Next month will see an incredible auction take place of a bourbon potentially as old as the United States itself—and the oldest known whiskey in existence. Starting June 22, auction facilitator Skinner Inc. will begin accepting bids on a bottle of Old Ingledew Whiskey that could fetch tens of thousands of dollars.
The whiskey, which was bottled in LaGrange, Georgia, sometime between 1762 and 1802 is possibly from the American Revolution, or the Whiskey Rebellion in the 1790s. It’s unlike anything that’s circulated since the beginning of the bourbon boom.
Oh, and fun fact: Technically, this would never legally be called bourbon—it was made as much as 200 years before the 1964 congressional Bourbon resolution.
You’re probably wondering how they know how old it is. Well, they have two claims. First, here’s the oral history of this rare bottle of Old Ingledew Whiskey, according to the owners: The “bourbon” began its known journey through time when first purchased by financier John Pierpoint Morgan “where it was bottled by Evans & Ragland, grocers and merchants, in La Grange.” This happened sometime after the Civil War, according to specialist Joseph Hyman of Skinner Fine Spirits.
The whiskey then passed to his son, who gifted the bottle to James Byrnes of South Carolina (and also sent one bottle to Morgan’s distant cousin Franklin D. Roosevelt and another to Harry S. Truman for Christmas, between 1942 and 1944.
Byrnes, who’d been a congressman, senator, and Supreme Court justice before WWII, had become director of war mobilization under Roosevelt, and was appointed secretary of state under Truman. Byrnes then returned to South Carolina, where he was governor.
During that time, he gifted the bottle to a man named Francis Drake, whose family safeguarded the bottle for three generations (apparently, it’s a scotch household).There’s a bit of uncertainty around what the whiskey did for the first decades of its life after distillation in the 1760s.
How did they validate all of this? Well, whiskey authentication is a complicated business, and short of hundreds of years of tedious recordkeeping, there’s really no paper trail for something like this.
So Hyman turned to chemistry. Carbon 14 dating, which is an effective method for determining the estimated age of carbon-based materials (which whiskey is, in part), was employed by the University of Georgia. They indicated the whiskey was likely bottled around 250 years ago.
It was subsequently evaluated and determined to be accurate within an 81.1 percent probability by the University of Glasgow.
The incredible pedigree and history of this bottle are likely to fetch bids between $20,000 and $40,000, according to Skinner, though given current bourbon prices already being a tenth of that before after-market value is added, that would seem like a steal. The real outcome could very easily hit six figures if the right people are in the (virtual) room.
If you want to participate (or just watch the numbers go whizzing up), the auction begins June 22 and runs through June 30. Learn more here.