LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The Speed Art Museum’s “Art of Bourbon” on September 26 exceeded expectations by raising $318,650 at its nonprofit bourbon auction, which included three rare unicorn bottles. It proves the distillers, bidders and the stories behind these bottles are almost as good as what’s inside them.
Not just a Pappy 23-year-old. The Pappy. A prized unicorn among all spirits, not just bourbon, fetched $35,000 and brought the event to a halt in an intense bidding war. This is from the first batch of Pappy 23-Year-Old ever produced. This 1998 bottle is the first year Julian Van Winkle III went to market with the 23-year-old, with its tell-tale green-tinted glass and brandishing a gold wax top that’s no longer made. This one is the auction’s unicorn. It was bottled in 1998 and made its formal debut that year.
Sports gambler, author and philanthropist Billy Walters bet big and came away with one of the evening’s unicorns: the ultra-rare George T. Stagg prohibition bottle. For $21,000, Walters took home this pristine bottle of brown water with a backstory. This 16-year-old expression, distilled before 1917 and bottled in 1928, was produced at the George T. Stagg Company under Colonel Albert Blanton’s new leadership. Four Roses Distillery developed the first patented tamper-proof container to protect it from being reused once consumed. That patent is still visible on the top of the box. Four Roses marketed the bottle because they were running low on their whisky to sell.
A 20-year-old A.H. Hirsch that literally disappeared from the liquor shelves more than a quarter of a century ago brought in $15,500. The winning bid came from bourbon collector Tom O’Grady, a founder of Clear Cut Brands. This Hirsch represents a piece of history frozen in time. Distilled in 1974 and produced at the old Michter’s Distillery, it’s widely considered one of the best bourbons ever produced.
“This auction fires on all cylinders. Proceeds support an important institution in our community, and I get my hands on ridiculously rare bourbons,” said O’Grady, who serves on the museum’s Board of Trustees. O’Grady regularly donates historically significant and record-breaking bottles to this annual auction.
Event proceeds support the Speed’s exhibitions, outreach and education initiatives. Many more bid online, along with the more than 200 guests who attended.