bernheim Distillery and Stitzel-Weller. On the point of The Rare American Whiskey Selection project receiving approval for launch, UD merged with another company, International Distillers & Vinters to create United Distillers & Vintners, forming the spirits division of Diageo.
The project got as far as bottling two examples of each of the selections, with prototype labels.
The two sets were split up, and one set was sent to the Stitzel-Weller distillery for safekeeping, while the other set remained at the company HQ in the UK for the European market. A Stitzel-Weller distillery fire destroyed the set, making the auctioned set the only one in existence.