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Upcoming Art Of Bourbon Auction Features Multiple Whiskey “Unicorns”

The Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky, recently unveiled the lineup for its online and live, in-person Art of Bourbon auction on September 26, featuring what’s described as “some of the rarest, most elusive, and sought-after whiskeys in the world up for bid.”

The live auction will be held 7:15 pm – 8:45 pm EST. The online auction is free to bid but registration is required at

Art of Bourbon Auction 2023
A bottle of Pappy hailing from the first batch ever produced expected to fetch $30K at Speed Art Museum’s bourbon auction. (image via Speed Art Museum)

Here are the auction highlights served up, as outlined by the museum in a news release:

  • The exceedingly rare George T. Stagg, sits at the crossroads of bourbon history. By all accounts, this is very special bottle owing to its backstory. This 16-year-old expression, distilled prior to 1917 and bottled in 1928, was produced at the George T. Stagg Company, which was under the new leadership of Colonel Albert Blanton. The bottle comes in a patented tamper-proof container of the time. Take notice: this extremely rare box is Four Roses but the bottle is George T. Stagg. The common link is the iconic Albert Blanton, whose namesake dons the famous Blanton’s bottle today. Blanton used this tamper-proof packaging for more than just the Stagg releases. In fact, his name is plastered on a few of them that have surfaced for auction. That said, he used this box as a way secure the bottles. Little did he know at the time, it would preserve the whiskey inside, protecting it from sunlight and outside vapors. The bottle is in pristine condition. Estimate: $20,000 – $30,000
  • Not just a Pappy 23 Year Old. The Pappy. A prized unicorn among all spirits, not just bourbon. This is from the first batch of Pappy 23 Year Old ever produced.  This 1998 bottle is the first year that 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. Estimate: $30,000
  • A 20-year-old A.H. Hirsch that literally disappeared from the liquor shelves more than a quarter of a century ago. This bottle 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. Estimate: $20,000
  • An I.W. Harper Rye a Prohibition-era dusty bottle produced at the famed Bernheim Distillery.  Not only is it unusual for being a product of the Prohibition, it is one of the few IW Harper Ryes you will find at any age. Distilled in 1917 and bottled in 1927. Estimate: $6,000 – $8,000

Among the 35 lots, the auction includes “exclusive and illusive experiences” that allow winning bidders to get an entire custom barrel straight from the source:

  • Rabbit Hole Distillery select barrel pick – Your Heigold Bourbon comes in the distillery’s highly coveted, limited-edition series of bottles. Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland characters have been reimagined in bottles with six different labels bottles. Estimate: $25,000 – $30,000
  • Bardstown Bourbon Company barrel selection – One of the very first 100 barrels produced in the Origin Series single barrel release.  The Origin Series represents the first whiskeys that were entirely distilled, aged and bottled at this distillery and was voted the highest rated bourbon in the world by the International Wine & Spirits Competition. Estimate: $20,000
  • The much-anticipated Green River Barrel selection experience, one of the hot new bourbons in the industry. Estimate: $20,000

The curation of this event is led by Wall Street Journal-bestselling author and bourbon critic Fred Minnick. Marc Abrams, a bourbon expert based in Louisville, also serves as an auction advisor.

“Since 2018, I’ve worked closely with the Speed to auction the rarest whiskey bottles and experiences ever, raising more than $1.2 million dollars for this institution,” said Minnick in a prepared statement.

All proceeds support education programs and exhibitions at the Speed.

Prominent collectors show their support by either attending or donating bottles from their stash to this event. “It’s not every day you can get your hands on these. You’re buying a piece of history in a bottle,” said Abrams, chair of the auction’s Advisory Committee.

Nino Kilgore-Marchetti

Nino Kilgore-Marchetti is the founder of The Whiskey Wash, an award winning whiskey lifestyle website dedicated to informing and entertaining consumers about whisk(e)y on a global level. As a whisk(e)y journalist, expert and judge he has written about the subject extensively, been interviewed in various media outlets and provided tasting input on many whiskeys at competitions. He also maintains a large private collection of whiskey from which he continually educates his palate on this brown spirit type.

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