Close Menu

World’s rarest American whiskey selection to be auctioned after decades in the dark

Sotheby’s has revealed The Rare American Whiskey Selection 1976-1982, consisting of five bottles originally produced as prototypes for the world’s first collectable ultra-premium US whiskey, but which never came to light.

World's rarest American whiskey selection to be auctioned after decades in the dark
Image courtesy of Sotheby’s

The unique set of prototype bottles was developed in 1997 by The Classic Kentucky Bourbon Company, a subsidiary of United Distillers (UD).

However, the initiative to create the most collectable ultra-premium American whiskey was shelved before it came to fruition, never to be revived.

UD was the owner of both the Bernheim Distillery and Stitzel-Weller. At the same time that The Rare American Whiskey Selection project receiving approval for launch, UD merged with International Distillers & Vinters, creating United Distillers & Vintners, which became the spirits division of Diageo.

An annual release of five different barrel proof, high age statement whiskeys were meant to be created as part of the original premise of the Rare American Whiskey Selection project. Just two examples of each selected whiskey were ever bottled with prototype labels, filled with the actual liquid to show the finished product as it would be sold.

The two sets of liquid were split up after bottling. One selection was sent to the Stitzel-Weller distillery for safekeeping, but is believed to have been destroyed in a subsequent distillery fire.

The other set — the only one that still remains in existence — remained at the company HQ in the UK for release in the European market.

The series of whiskeys was initially due to be released in a limited run of 6,000 bottles a year.

The project would have preceded the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection by a number of years, making it a landmark in the history of premium American whiskey.

These bottles represent ultra-rare liquid from now closed distilleries, and are a crucial element of rare American Whiskey’s history that has until now been unknown.

Jonny Fowle, head of Sotheby’s Whiskey & Spirits, said the auction house was delighted to bring “this chapter [which] has been missing from the history books” to life. “Unearthing rare whiskeys like this is what makes auctions at Sotheby’s so special. This set represents not only the rarest bottles of premium American Whiskey ever to have existed, but a piece of storytelling that has never been shared,” he said.

The 5 prototype bottles which comprise the set:

  1. Old Quaker Indiana Corn Whiskey 21 Year Old Limited Edition Barrel Proof 65.0 abv 1976
    Original Tasting Notes by Dave Broom in 1997
  2. Stitzel-Weller Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Limited Edition 17 Year Old Barrel Proof 53.5 abv 1980
  3. Taylor-Williams Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Limited Edition 17 Year Old Barrel Proof 56.0 abv 1980
  4. George T Stagg Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey Limited Edition 16 Year Old Barrel Proof 57.0 abv 1981
  5. Buffalo Springs Kentucky Rye Mash Whiskey Limited Edition 15 Year Old Barrel Proof 62.5 abv 1982

The Sotheby’s auction opens on 14 April, with an estimate of £10,000-£100,000.

Spirits are on the up in the US, with distilled spirits gaining market share for the 13th straight year up to 42.1% in 2022. This means that, for the first time, supplier revenues of spirits have superseded beer, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) has said.

It looks like you're in Asia, would you like to be redirected to the Drinks Business Asia edition?

Yes, take me to the Asia edition No