Limited edition US whiskey sells for record-high US$4,000 per bottle

By Bruce Schreiner, AP

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky–A new U.S. whiskey reaches a new height in pricing, at nearly US$4,000 per bottle and an expected US$350 per shot.

Limited edition offerings have become commonplace as whiskey makers dabble in new flavors to lure customers. But the latest introduction by Michter’s Distillery LLC breaks into a pricing stratosphere that could reverberate across the industry.

“This is kind of new territory,” said industry observer F. Paul Pacult, editor of the newsletter Spirit Journal. “It’s going to start a whole rush of interest in very high-end bourbons, American whiskeys and American spirits.”

Michter’s Celebration Sour Mash Whiskey will reach shelves Monday in select liquor stores, restaurants, bars or hotels in such places as New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The company produced just 273 bottles of the blend of whiskeys, some aged up to 30 years.

“We’ve been turning down orders,” said Michter’s President Joseph J. Magliocco.

Christian Navarro, president of Wally’s Wine & Spirits in Los Angeles, plans to sell the product for US$3,600 per bottle, more than he paid for his first car.

He had at least five takers for each of his bottles, with movie stars and rock singers among those competing for the limited supply, he said.

“They said, ‘I’ll pay you in advance,’” Navarro said.

Typically, prices for limited-edition American whiskeys top out at a few hundred dollars per bottle.

Select single-malt Scotches, cognacs and brandies aged for decades can bring tens of thousands of dollars per bottle.

Pacult said the introduction reinforces a trend showcasing the rising quality of American distilling.

“Up until just about 10 or 12 years ago, American distilling was looked upon as kind of the idiot stepchild of Ireland and Scotland and France,” he said. “But now we’re seeing that’s not the case at all. Perhaps the most exciting innovations are now being made” in the U.S.

Stocks of 20- or 30-year-old American whiskeys are extremely limited, as larger whiskey makers typically tap into their barrels much sooner to try to keep up with demand.

U.S. sales for super-premium whiskeys shot up 94 percent within a decade — from US$741 million in 2003 to US$1.44 billion in 2012, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, a Washington lobbying group. Sales for the entire whiskey category grew 47 percent, from US$4.3 billion in 2003 to US$6.3 billion in 2012, according to the group. The category includes bourbon, Scotch, and Irish, Canadian and Tennessee whiskey.