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American whiskey becomes most valuable auction sale of its kind

A Sotheby’s auction of rare American whiskey has become the most valuable sale of its kind in history, with hundreds of lots making a total of US$1.63m – double its pre-sale estimate.

The Sotheby’s New York sale of Bourbon and Rye Whiskey, held at the weekend, combined two significant collections of American whiskey, with almost 100% of lots sold and 75% of them selling for above their pre-sale high estimates.

The top spot for the most expensive lot in the auction went to a bottle of LeNell’s Red Hook Rye 24 Year Old Barrell #4, which sold for $43,750, double its pre-sale high estimate and making it the joint most valuable bottle of rye whiskey ever sold at auction.

The sum was identical to the amount paid for another bottle of the same whiskey during Sotheby’s first American whiskey auction The Thoroughbred Collection, in April last year. Across all four of LeNell’s single barrel releases, only 852 bottles exist, Sotheby’s said.

Another lot – a double vertical of Pappy Van Winkle from the 2020 and 2021 releases, comprising 12 bottles in total – also fetched $43,750, matching the sum paid for the Red Hook Rye.

Other notable lots included a bottle of Michter’s Single Barrel Bourbon 20 Year Old selling for $27,500, almost seven times the lot’s pre-sale low estimate, and a six-bottle case of Willett Family Estate Single Barrel Bourbon 10 Year Old, which fetched $17,500, 15 times its pre-sale low estimate.

Sotheby’s said the sale was dominated by domestic bidders, with 93% of lots acquired by collectors based in North America. Of those, nearly 60% were new to Sotheby’s, 77% were aged in their 40s or younger, and 42% were in their 30s or younger.

The larger of the two collections sold, the American Muscle Collection, was amassed by Rich ‘RJ’ Gottlieb, taking its name from Gottlieb’s legendary 1969 Chevrolet ‘Big Red’ Camaro, dubbed as ‘the baddest muscle car ever’.

The second group of lots, The Three Continents Collection Part III, comprised the American whiskey element of a 5,000-bottle collection that also includes Scotch and Japanese whiskies, and which has been spread across five Sotheby’s auctions in 2021 and 2022.

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