The Kentucky Bourbon Benefit, a six-day auction organized by the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, Bourbon Crusaders and author and Bourbon curator Fred Minnick, featured rare bottles, private barrel selections and more. The auction's livestreamed finale on Dec. 21 raised $1.77 million alone.
A total of 5,158 bidders vied for the benefit auction’s 429 lots. Bidders came from all 50 states; Washington, D.C.; and as far away as Puerto Rico and Guam. Kentucky led the way with nearly 1,000 registered bidders. All proceeds went to the Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund, the state’s approved fund.
Highlights of the auction included:
- A 19-year-old barrel of Willett that sold for $401,001, the highest ever paid for a full barrel of bourbon. A second donated barrel was matched by the second-place bidder for a total of $802,002 raised.
- A private barrel selection at Four Roses Distillery, aged 17 to 24 years, sold for $278,000. A second barrel was matched for a total of $556,000 raised. With other rare donated bottles, Four Rose’s final tally was $569,920.
- An 8-year-old barrel of Willett that sold for $143,000. A second donated barrel was matched for a total of $286,000 raised.
- A barrel experience of cask-strength Angel’s Envy went for $130,000. An Elijah Craig barrel-strength barrel sold for $77,000. Wild Turkey and New Riff private barrels sold for $45,000 and $43,000, respectively.
- Nevada-based Distillery Smoke Wagon’s lot of 60 bottles of Rare and Limited Special Batch Small Batch Bourbon sold for $45,000. Smoke Wagon offered and the runner-up bidder matched the duplicate of the 60-bottle offering. Smoke Wagon also had two separate donations that went for $26,000 and $6,650, bringing the company’s tally to $122,650.
- An exclusive tour and tasting experience at Castle & Key in Woodford County – combined with a private suite at Keeneland for the distillery’s annual Bourbon Stakes in 2022 – sold for $44,000.
- A hand-engraved decanter of 23-year Old Rip Van Winkle, one of only 1,200 released in 2009 and donated by Preston Van Winkle, went for $44,000.
- Private barrel experiences at Maker’s Mark, Old Forester, Boone County, Woodford Reserve and Jefferson’s Ocean all sold between $30,000 and $35,000 each.
- The "Mayfield Collection" of 14 bottles recovered intact from Carr’s Steakhouse in downtown Mayfield, which was destroyed in the tornado, sold for $69,475. Nearly all the bottle’s brands are matching the sales prices with half of the money going to Carr’s for its 29 employees – who have a combined 22 children – many of whom are now homeless.
"The outpouring of support, care and love for Western Kentuckians is truly unparalleled in the history of bourbon. We are forever grateful for the generosity of distillers, donors and bidders," KDA president Eric Gregory said in a statement. "Through this event, thousands of participants are helping lift spirits across Western Kentucky, provide new hope and create momentum for the years of rebuilding and healing ahead. This is the spirit of Kentucky shining through."
In addition to the auction, Angel's Envy, Beam Suntory, Brown-Forman, Diageo, Four Roses, Heaven Hill, Michter’s, Rabbit Hole and Wild Turkey donated in excess of $1 million directly to the state’s fund and Beam Suntory gave an additional $500,000 to the American Red Cross, bringing the distilling industry’s total contribution to nearly $5 million.
The state of Kentucky makes more than $235 million in annual tax revenue from bourbon, according to impact data published by KDA. The trade organization reports that Kentucky bourbon is an $8.6 billion industry. The Kentucky Bourbon Benefit auction site is still accepting donations, and businesses continue to match funds.