World's oldest whiskey goes up for auction

World’s oldest whiskey goes up for auction: Only surviving bottle of Old Ingledew believed to have been produced in Georgia in the late 1700s and once owned by JP Morgan is expected to sell for up to $40,000

  • Skinner Auction House will put the bottle of Old Ingledew Whiskey up for auction from June 22-30  
  • Carbon-dating on the whiskey indicates it was distilled between the Revolutionary War and the Whiskey Rebellion in the late 1700s
  • It was bottled between the 1860s and 1870s by a team of merchants
  • J.P. Morgan reportedly bought the bottle and two others on a trip to Georgia
  • His son, Jack, later gifted the bottles to Washington elites, including Harry S. Truman and Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s sisters  
  • The bottle is expected to sell for somewhere between $20,000 and $40,000 

A bottle of what’s believed to be the world’s oldest whiskey which dates back to Revolutionary times and was once owned by finance legend John Pierpont Morgan and Washington elites is hitting the auction block this summer.   

Skinner Auction House recently announced a June 22-30 auction for the Old Ingledew Whiskey, which was said to have been produced between 1762 and 1802 in Georgia and bottled in the 1860s.

The bottle is expected to sell for somewhere between $20,000 and $40,000 and is rumored to be the only one remaining from a trio JP Morgan’s son gifted to Washington politicians in the 1940s. 

It is unlikely the over two-century-old liquor will still be drinkable, as whiskey tends to last about 10 years if unopened. 

‘It is a fascinating story,’ Joseph Hyman, Skinner’s rare spirits expert, said in an interview with Barron’s. ‘The whiskey was not bottled at a distillery destroyed in the war, it is actually bottled by a general store, which is the same way the Scottish whiskey Johnnie Walker started.’

A bottle of Old Ingledew Whiskey (pictured), believed to be the oldest in existence, will be sold in an online auction from June 22 to 30. It is expected to sell for up to $40,000

Black labeling on the bottle indicates that the bottle was in John Pierpont Morgan’s personal cellars, and was probably made prior to 1865. Carbon-dating put the whiskey as originating from the late 1700s.

Standard practice at the time, Hynes said, was to store spirits in large glass demijohns (bulbous bottles with a narrow neck) after being aged in oak barrels.

An engraving on the bottle of Old Ingledew shows that it was bottled by a team called Evans & Ragland in La Grange, Georgia.

Evans & Ragland were grocers and merchants in business between the 1860s and 1870s, according to Skinner’s research, and the design of the bottle is consistent with glass manufacturing at the time. 

The auction house conducted carbon-dating on the whiskey in collaboration with researchers from the University of Georgia, it said, and discovered that the whiskey was produced some time between 1762 and 1802 – around the time of the Revolutionary War and Whiskey Rebellion.

The raw data was then further evaluated by researchers at the University of Glasgow, who found an 81.1 percent probability that the bottle was in fact produced during that period and that it contained bourbon.  

The Whiskey Rebellion unfolded in the 1790s when farmers and distillers in western Pennsylvania protested a tax on whiskey President George Washington enacted, under the direction of Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton.

‘The age was a shocking surprise, albeit a pleasant one, for both myself and the scientist,’ Hyman told Food and Wine Magazine. ‘Initially, we were all … assuming the distillery pre-existed the Civil War, as no such distillery was in existence after the war.’ 

Skinner’s Auction House estimates J.P. Morgan bought the whiskey on a trip to Georgia. His son, Jack, later gifted it and two other bottles to Washington elites.

The bottle is reported to have been purchased by JP Morgan, the Wall Street financier who founded the J.P. Morgan Company in 1895, in one of his trips to Georgia.

Black labeling on the bottle reads, ‘This Bourbon was probably made prior to 1865 and was in the cellars of Mr. John Pierpont Morgan from whose estate it was acquired upon his death.’

‘As far as is known there were no Bourbon distilleries in Georgia after the Civil War.’ 

It is further believed that his son, Jack, later gifted the bottle and two others to James Byrnes, of South Carolina; two sisters of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a distant cousin of the Morgans; and Harry S. Truman between 1942 and 1944.

Byrnes was a Congressman, Senator and Supreme Court Justice before World War II, when he resigned from the court at the behest of his friend, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, to become the Director of War Mobilization. 

Upon Roosevelt’s death in 1945, Byrnes was appointed Secretary of State under another friend, Truman.

He left the Cabinet in 1947, and moved back to South Carolina, where he ran for governor. He served in that position from 1951 to 1955.

After he left office, it is reported, Byrnes gifted the bottle to a friend and neighbor, Francis Drake.

But Drake and his descendants only drank Scotch, the auction house reports, and safeguarded the bottle for three generations.

Previously, the oldest bottled whiskies tended to date from the 1840s to the 1860s.

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