The Speed Art Museum unveiled a stunning lineup for its fifth annual online and in-person bourbon auction on September 22, featuring some of the rarest and most prized bourbons and ryes available anywhere.
This year’s “Art of Bourbon” shelves are lined with a historically significant 8-year Booker’s bottled in 1987; the impossible-to-find and highly collectible Blanton’s 1992; the enviable 2020 King Of Kentucky bottle; a 7-year Gold Vein Old Weller from the 1970s; an aged 14-year-old Dowling Deluxe bottled in the 1970s; as well as several exclusive experiences that allow winning bidders to get their custom barrel straight from the source.
The live auction will be held 7:15 pm – 8:45 pm EST. The online portion of the auction is free to bid on, but registration is required at artofbourbon.org. Art of Bourbon in-person event tickets, which are $300, includes a cocktail hour, bourbon tastings and a seated dinner with a bourbon-inspired menu. In-person seating is limited, and organizers encourage guests to purchase tickets well in advance.
The 2022 stunning lineup — comprised of rare bourbons, “dusties” and VIP experiences — may just be the best one yet. These bottles exemplifying how sought after many of these brands have become because they represent a once-forgotten era of American whiskey that is making a strong comeback.
Here’s a taste of what to expect among the 38 lots:
- 8-year-old Booker’s bottled in 1987 – Widely viewed and heralded as a game changer in bourbon when it was made, this rare bottle of small batch Booker’s is among those bottles that Booker Noe himself—Master Distiller and a sixth-generation Beam—gave to special friends before the whiskey was launched in 1988. It’s hand-signed by Noe and numbered #832. Barreled in 1979 and aged seven years, the bourbon is uncut and bottled straight from the barrel.
- Blanton’s 1992 – The Original Single Barrel Bourbon. Dumped on 7/14/1992 from barrel no. 90, warehouse H, on rick no. 11 and bottled at 93 proof. Has the famous bronze topper. Highly collectible, it’s considered some of the finest bourbon to be made in the 20th century.
- 2020 King of Kentucky Barrel 6 – This bottle of brown water magic just happens to be included with several other premium bottles alongside the Hermitage Farm VIP experience. The entire package comprises thoroughbred tours, VIP bourbon tastings, an evening at Barn8 restaurant and overnight in the Historic Smokehouse on famous property.
- A 7-year Gold Vein Old Weller from 1970s, 107 proof – The predecessor of what we now refer to as Weller Antique is a 7-year-old wheated bourbon that comes in the iconic gold vein bottle. This was produced at the legendary Stitzel-Weller distillery in the 1970s and remains one of the most sought-after bourbons in the world. Each bottle is individually numbered and is a one-of-a-kind collectible.
- Dowling Deluxe, an aged 14-year-old (bottled in the 1970s) – From a name that was once as powerful as any other in American whiskey, the Dowlings backed the wrong pony when they began making Mexican bourbon during Prohibition. This bottle represents a time when their name still meant something to the whiskey drinker and the family sought a rebranding in the 1970s. Now an all but forgotten family, the Dowlings were excellent whiskey makers and this bottle represents the bestow of what they had to offer then. A piece of whiskey history.
- 1905 Overholt Rye from the Richard & Andrew Mellon estate – So elusive that it’s considered the unicorn of whiskeys and has enough star power to entice the most serious of collectors. It remains today one of the best-reviewed, most sought-after whiskies known. “A 1.5-ounce pour will set you back $1K, and that’s if you can even get it,” said Minnick. In many ways, Overholt Rye’s provenance rivals the bottle’s contents:
- Andrew Mellon purchased a third of the Overholt distillery from Henry Clay Frick, the founder’s grandson. Frick and Mellon, both wealthy industrialists from the gilded age, were lifelong friends. Upon his passing in 1919, Frick left his shares to Mellon who became the distillery’s majority owner.
- Before Prohibition in 1920, Mellon and his brothers stored the best barrels of rye from the preceding 15 years. Later, Mellon was forced to sell his share in the distillery after he was named U.S. Treasury Secretary.
- During Prohibition, the Mellon brothers would bottle some for personal use, eventually bottling the remaining barrels at the end of Prohibition.
- Richard Mellon Scaife, the billionaire publisher of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, inherited the rye. In 2014, following Scaife’s death, a wine cellar was discovered containing about 60 cases of Overholt Rye from 1904-1912.
- Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2015 and 2016. Auctioned as a pair – The 2015 vintage had experienced an unusually long, 6-day fermentation; the resulting spirit, when barreled, was matured in the same warehouse location, near a window and close to a heat cycling duct, exposing the barrels to very high temperatures. This resulted in extremely robust and intense wood-derived characteristics. The 2016 Birthday Bourbon barrel selection commemorates the 15th anniversary of the first-ever release. Unlike various previous selections, where barrels were drawn from different warehouses and/or floors/locations within a warehouse, the 2016 release has uniquely matured together on the same floor within the same warehouse, giving it a deep, rich oak-forward personality.
- BPR Rye Bottled in Bond, bottled in 1942 – AKA Baltimore Pure Rye, is a blast to the past. Marketed as the largest independent brand of the 1940s and ‘50s, BPR often chastised its competitors in the marketplace for sourcing whiskey instead of distilling it themselves. However, this bottle is connected to when people cared about authenticity and good Maryland rye. This is a piece of history connected to when Maryland’s historic distilling culture was still alive and well.
- Van Winkle 12-year-old, lot B, donated & signed by Julian Van Winkle. It’s Pappy. Enough said.
- Bourbon experiences, including the much-anticipated Maker’s Mark private selection experience – The winner and four friends will travel to the Maker’s Mark Distillery for a private tour and ultimately, the group will create an entire barrel of their very own expression of Maker’s Mark. When the barrel matures nine weeks later, their bourbon will be bottled with labels featuring their name and stave selection recipe, and they will receive the entire bottling run. This lot includes a one-of-a-kind stained-glass artwork from artist Neile Cooper.
Collectors especially look to the Art of Bourbon for dusties, which are old bottles of whiskey that haven’t been in production for years. “It’s not every day you can get your hands on these. You’re buying a piece of history in a bottle,” said Marc Abrams, a Louisville-based bourbon collector and co-founder of BourbonX, who also donated much of his prized brown water to the auction.
“On Sept. 22, collectors have the opportunity to buy and taste history, and this auction creates these opportunities,” said Abrams, one of several bourbon experts curating the auction.
The Speed Takes its Angel’s Share
In addition to bourbon, the Speed Art Museum will serve up another rarity, and it doesn’t have to do with “dusty bottles.” The biggest heavy hitters in the industry will attend the Art of Bourbon.
Guests will gather under the museum’s Beaux-Arts roof and mingle with master distillers, members of the old-guard bourbon families, distillery executives and founders of new distilleries that have sprung up on and off the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Prominent collectors from around the country show their support by either attending or donating bottles from their stash to this event.
“The Speed Art Museum, Kentucky’s largest and oldest art museum, is proud to have this premier, national nonprofit bourbon auction,” said Museum Director Raphaela Platow. “For one night only, the Speed will rival the nation’s best bourbon bars so that all year long, we can share the best art in the world with all Kentucky people.”
Event proceeds support the art institution’s education programs and exhibitions. Bill Menish will serve as the evening’s auctioneer. To review the auction catalog and purchase event tickets: artofbourbon.org.
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