The Speed Art Museum’s “Art of Bourbon” on Sept 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 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.
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 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. To protect it from being reused once consumed, Four Roses Distillery developed the first patented tamper-proof container. That patent is still visible on the top of the box. Because they were running low on their own whisky to sell, Four Roses marketed the bottle.
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.
The curation of this event was led by Wall Street Journal-bestselling author and renowned bourbon critic Fred Minnick and Marc Abrams, a well-known bourbon expert and bourbon donor based in Louisville.
“When bidders from around the world saw what was up for auction at Art of Bourbon, all the eyes went to two bottles—the 16-year Stagg from Prohibition and the 1998 Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year,” said Minnick. “These bottles just do not appear in a liquor store, and collectors will likely never get another shot at buying them. All that said, the energy and excitement among the bidders was beyond incredible. It also shows how respected the Art of Bourbon has become, and I’ve very proud of what we’ve built to raise money for art education.”
Event proceeds support the Speed’s exhibitions, outreach and education initiatives. Along with the more than 200 guests who attended, many more bid online. For more info: artofbourbon.org
About the Speed Art Museum
The Speed Art Museum, in Louisville, Kentucky, is an independent, encyclopedic museum and the oldest and largest art museum in the state, where our mission is to invite everyone to celebrate art forever. Established in 1927 by philanthropist Hattie Bishop Speed, the Museum has undergone several renovations and expansions, now occupying over 200,000 sq ft on the University of Louisville’s campus. The Speed serves as a cultural hub where people can connect with each other and the work of artists from across the world in new and unexpected ways. Learn more at www.speedmuseum.org.