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American whiskey set fetches $187,245

Sotheby’s has sold a five-bottle set of American whiskeys from closed distilleries for US$187,245, the rarest lot of its kind to be offered at auction.

Rare American Whiskey Selection set
The five-bottle American whiskey set is the only one of its kind

The Rare American Whiskey Selection 1976-1982 is a set of five 700ml bottles originally produced as the prototypes for a shelved American whiskey project from United Distillers (UD) in 1997.

The collection includes five barrel-proof bottlings: Old Quaker Indiana Corn Whiskey 21 Year Old (65% ABV) 1976, Stitzel-Weller Kentucky Straight Bourbon 17 Year Old (53.5% ABV) 1980, Taylor-Williams Kentucky Straight Bourbon 17 Year Old (56% ABV) 1980, George T Stagg Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey 16 Year Old (57% ABV) 1981, and Buffalo Springs Kentucky Rye Mash Whiskey 15 Year Old (62.5% ABV) 1982.

Three bidders went head-to-head for the collection, the only one in existence, which ultimately went to an American buyer.

It sold for 15 times its pre-sale low estimate of £10,000-£100,000 (US$12,377-US$132,779), Sotheby’s said.

The project was created by The Classic Kentucky Bourbon Company, a subsidiary of UD in 1997, which owned the Bernheim and Stitzel-Weller distilleries in Louisville, Kentucky.

The original premise of the project was to create an annual release of five different barrel-proof, high age-statement whiskies.

Two sets of the five whiskeys were created. One was sent to the Stitzel-Weller site for safekeeping, but it is believed to have been destroyed in a distillery fire.

The other collection remained at the company’s headquarters in the UK for the European market.

The whiskeys were initially to be launched in a limited run of 6,000 bottles per release. It would have marked a ‘landmark’ moment in the history of American whiskey, Sotheby’s said, and would have preceded the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection by several years.

The project was abandoned after UD merged with International Distillers & Vintners to create United Distillers & Vintners, which became the spirits division of Diageo.

Sotheby’s said the bottles represent a ‘crucial element of the story of rare American whiskey’s history that has until now gone untold’.

‘Historic record’ 

Jonny Fowle, Sotheby’s head of whisky and spirits, North America and EMEA, said: “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 US bottles.

“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 Rare American Whiskey Selection was offered as part of a 14-lot sale in Sotheby’s Finest Scotch & The Rarest American Whiskey auction, which closed at US$975,900 with almost two-thirds of the lots selling for prices above their high estimates.

The auction’s headline sale was The Macallan in Lalique Six Pillars Collection, which fetched US$624,150.

In March 2022, a selection of Bourbon and rye whiskeys sold for US$1.63 million at Sotheby’s, breaking the record for the most valuable auction of American whiskeys ever held.

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