How’d you like to tuck into a 250-year-old bottle of hooch? The opportunity could be yours in the near future, provided you have a spare $40,000 lying around. A bottle suspected to be the world’s oldest surviving whiskey will be headed to auction in June, allowing some collector to snag a truly unique piece of American history.
That’s right—despite what one might expect, the oldest bottle of whiskey in the world is apparently American, rather than Scottish or Irish. The online auction, conducted by Skinner Auctioneers, will be held June 22-30, with bids expected to reach between $20,000-$40,000. But who knows? The history of the item could ultimately push prices far higher.
The original distillery of the whiskey is unknown, but carbon 14 dating performed in conjunction with the University of Georgia suggests the liquid was originally distilled between 1762-1802, meaning that this whiskey may have been around to witness the American Revolutionary War firsthand. It has been described as “bourbon” in some articles, but that wouldn’t really be accurate. For one thing, the term “bourbon” wasn’t even in use to describe whiskey until the early 1800s—and for another, the practice of aging whiskey in charred oak barrels (a must, for bourbon) also wouldn’t be established for decades. This bottle literally predates both the concept and basic requisites of bourbon.
According to Skinner, the bottle “is thought to be the only surviving bottle of a trio from the cellar of J.P. Morgan gifted in the 1940s to Washington power elite.” It was reportedly bottled and purchased by Morgan in Georgia, before being gifted for auction to James Byrnes of South Carolina. Byrnes then gifted the bottle to a neighbor, Francis Drake, whose family retained it through three generations until today. Along the way, they apparently displayed some impressive restraint by never breaking into the thing to see what 200-year-old whiskey tastes like.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the primary value of the bottle is its historical value—it’s not likely that anyone will want to drink the likely foul liquid that still resides within. This also keeps the ultimate value from reaching the truly absurd levels occasionally reached by vintage bottles that are still intended for ultra luxe drinking. For example, a bottle of The Macallan Fine and Rare 60-Year-Old 1926 sold in 2019 for $1.9 million, becoming the most expensive bottle of wine or spirit ever sold.