Epic Bourbon Sales: Art Of Bourbon Auction

The Speed Art Museum’s “Art of Bourbon” auction exceeded expectations by raising more than $260,000 at its nonprofit bourbon auction, which included two rare bottles of 1909 Overholt Rye owned by the Mellon Family that went for a combined total of $28,000.

That second bottle of Overholt Rye was just one of the evening’s twists. It was supposed to only be one bottle up for auction but the same donor offered-up a surprise second bottle. The online and on-site bidders at the Sept. 19 sold-out event went into a frenzy. Also that night:

A bottle of T.W. Samuels is returned to the family

Maker’s Mark Chief Distillery Officer Rob Samuels, an 8th generation whiskey maker, bought back its family bourbon for $11,500 – a T.W. Samuels Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Bottle in Bond, 1942. It’s considered possibly one of the rarest American whiskeys in the world. The T.W. Samuels brand belonged to the Samuels family, who later founded Maker’s Mark. Samuels family lore holds that Bill Samuels Sr. burned the original T.W. Samuels recipe. If true, this bottle contains extinct liquid.

Sharks plus bourbon!

For $18,000, the winning bidder was granted ‘permission to come aboard’ an at-sea laboratory for a shark-tagging experience. The vessel carries four barrels of Jefferson’s Oceans Bourbon and the winner hand-picks his/her own barrel. The barrels are aged at sea with the idea that constant movement of the liquid ages the whiskey faster because more of the liquid is in contact with the wood.

Five bottles of Pappy auctioned as a group in one lot

Referred to as the bourbon so exclusive that even billionaires can’t buy it. Each bottle was personally signed by Van Winkle specifically for this auction. This lot sold at $16,500, above its $15,000 high-end estimate.

  • Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 23 year, 2018
  • Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 20 year, 2017
  • Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 15 year, 2018
  • Old Rip Van Winkle 10-year old, 2017
  • Van Winkle Special Reserve, 12 year, 2017


Due in part from the sale of 54 lots that went above asking price and because the museum was able to secure exceptionally rare bourbon experiences and bottles, the museum has staked its claim in the world of bourbon auctions. In fact, it nearly doubled what it made at last year’s inaugural event.

With the success of two auctions under its belt, Speed executives are eying other cities where the iconic Louisville institution can further capitalize on bourbon’s global cultural phenomenon.

“The night exemplifies how institutions are reaching out and tapping into their communities in innovative ways,” said Speed Museum Director Stephen Reily. “In this case, it just so happens to be the bourbon community.”

Top 16 Lots Sold at the 2019 Art of Bourbon: Price

Maker’s Mark Private Select Barrel and Experience: $26,000.00

Jefferson Reserve Ocean Barrel Selection and Shark Tagging Experience: $18,000.00

5-Item Lot:

Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year, Van Winkle 12 Year, Pappy Van Winkle 15, 20 & 23 Year – All Signed by Julian Van Winkle: $16,500.00

1909 Overholt Rye: $14,000.00

1909 Overholt Rye (Surprise Lot): $14,000.00

T.W. Samuels Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Bottled in Bond 1942: $11,500.00

Knob Creek Single Barrel Selection Experience: $8,250.00

Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year, Signed by Julian Van Winkle: $7,000.00

Michters Private Dinner, Tour and Tasting: $6,500.00

Signed Bottles of 2018 & 2019 Old Forester Birthday Bourbon: $4,500.00

Buffalo Trace Collection and Experience: $4,200.00

Angel’s Envy Cask Strength Vertical 2013 – 2018: $4,000.00

Al Young 50th Anniversary Four Roses: $3,750.00

Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year, Signed by Julian Van Winkle: $3,500.00

Signed 2003 Old Forester Birthday Bourbon: $3,500.00

John Poindexter Old Bourbon 1928: $3,500.00

Event proceeds support the Speed’s exhibitions, outreach and education initiatives.

“Make no mistake, the money raised from this makes a profound impact on our ability to our mission in Louisville and across Kentucky,” said Reily. “That $26,000 for the one-of-a-kind Maker’s Mark experience will support the Speed’s exhibitions and Community Connections outreach program, which provides art-making opportunities and workshops for marginalized and underserved audiences.”

Museum organizers also credited much of the evening’s success to its partnership with Bourbon and Beyond, the large three-day Louisville music festival that coincided with the auction. Bourbon and Beyond’s long-term deal with the city of Louisville is projected to have a $1 billion economic impact on the city.

For another surprise, music festival founder Danny Wimmer and business partner, Danny Hayes, not only attended the event, but took the stage to make a heartfelt plea for patrons to support the museum.

Along with the more than 250 guests who attended, many more bid online and over the phone, causing several intense bidding wars.

In addition to offering up rare bourbons – the Speed Art Museum managed another rarity. Bourbon royalty – families with last names like Van Winkle (Pappy), Brown (Jack Daniel’s; Woodford Reserve), Samuels (Maker’s Mark), Henderson (Angel’s Envy) and Dedman (Kentucky Owl) – gathered under the museum’s roof. Guests mingled with master distillers, members of the old-guard bourbon families, distillery executives and the founders of new, red-hot distilleries.

“We knew it was going to be a successful night when prominent collectors from around the country asked many of them to autograph their auction catalogues,” said Reily.

About the Speed Art Museum

The Speed Art Museum is Kentucky’s largest art museum. Its mission is to “invite everyone to celebrate art forever.” An independent and encyclopedic museum located on the campus of the University of Louisville. In 1927, Louisville philanthropist Hattie Bishop Speed founded the Speed Art Museum, with a belief in the power of art to change people’s lives. The Speed Art Museum is free on Sunday through March of 2021, thanks in part to Brown-Forman. After Hours @ the Speed draw large and diverse crowds every third Friday of the month with music, drinks, and of course art. For more information, visit www.speedmuseum.org.