When tornadoes swept through western Kentucky and the surrounding area on December 10, the damage was devastating and the outlook bleak, with dozens of people dead and countless homes and property damaged or destroyed. Many organizations are rallying to help those in need, and—since Kentucky is Bourbon Country—among them is a group of bourbon professionals organizing a legendary auction that can only be called a once-in-a-lifetime event. Sponsored by the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, philanthropic organization Bourbon Crusaders, and whiskey writer Fred Minnick, the Kentucky Bourbon Benefit is taking place online: Anyone, anywhere can place a bid, and all proceeds go to the Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund.
Dozens of distillers, both within and outside of Kentucky, along with private collectors and celebrities, have donated a range of incredible bottles, experiences, memorabilia, and more. Some of the items up for grabs are almost too rare to be believed: a bottle of Blackened x Willett rye that was signed by Metallica; two bottles of A.H. Hirsch Reserve 16-year-old, a bourbon so legendary there’s an entire book about it; a 2009 decanter of Old Rip Van Winkle Family Selection 23-year-old, donated by Julian Van Winkle.
For the biggest spenders, or particularly heavy-hitting whiskey clubs, there are some choice barrel picks. At the top of the list: a barrel of Willett Family Estate 19-year-old bourbon, to be selected by the winner and up to six friends during an exclusive visit to the Bardstown distillery.
The current bid for that one (at time of publication) is $270,000, so if it’s a little out of your price range, consider some of the others, like a private barrel pick with Wild Turkey master distiller Eddie Russell, or a day at Maker’s Mark to design your own Private Select barrel, complete with dinner, cocktails, and on-site accommodation. There are barrel pick experiences from over two dozen other distilleries as well, from Angel’s Envy and Four Roses to Old Forester, Smooth Ambler, and New Riff.
Some of the most special lots in the auction are 412-423, bottles that were donated by Daniel Carr. Carr’s Steakhouse in Mayfield was destroyed in the tornado, but these bottles survived. Literally pulled from the rubble, they are now going to help with the rebuilding effort. Among the lots are Blue Run High Rye, Maker’s Mark 75th Anniversary Keeneland Edition, and a vintage bottle of Russell’s Reserve 10-year-old signed by Wild Turkey master distiller Jimmy Russell.
Don’t let the presence of high price tags dissuade you from checking out what’s on offer. Among the hundreds of lots, there are plenty well under the $500 mark—and some real bargains to be had, if you know where to look. (Don’t sleep on the multiple 12-bottle lots of Wilderness Trail, currently tracking at about $765 each.) Many bottles are collectible in their own right, but anything obtained through this auction comes with a great story and a warm, fuzzy feeling.
Many auction lots are being matched with a donation by the brand or donor, meaning whatever you spend at the auction will go twice as far to help. There will be a virtual live auction for the top 15 items, taking place December 21 at 7 p.m. EST. Bidding on all other items closes December 21 at 10 p.m. EST.
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