Whisky & Whiskey | Festive Spirits and American Classics
Live Auction: 9 December 2023 • 10:00 AM EST • New York

Whisky & Whiskey | Festive Spirits and American Classics 9 December 2023 • 10:00 AM EST • New York

S otheby's New York Whisky & Whiskey I Festive Spirits and American Classics will present an unmatched assembly of American whiskey from the early 20th century up through the golden era of private bottling in the 2000s. The collection is full of legendary bottles, including a bottle of LeNell’s Red Hook Rye, a bottle of D.H. Cromwell and several extremely rare bottles from the A.H. Hirsch line of whiskeys. Also, on offer are a selection of whiskies from mothballed Karuizawa distillery in Japan, unique examples from Suntory, over 100 lots from The Macallan, Cognac from Louis XIII, and an assembly of Tequila from Clase Azul.

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Sale Highlights

The Whisky & Whiskey | Festive Spirits and American Classics auction features one of the most extensive collections of American whiskey ever assembled from what may be the true Golden Age of bourbon and rye, the years spanning the late 1980s to the late 2000s. Strangely, this was a time of cratering interest in the United States for brown spirits, particularly for highly aged, highly priced whiskey. Yet visionary distillers and producers like Heaven Hill, Julian Van Winkle III and Even turned out precisely this sort of whiskey, often for export to Japan, where a small but eager community of collectors awaited. Van Winkle and others knew the whiskey was good, but they were just trying to keep the lights on – little did they know that decades later, their bottles would become some of the most sought-after whiskeys on the planet.

Before he moved to the Buffalo Trace distillery in 2002, Van Winkle spent some two decades bottling at his own facility, which he called Old Commonwealth. Those years are well represented in this collection. Among the highlights are several private bottlings of Stitzel-Weller wheated whiskey, including Society of Bourbon Connoisseurs 2001, Hoffman Red Crown, and Lottas Poppa’s Private Family Reserve, all of them bottled exclusively for export. There are also examples of the few bottlings Van Winkle produced for domestic customers, including one of the just 72 bottles of 15-year-old D.H. Cromwell that he released in 2000 and one of the only 120-proof bottles he created for the Chicago restaurant Herman Berghoff in the mid-1990s. There is also a bottle of the 16-year-old bourbon that Van Winkle produced for Twisted Spoke, a bar in Chicago, one of his last private-label whiskeys before moving to Buffalo Trace.

Then there are the collection’s many bottles that Van Winkle produced under his family’s own brand. Among them are the first release of Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 23 year old, released in 1998 in a green-tinted bottle; a Van Winkle Rye from 2001, one of the last to draw exclusively from a legendary batch of whiskey distilled at Old Medley; and a 20-year old Van Winkle Special Reserve made in 1987 for Cork N Bottle. The collection also includes a rare example of the highly sought after 18 Year Old Rip Van Winkle bottled in 2003 for Blue Smoke, a barbecue restaurant in Manhattan.

There are also two gems from after Van Winkle moved to Buffalo Trace, both of them packaged in crystal decanters: a 23-year-old Old Rip Van Winkle released in 2009 at a rare 114 proof, and a 25-year-old Old Rip Van Winkle released in 2014 – the oldest ever from the Van Winkle dynasty.

During the 1950's,1960s and 1970s, Stitzel-Weller bottled its flagship wheated bourbon under a few private labels, Jonathan’s Original, for the storied Jonathan Club, a private social organization in Southern California. Slightly younger than Stitzel-Weller brands like Old Fitzgerald and Weller, Jonathan’s Original stands out for its high barrel proof and its vanishing rarity. Another private label that was made prior to Jonathan's Original was the The Essex Club Rare Reserve of Newark, New Jersey at 100 Proof. All of these bottles are Less common than Old Fitzgerald, bottles of Weller from the Stitzel-Weller era are now treasured by collectors and highly sought after.

The collection is also replete with bottles that Van Winkle filled with whiskey from the legendary A.H. Hirsch batch of Pennsylvania bourbon, distilled in 1974. Among them are a 15-year-old A.H. Hirsch, one of the first ever released; A.H. Hirsch Finest Reserve 20 Year Old, the oldest Hirsch ever bottled; and Colonel Randolph 16 Year Old, which at 116 proof is the only instance of the Hirsch whiskey being bottled at cask strength.

The collection is also well stocked with bourbon and rye from Willett, before it made its own whiskey and instead sourced barrels from other distilleries. Its owner, Even Kulsveen, had a keen eye for high-quality whiskey, and an interest in buying it when no one else did. As a result, in the 2000s he and his son, Drew, were able to offer some of the best whiskey ever made, both through private-label relationships and their own Willett Family Estate label.

Top of the list is a bottle of LeNell’s Red Hook Rye. In the mid 2000s LeNell Santa Ana Camacho, a liquor store owner from Brooklyn, bought four casks of rye whiskey from Willett, all of them from a legendary batch of rye made at the Old Bernheim distillery in 1983 and 1984. This bottle comes from the first of those casks, making it a legend among legends. Two other bottlings from that same run are represented in this collection: Rathskeller Rye, named for a bar at Louisville’s Seelbach Hotel, and a 25-year-old Willett Family Estate bottle from one of the last barrels of that legendary batch.

The collection highlights go well beyond Van Winkle and Willett. There are two bottles from Michter’s, which also stocked up on well-aged bourbon and rye in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when no one else wanted it: a 25-Year-Old Single Barrel Rye and a 10-Year-Old Single Barrel Bourbon, both among the earliest bottles Michter’s ever released. There is also a bottle of Martin Mills 24-Year-Old Bourbon, from Heaven Hill, an export-only brand, very limited in its production run, which many experts rank among the top five American whiskeys ever made.

For decades, Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle and his Stitzel-Weller distillery bottled a private-label version of their iconic bourbon for the Berghoff, a storied restaurant in Chicago. But after the distillery’s new owners ended the relationship in 1992, Pappy’s grandson, Julian Van Winkle III, offered to continue bottling it at his Commonwealth distillery. He bottled 10- and 14-year-old whiskey at 90 and 107 proof, as well as a very small run of 120-proof 10-year-old, of which this bottle is one of the very few still in existence.

Finally, the collection is stocked with whiskey from earlier golden eras, including a 1967 Very Very Old Fitzgerald, a 12-year-old wheated whiskey from Stitzel-Weller, and pint-size bottle of 17-year-old Old Taylor bourbon, released in 1933, the year Prohibition ended.

Aside from some of the rarest American Whiskeys on the planet, the auction features over 120 lots from The Macallan including a series of 18 Year Old expressions with vintages dating from 1996 to 1974, a wide range of 25 and 30 Year Old expressions, two offerings from the Six Pillars collection, 55 Year Old and 57 Year Old, as well as the newly released Distil Your World Mexico Edition and the Red Collection 40 Year Old.

Highlights from Japan include rare releases from Suntory including the 1984 Vintage released in 2009 to celebrare the 25th Anniversary of The Yamazaki as a single malt, Hibiki 30 Year Old and other limited editions, as well as a selection of whiskies from mothballed Karuizawa distillery.

The sale closes with a wide selection of Tequila and Mezcal from Clase Azul including the Clase Azul Pink released in 2022 to help raise breast cancer awareness and funds for research, as well as an assemblage of Cognacs from Louis XIII headlined by the Ultra Rare Red a special limited edition decanter limited to 200 bottles that was offered to the Remy private clients and select night clubs.

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