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World’s ‘oldest known whiskey’ sold at rare auction

An ‘18th-century’ bottle of Bourbon, believed to be the oldest known whiskey in existence, has been sold at auction for more than $130,000.

The bottle of Old Ingledew Whiskey, believed to be the world’s oldest whiskey still in existence, sold for more than four times its pre-sale estimate during Skinner Auctioneers’ June Rare Spirits online auction.  

It fetched $137,500. It had been thought that legendary financier John Pierpont Morgan had acquired the bottle on a visit to Georgia, but further research has now revealed that it was part of a batch of whiskey and Madeira he purchased from the Ridgely family of Hampton Mansion in Maryland in 1902.

Carbon 14 dating analysis carried out by the University of Georgia, and later evaluated by the University of Glasgow, concluded that there was a 53% probability that the whiskey was distilled between 1763 and 1803 – the era of The Revolutionary War and the 1790s Whiskey Rebellion.

However, the research also gave the whiskey an estimated age of 195 years, which would place it in the 1820s – still older than the 1847 bottle of Baker’s Pure Rye Whiskey currently recorded by Guinness World Records as the oldest known whisky in the world.

Although there is no record of an ‘Old Ingledew’ brand, the whiskey was bottled by Evans & Ragland, described as a ‘grocer and commission merchant’, in Lagrange, Georgia, probably in the 1860s. ‘Old Ingledew’ may have been a proprietary label used by the grocer.

Skinner said that it was common practice at the time for spirits to be stored in large glass demijohns after ageing in barrel, adding that the bottle was consistent with glass manufacture during the 1840-70 period.

The Old Ingledew bottle is believed to be one of three given by JP Morgan’s son, Jack Morgan, to members of the Washington political elite in the early 1940s: this one to US Congressman, Senator and Supreme Court Justice James Byrnes – and the other two to Franklin D Roosevelt and Harry S Truman.

Byrnes is believed to have given the bottle to his friend and neighbour Francis Drake – who, along with his descendants, were all Scotch drinkers, according to Boston-based Skinner Auctioneers.

The bottle was recently found by Rex Woolbright while sorting through the estate of his late uncle, Logan Drake, Garden & Gun reported.

Skinner Auctioneers sells 'Old Ingledew Whiskey'

The back label of the whiskey. Photo courtesy of Skinner Auctioneers.

The bottle’s back label, believed to have been added by Byrnes, reads: ‘This Bourbon was probably made prior to 1865 and was in the cellars of Mr. John Pierpont Morgan, from whose estate it was acquired upon his death. As far as is known, there were no Bourbon distilleries in Georgia after the Civil War.’

A financier, collector and benefactor, John Pierpont Morgan was a dominant figure on Wall Street in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

*Updated 16/07/2021: The story previously stated that the whiskey was purchased by the Morgan Library and that John Pierpont Morgan had acquired the bottle on a visit to Georgia, which was not correct.

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