American whiskey has been a staple in the liquor industry for decades, and its popularity has only increased through the years. Rare bottles have become valuable investments and collectibles in recent years, giving rise to a new breed of "dusty hunters" in search of the next great find. American whiskey has established itself as a collectible, and its secondary market value is comparable to that of Scotch. The worldwide interest in the auction of the Heart and Soul of Pat's Whisk(e)y Collection is indicative of this pattern.
Whiskey has become one of the most popular items at auction, with the value of Whiskey Auctioneer's sales increasing by more than 900% between 2016 and 2020. For collectors, Head of Auction Content Joe Wilson has several suggestions, with an emphasis on Pre-Prohibition and Prohibition-Era Bourbon, which are both historical curiosities and bourbon legends. The Century of American Whiskey Auction is selling the largest collection of whiskey from the Prohibition era ever offered at auction.
Pre-Prohibition whiskeys that made it to the secondary market are like time capsules from another period. Those who anticipated the coming of Prohibition typically hid their most valuable belongings. They now provide a thrilling chance to savor the past with every sip. These bottles are appealing not just because of their rarity, but also because of the feeling of nostalgia they evoke.
The industry was devastated by Prohibition, but a select few distilleries managed to secure licenses to sell 100 proof "medicinal spirits," which are now highly sought after by collectors and whiskey aficionados.
Once Prohibition was repealed in 1933 by the 21st Amendment, four companies—National Distillers, Seagram, Schenley Industries, and Hiram Walker—rose to prominence. These businesses produced some of the first bourbon labels, paving the path for the widespread distribution of whiskey today.
The bourbon made at the storied Stitzel-Weller distillery is among the most sought-after whiskeys on the market. The distillery, established in 1935 by Julian 'Pappy' Van Winkle, Sr., produced spirits under a number of well-known labels. The Van Winkle family ran the distillery for more than 30 years, leaving behind a heritage of whiskey that has fascinated collectors ever since. The legendary Pappy Van Winkle line, first released in 1994 and named after Julian Van Winkle III's grandfather, is matured in Stitzel-Weller barrels. The Netflix documentary "Heist," which details the theft of Pappy Van Winkle bottles worth $500,000, attests to the brand's ever-increasing popularity.
Single barrel bourbon and rye from the Willett Family Estate distillery are known for being among the best in the world. Just a few hundred bottles of each expression were ever produced from a single cask, making them highly sought after by collectors.
The Heaven Hill distillery is the largest American premium spirits manufacturer that is wholly owned by a single family. Many historic whiskey brands, such as Old Fitzgerald and Pikesville, have been maintained thanks to them, and their own products have always been sought after by enthusiasts. The Heaven Hill bottles distilled before the infamous 1996 fire that destroyed over 90,000 barrels of whiskey are the most valuable on the secondary market. Some of the limited supply survived the accident and has been released in special edition bottles over the years.