arch 2022 marks a milestone for the American Whiskey secondary market as we offer 2 of the most significant collections ever to come to market in a single sale. The estimates for this sale make it the most valuable American Whiskey auction in history.
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The auction is led by the American Muscle Collection, which takes its name not only from its unparalleled range of rich and robust US Bourbons and Rye Whiskeys, but also from the collector who build this significant catalogue of bottles. Rich “RJ” Gottlieb is the owner of one of the most legendary Chevrolets in existence, the 1969 “Big Red” Camaro, referred to by many as “the baddest muscle car ever”. The collection is defined by its extensive selection of Willett Family Estate barrel picks.
The second significant collection in this whiskey auction is The Three Continents Collection Part III. These whiskeys were part of a 5,000 bottle strong collection of Scotch and Japanese whisky as well as Bourbon and Rye from the USA that has been allocated across five Sotheby’s auctions in 2021 and 2022. It first hit the market in November 2021 as a single owner sale, doubling its estimate to achieve $2m just for Part I. This auction exclusively contains American whiskeys from this collection.
These two collections are supported by a number of other classic bottles such as Lanell’s Red Hook Rye, Pappy Van Winkle, Four Roses and Old Weller.
American Whiskey stands apart from Scotch and Japanese owing to its strength of character. Corn and wheat mash-bills are distilled to create a “white dog” that takes on color and flavor by the pound as it matures in virgin American oak barrels for years and sometimes decades. The resulting whiskeys are luxuriously rich, complex and unmistakably American. A muscular character can be attributed not only to this wealth of flavors but also to the high proof of the market’s most collectible bottles. American Muscle could seem a fitting name of any US Whiskey auction, but not least when the bottles have been accrued by one of the country’s most renowned muscle car drivers.
“Big Red” Camaro is something of a legend in the world of muscle cars. Built on the foundations of a 1969 Chevy Camaro, a full race NASCAR style chassis was masterfully woven into the Camaro body ahead of La Carrera in 1988, a race that the car went on to win. RJ and his team still actively compete with Big Red to this day, more than 30 years since its inception and have a full schedule of racing planned for 2022 and beyond.
The American Muscle collection is defined by the depth and breadth of its selection. Not only are their numerous bottlings from the likes of Pappy Van Winkle, Buffalo Trace Antique Collection and Black Maple Hill, but the extent of bottlings from producers such as Willett and Four Roses give an idea of the wealth of knowledge and prescience a collection such as this requires.
Among bourbon and rye whiskey connoisseurs, bottles of Willett Family Estate are as highly sought after as those from Buffalo Trace, Michter’s and Old Rip Van Winkle – if not more. Drawing on their immense stocks of well-aged whiskeys, the Kulsveens, the branch of the Willett family that now owns the distillery, create a variety of whiskeys but save the very best barrels, no more than 3 percent, for their estate brand, which they began to release in small amounts in the mid-2000s.
Over the last twenty years, Four Roses has developed a reputation as one of the best all-around distilleries in Kentucky, its portfolio ranging from a solid, inexpensive entry-level whiskey to a very limited and highly coveted series of annual releases, some of which critics rank among the best bourbons of the century.
Black Maple Hill is among the most coveted American whiskeys, with a history that connects it with some of the biggest names in Kentucky distilling. Like several other extremely limited-release brands from the early 2000s, Black Maple Hill did not make its own whiskey, or even bottle it. Rather, its owner, a California-based company called CVI Brands, hired Julian Van Winkle III to find high-quality barrels of whiskey and bottle it for them. At the time, Van Winkle was working out of the disused Hoffman Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, where he bottled whiskey for his own brand, Old Rip Van Winkle, as well as for clients like CVI, all of which have long since achieved legend status among collectors.
Starting in the mid-2000s, Michter’s was arguably the first American whiskey to join Old Rip Van Winkle as a truly world-class luxury brand. The Michter’s name originated in the decades after World War II, when a Pennsylvania businessman named Lou Forman named a distillery after his sons, Michael and Peter. But the Pennsylvania whiskey industry was in a steady and terminal decline, and the distillery shut its doors in 1990.
The Van Winkle line of whiskeys needs no introduction: praised by celebrities, the subject of a bestselling book, it is by far the best recognized and most widely coveted whiskey in America.