LOUISVILLE Ky. (Reuters) - A Louisville preservation society will raise a glass in December to toast the end of the Prohibition Era, but not with just any ordinary drink.
The Filson Historical Society will celebrate “Repeal Day,” the day in 1933 when the United States lifted a ban on alcohol, by popping open more than two dozen rare bottles of bourbon, some over a century old.
Donated by a member, most were bottled during the 13-year period when the sale and production of alcoholic beverages was prohibited, an era of contraband, speakeasies and larger than life gangsters like Al Capone.
“We’re doing as the donor wished,” said Mike Veach, a bourbon historian at Louisville’s Filson Historical Society. “Opening them up.”
The society is offering the rare bourbon at a sold-out fundraiser tasting on Dec. 5, an event that helps the group preserve historical stories and artifacts for Louisville, Kentucky, and the Ohio Valley region.
Two bottles in the collection dated prior to Prohibition. These bottles stand out, according to another bourbon historian, and not just because of their age.
One is a bottle of Cascade, a whisky sold by Julian P. Van Winkle Sr., and bottled in Louisville between 1910 and 1920.
Popularly known as Pappy Van Winkle, he would eventually become a distiller on his own. Pappy Van Winkle is now considered one of the bourbon industry’s premium brands.
Bill Thomas, owner of the Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Washington D.C., said selling Cascade ushered him in as part of the whisky industry.
“It’s a Honus Wagner of whiskey pints,” Thomas said, referring to the Hall of Fame baseball player whose 1909 T206 baseball card is one of the rarest and most valuable collectible cards because only a small number were produced.
The other bourbon is a Belmont, bottled in 1910.
“Those bottles, the Belmont and Cascade, are extremely rare,” Thomas said, adding he could not say how many bottles of these are around, but knows of none in circulation.
According to Veach, a similar bottle of Belmont went for $1,200 at auction just a few years ago. He estimates the Cascade would fetch a similar amount.
Belmont was a Louisville-based brand, one of about 10 based in the city at the time, Veach added.
A century later, the city is undergoing a renaissance as five new distilleries and bourbon-themed tourist attractions have opened in the past year with more in the works.
These sites, as well as other bourbon distilleries across the state, have drawn thousands to the region and helped spur the ongoing growth.
Once poured, they will let the whiskeys breathe so any odors from the bottle can dissipate allowing people to truly taste the products.
Veach will not make any promises regarding the taste of the bourbons that will be on hand.
“Nobody’s tasted these for 70 or 80 years or more,” Veach said. “I always tell people, ‘This may be the best bourbon you’ve ever tasted or the worst you’ve ever tasted.'”
Reporting by Steve Bittenbender, editing by David Bailey and G Crosse