Think the bourbon craze has gone too far?
Present buyer behavior indicates that this may just be the start.
On Nov. 20, an unknown bidder committed $28,050 to purchase the first bottle of an unknown bourbon brand that hasn’t even been tasted — hasn’t even been barreled.
My, my, just when everyone thought a 10th of that price was a lot for a bottle of proven Pappy Van Winkle 23-year-old, the ante is upped way up.
To keep the transaction legal, the bourbon, which will be bottled two years from now, will be sold to the bidder at a liquor store for a yet-to-be-determined amount.
According the bourbon’s distiller, Brent Goodin, owner of Boundary Oak Distillery in Elizabethtown, Ky., $28K is the highest-ever price paid for a bottle of U.S.-made whiskey.
The previous record was $25,000 for not one, but two bottles of un-aged rye whiskey made at the distillery at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Va., home.
The world record price for a bottle of whiskey — or in this case, Scotch whisky — is $460,000 for a crystal decanter of The Macallan Cire Perdue in 2010.
Bourbon historian Michael Veach believes Goodin’s record claim is likely true.
“I don’t even know if there’s ever been a public auction like this, at least not to my recollection,” said Veach, author of the book, “Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage.” He’s also the bourbon historian at The Filson Historical Society in Louisville.
The auction part of the story only adds to the craziness of the purchase price. On Nov. 13, a party to kick off the public auction, was held at the Stone Hearth Restaurant in Elizabethtown. The event marked the first of seven days whiskey fans could bid online for the rights to buy that bottle and several others once they are produced. (Distilleries lacking retail licenses cannot sell liquor directly to customers, meaning bids only secured bidders’ rights to purchase finished products.)
According to Sandy Rogers, spokeswoman for the Stone Hearth Restaurant, 200 people were expected to attend the event.
“But we turned about 200 more away,” she said. “The fire marshal allows only 200 inside, but our final count was 205 — so I guess we didn’t count closely enough! We could not believe the size of the crowd we left waiting outside.”
Goodin recalled the sight a little less elegantly.
“It was freaking nuts!” said Goodin. “I knew it was a good idea when I thought about auctioning off the rights to purchase this bottle, but I never had any idea it would turn out like that. The energy around this whole thing is mind-boggling.”
A key part of the back story is the fact that Goodin’s bourbon is the first distilled and bottled in Hardin County in 124 years. This year he began moving Boundary Oak Kentucky Moonshine to liquor store shelves. Two years from now, his bourbon will be sold beside it.
Veach agreed that the fanaticism surrounding the new bourbon is somewhat surprising, but he said the enthusiasm is all in good fun.
“Perhaps a lot of this is just Hardin County pride, and the local people want to bid on this because it’s the first made in the county in so long,” Veach said.
But he dislikes that the frenzy to possess, and not always drink, now uber-popular Kentucky bourbon because what once was Everyman’s drink has become increasingly difficult to get.
“I liked all the availability we had before,” Veach said. “The distillers are certainly not complaining about all the craziness. They are expanding and building and creating more jobs, so it’s really all good for Kentucky.”
And at least two Kentucky charities, which will share proceeds from the $28,050 anonymous bid.
“I do not know who the bidder is, but I was told he’s a serious bourbon collector and a local businessman,” Goodin said. “He’s not even taking possession of the bottle. He’s donating it to the Hardin County History Museum.”
Goodin’s first bourbon run will yield two barrels and approximately 400 bottles. Sold for $75 each, total retail sales will come in near $30,000.
“I guess now the pressure is on to produce a really good whiskey for these people!” he said.
Boundary Oak is building its own barrels and will warehouse them onsite. The two initial barrels will rest two years, though bourbon commonly rests at least four years. When asked why he’s aging just half the normal span, Goodin shifted into a technical discussion of his distilling methods.
“I use a pot still, which does a really good job stripping out a lot of heavy congeners from the distillate,” Goodin said. “And I also run my distillate through twice.”
What that yields is a lighter bodied distillate Goodin said penetrates the wood of the barrel much quicker. Molecularly speaking, a heavier distillate bearing many congeners penetrates the barrel’s wood fibers slower.
“In essence, I have taken away much of the work that the barrel does by distilling it the way I do,” he said. “That means my whiskey absorbs the barrel’s flavors quickly. It’s just a different method, one that I as a small distiller can do.”
Veach said he likes what Goodin is doing and has high hopes for his products.
“I think he has talent as a distiller and has all the right ideas,” Veach said. “I think he’s got a very good chance of making good bourbon. I think he’ll do well.”