Over the past decade, Michter’s Distillery has helped revolutionize the market for premium American whiskey. At the turn of the 21st Century few drinkers were shelling out hundreds of dollars for a bottle of bourbon. Or even anywhere near that amount for rye. Today the whiskey maker’s 10-year releases—in both categories—are virtually impossible to find at a retail price of $130. In fact, you’d be lucky to score one at twice that.
And the Louisville-based brand is hardly done raising the bar for high-end hooch. Last week at a charity auction in London, they sold their first ever private barrel selection—a 10 Year Kentucky Straight—for nearly $210,000. “This is the highest price ever paid at an auction for a single barrel of Bourbon anywhere in the world, far exceeding previous records,” according to Justin Sloan, cofounder of Justins’ House of Bourbon—a Kentucky retailer specializing in rare and vintage bottlings.
In addition to the private barrel, Michter’s donated more than a half dozen other speciality items to 50 Best for Recovery. The event benefited global hospitality professionals affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Proceeds from the auction will be disbursed either by direct grants of up to $5,000 to independent restaurants and bars, or indirectly through donations to non-profit organizations.
Other auctioned bottles included a collection of their rarest releases: 20 Year and 25 Year Straight Bourbons, a 25 Year Straight Rye, and the coveted Celebration Sour Mash expression. Sold together, these four labels netted $21,451. A first-ever bottle of 24 Year fetched just over $15,000, on its own. It’s not clear whether or not that particular age statement will ever become a regular part of the Michter’s lineup.
In total, the distillery raised $271,859 for the charity. “Michter’s is committed to doing everything possible to support bar and restaurant professionals during this unimaginably difficult time,” said Matt Magliocco, executive vice president for Michter’s. “While we do not offer private barrel selections as a standard policy, we made an exception for this immensely important initiative. The results are a testament to the global community of Michter’s collectors, who stepped up massively to support the hospitality sector in its period of greatest need.”
So if you’re looking to get your hands on your own cask of Michter’s anytime soon, don’t hold your breath. While other bourbon producers have leaned heavily into the practice—working with retailers, bars and even individual enthusiasts to issue private barrel offerings—this appears to be a one-and-done for the Michter’s folks. Which is, undoubtedly, what helped propel its price-tag into the stratosphere.
An average ten-year-old barrel holds about 150 bottles worth of liquid. So, sold individually, each of the bottles extracted from this cask would still cost $1400. For Michter’s enthusiasts—and investors—this could be viewed as a relative bargain. A bottle of the supremely rare Celebration Sour Mash, which doesn’t even own an age statement (but is known to contain liquids between 25-30 years old) has been spotted on shelves for as much as $10,000. Since 2013, it’s only been released on three separate occasions.
Clearly, the market for super premium American whiskey is heading ever-higher. Michter’s remains a primary driver of that movement.