The World’s Rarest Bourbon And Rye Releases Are Up For Auction This Weekend

Food & Drink

One of the largest collections of premium and vintage American whiskies ever assembled is now on the auction block. Sotheby’s has just gone live with its “Whisky & Whiskey | Festive Spirits and American Classics”: more than 700 lots worth of spirit, including rare bottlings from the early 20th Century through the modern era. The world renowned auctioneer is currently accepting online bids in advance of a live event, which kicks off at 10AM Eastern on December 9th. Here’s a closer look at what’s included in the historic sell-off—and how you can actually score some bargains from the sizable pile or product.

“The December auction includes the most diverse and sought after selection of American whiskeys to date,” says Zev Glesta, spirits specialist for Sotheby’s. “Having almost every A.H. Hirsch and Van Winkle bottling in one sale is extraordinary and unlikely to be seen for a long time. We have seen buyers and seller alike thrilled to see all of this high pedigree whiskey under one roof.”

His assertion is backed by data. Since these lots went live less than a week ago, the auction house has already seen a 43% increase in online bidders compared to accumulated spirits bids in December 2022. A lot of that surge is coming from North American buyers. It’s to be expected considering that the market remains—far and away—the thirstiest buyers for the sorts of ultra-rare bourbons and ryes that are going under the hammer on Saturday.

Also included are a carousel of legendary labels, like LeNell’s Red Hook Rye, the 28-year-old Single Barrel Bourbon from Willet, and D.H. Cromwell—one of just 72 bottles made by Julian Van Winkle III at his now-defunct Old Commonwealth Distillery. These sorts of unicorns are certain to fetch five figures. In fact, a single bottle of that Red Hook Rye is already sitting comfortably at $38,000.

Nevertheless, in a cache this massive, there are bound to be extraordinary liquids slipping through the cracks. We’re talking about highly-lauded, but relatively under-heralded stuff that’s overlooked as the moneyed collectors keep their eye on the aforementioned big ticket items.

A quick scan of the offerings right now reveals a few obvious examples: a bottle of the coveted Belle Meade Honey Cask Bourbon, which typically retails for over $2500, is now perched peacefully at $750. George T. Stagg can theoretically be yours for as little as $650, even though it could be as much as three times that amount if you find it on shelf at your local liquor store. Similarly, a 17-year-old bottle of Old Fitzgerald bourbon is currently commanding around half of what it normally fetches on the secondary.

The relative bargains extend to the realm of scotch, Japanese whisky and cognac—all of which are also part of the 700+ lot collection. Rare expressions of Yamazaki and Hibiki, especially, are listed at far lower prices than what they’re used to seeing on shelves. Who knows if this trend will hold by the time the hammer drops on Saturday, but it’s most definitely the case as of now.

And it underscores why some of the most savvy collectors in the industry turn to auctions such as these to build out their own shelves. Julie Macklowe is one of them. Although she now owns her own brand of American Single Malt, she remains an avid purchaser of other peoples’ whiskies, as well. Sotheby’s is one of her must trusted sources—as both a buyer and (indirectly) as a seller.

“Sotheby’s spirit auctions are run by Jonny Fowle and I think he is one of the world’s foremost experts,” according to Macklowe. “He is one of the true geniuses of this industry. And you know with this house, you are always getting the best product.”

It’s hard to argue with that last point—especially with this particular collection. Full details on the auction, including how to register to bid, can be found here.

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