One of my favorite sites to monitor for, and sometimes bid on, obscure whiskies is Scotch Whisky Auctions out of Glasgow, Scotland. Their latest auction just went live, and one of the most unique items to pop out at me is actually a rare American bourbon with a minimum bid price of over $6,300. That is certainly a lot for any whiskey, especially an American one, even when you stop and consider for a moment this is a very limited edition, 23-year-old Rip Van Winkle bourbon complete with its own special, over the top packaging.
Not to be confused with the 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle released in small numbers annually to eager collectors all across the USA, this bottling comes in a very slick Glencarin crystal decanter that’s accompanied by two crystal drinking glasses and a fancy wooden, leather lined box.
The backstory on this special Van Winkle bourbon is that it was bottled at a barrel strength of 114 proof – the first such time – from barrels said to have been hand selected by Preston Van Winkle and Julian Van Winkle III that were “from the lower, cooler floors of the aging warehouse, allowing this wheated-recipe bourbon to age more gracefully.” It was barreled in the spring of 1986, and only 1,200 decanter sets were ever released. Each bottle was individually hand engraved and numbered to commemorate the bottling.
It has been said by some that this bottling, when it was released back in 2009 for a mere $350, was “distilled [and at least partially aged] at the legendary Stitzel-Weller Distillery.” This is important to note because, as many old timer bourbon lovers will tell you, the original operations of this distillery, before being shuttered the early 1990s (it is now tied to Bulleit), produced what is considered some of the finer older bourbon stock around. Van Winkle is today distilled and bottled over at the Buffalo Trace distillery, slowly overtaking the dwindling supply of the original Stitzel-Weller stock.
While all of this is fascinating, the question becomes – will you shell out the big dollars for this rarest of rare Van Winkle bourbons? When you consider the more garden variety 23-year-old Pappy is pricing on average for over $2,400, it is a hard call. That being said, if you are a die hard collector who’s just won the lottery, this is a piece of bourbon history you may not want to pass up.
Nino Kilgore-Marchetti is the founder and editor-in-chief 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...