The Kentucky Bourbon Benefit - Online and Live Auction Raises Nearly $5 Million

The tornado that rolled through Western Kentucky stayed on the ground for some 220 miles. The National Weather Service classified the storm that hit Mayfield, Kentucky as an EF 4 meaning it had sustained winds between 207 and 260 miles per hour. When the storm was done, the area was decimated and the tornadoes across the state left 76 people dead.

Now it’s time for rebuilding not just bricks and mortar but lives and hope.

Folks, these people in the direct path of this tornado lost everything. Within a few hours Kentucky’s signature industry with efforts lead by the Kentucky Distillers’ Association – KDA, Fred Minnick and The Bourbon Crusaders jumped into action and started a fund-raising effort. In no time, distilleries of all size and from multiple states donated rare bottles, private barrel selects and unheard-of bourbon whiskey experiences.

The Kentucky Bourbon Benefit website was live within a few dates and the bids started coming in on hundreds of items. The most popular items were then narrowed down to the top 15 to be bid on during a live auction that took place last night. By the end of the auction the distilled spirits industry had shocked the world.

Distilled Spirits Industry Raises Nearly $5 Million

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When all the bidding was done and the dust on the auction settled the people of Mayfield, Kentucky and surrounding areas were the real winners here. The Kentucky Bourbon Benefit auction raised over $3 million to help ease suffering and restore lives. That total – which is expected to climb – was $3,429,203 as of mid-day Wednesday.

The auction site is still accepting donations and businesses continue to match funds. Proceeds from the benefit are going to the Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund. The state-operated fund assesses no fees on donations.

Angel’s Envy Distillery, Beam Suntory, Brown-Forman, Diageo, Four Roses Distillery, Heaven Hill Distillery, Michter’s Distillery, Rabbit Hole Distillery and Wild Turkey Distillery also donated in excess of $1 million directly to the state’s fund, and Beam Suntory gave an additional $500,000 to the American Red Cross.

Those donations bring the distilling industry’s total impact to nearly $5 million.

Outpouring of Community Support Unparalleled

“The outpouring of support, care and love for Western Kentuckians is truly unparalleled in the history of Bourbon. We are forever grateful for the generosity of distillers, donors and bidders,” Kentucky Distillers’ Association President Eric Gregory said. 

“Through this event, thousands of participants are helping lift spirits across Western Kentucky, provide new hope and create momentum for the years of rebuilding and healing ahead.

“This is the spirit of Kentucky shining through.”

Minnick, a best-selling author and Bourbon expert, said the auction’s success demonstrates the fabric of Kentuckians and Americans. “In life, you get a handful of moments you hope to relive in your final moments. Tuesday night was one for me,” he said. 

“The only comparison I have for what happened here was going to Iraq as a soldier and experiencing the full depth of the American military coming together under one mission. My team worked with two highly professional organizations in the Bourbon Crusaders and the KDA.

“While different than my Army days, I believe the Kentucky Bourbon Benefit represented the best of America. At the core of who we are, we are a people who want to help our neighbor. And in Kentucky, our neighbors needed our help,” Minnick said. 

“The response was tremendous, far beyond our wildest hopes,” said R.J. Sargent, founder of the Bourbon Crusaders. “Our members pulled out treasures from their collections and the community responded enthusiastically.

“You can see it in the auction results. These rarities attracted lots of bids, and every dollar raised is going to be used to help Kentucky.”

Highlights from the ‘Kentucky Bourbon Benefit’ Auction

A total of 5,158 bidders vied for the benefit auction’s 429 lots. Bidders came from all 50 states, Washington D.C. and as far away as Puerto Rico and Guam. Kentucky, by far, led the way with nearly 1,000 registered bidders, followed by Ohio (400), Florida (250) and Texas (240). 

What Sold at the Kentucky Bourbon Benefit?

A 19-year-old barrel of Willett sold for $401,001 – which Minnick said was the highest ever paid for a full barrel of Bourbon. The Bardstown distillery then donated another barrel which was matched by the second-place bidder for a total of $802,002 raised. 

A private barrel selection at Four Roses Distillery, aged 17 to 24 years, sold for $278,000. The Lawrenceburg distillery also matched the barrel to its second-place bidder, totaling $556,000. With other rare donated bottles, Four Rose’s final tally was $569,920.

Willett also had the third best-selling item: an 8-year-old barrel that sold for $143,000. Again, the distillery donated a matching barrel to the losing bidder, raising a total of $286,000 for that lot – and nearly $1.1 total from Willett’s donations alone. 

A barrel experience of cask-strength Angel’s Envy went for $130,000. An Elijah Craig barrel-strength barrel sold for $77,000. Wild Turkey and New Riff Distillery private barrels sold for $45,000 and $43,000 respectively. 

Nevada-based Distillery Smoke Wagon’s lot of 60 bottles of Rare and Limited Special Batch Small Batch Bourbon sold for $45,000. Smoke Wagon donated another set of 60 bottles and the runner-up matched at $45,000. Smoke Wagon also had two separate donations that went for $26,000 and $6,650, bringing the company’s tally to $122,650.

An exclusive tour and tasting experience at Castle & Key Distillery in Woodford County – combined with a private suite at Keeneland for the distillery’s annual Bourbon Stakes in 2022 – sold for $44,000. 

A hand-engraved decanter of 23-year Old Rip Van Winkle, one of only 1,200 released in 2009 and donated by Preston Van Winkle, went for $44,000.

Private barrel experiences at Maker’s Mark, Old Forester, Boone County, Woodford Reserve and Jefferson’s Ocean, which donated a 300-bottle lot, all sold between $30,000 and $35,000 each. 

The ‘Mayfield Collection’ Pulled from the Rubble of Carr’s Steakhouse Generates Nearly $70k

The “Mayfield Collection” of 14 bottles recovered intact from Carr’s Steakhouse in downtown Mayfield, Kentucky, which was destroyed in the EF 4 tornado, sold for $69,475. Nearly all the bottle’s brands are matching the sales prices with half of the money going to Carr’s for its 29 employees – with a combined 22 children – many of whom are now homeless. 

The total amount raised from the Kentucky Bourbon Benefit will continue to climb throughout the coming days as final results are tallied, including matches from Vendome Copper & Brass Works, Independent Stave Company and the Kentucky Travel Industry Association (KTIA). 

Auctioneer Bill Menish, founder of Menish Productions in Louisville, Kentucky, donated his services for the live auction and waived all of his fees. Westport Whiskey and Wine, the benefit’s official retail partner, is assisting with fulfillment. 

Kentucky’s Bourbon Journey from Sin to Signature

In years past, many considered Kentucky’s bourbon industry a sin industry. Over the last 100 years that perception especially considering the impact of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and the bourbon lifestyle has changed not just the industry but the perception of the entire state of Kentucky. America’s Native Spirit has changed the face of the bourbon industry in Kentucky from one of sin to signature.

And to that, let’s all raise a glass. Cheers!

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You Can Watch the Entire ‘Kentucky Bourbon Benefit’ Auction Here

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