Bourbon is so closely linked to Kentucky that it’s easy to assume it can only be called a bourbon when it comes from there. The bourbon purists amongst us might vehemently argue this, and it wouldn’t be too far a cry from the truth. Because although a qualifying criteria is that bourbons are only deemed so if they are produced in the U.S., 95% of the world’s bourbon supply is still manufactured in Kentucky (via World Whisky Day). There are several other factors that distinguish bourbon from other whiskeys, the three major ones being the recipe of the grains used to produce it (otherwise known as the mashbill) needs to consist of at least 51% corn, it can only be aged in new charred oak barrels, and the mash can’t exceed 160 proof (80% alcohol by volume) prior to aging.
Otherwise known as American Whiskey, bourbon dates as far back as the late 1700s to European settlers who farmed in the American South. By the mid 1800s, it became increasingly popular as it was cheaper than imported liquor and reasonably easy to distill with so much corn available (via The Manual). Today, the demand for bourbon remains high across the world. This has made bourbon expensive, and exceptionally so for vintage and limited editions. Keep reading to see how some of the most expensive bourbons in the world right now are ranked, regardless of their price tags.
15. Old Rip Van Winkle Handmade Family Reserve 16 Year Old
The lowest ranking bourbon here has just simply run out. The Old Rip Van Winkle Handmade Family Reserve 16 Year Old is a real unicorn. It was originally bottled from the family’s personal reserve in 1990 by Julian Van Winkle III, after he had taken over the family business from his father Julian Jr. in 1981. He continued to release limited numbers of the prized 90-proof bourbon until it was depleted during the 2000s (via The Bourbon Concierge).
Before Stitzel-Weller Distillery was acquired by Buffalo Trace, it was Julian Sr. "Pappy" Van Winkle — popularly known as Pappy Van Winkle — who founded the distillery and created the first line of Van Winkle whiskies in 1931 at the age of 61. Over the years following, the brand contended with periodic declines in bourbon consumption and family disputes about the business after his passing in 1965. When Stitzel-Weller was eventually sold along with all the rights to its various brands, Pappy’s son, Julian Jr. preserved only the Old Rip Van Winkle name. For those who do somehow manage to hunt down a bottle of this Family Reserve (on the secondary market), you can currently expect to pay a very sturdy $19,463, and that’s just the average, so you could very well pay several thousands more.
14. Double Eagle Very Rare
Bottled in a lush pure crystal decanter and held in a gorgeous silver box with patterned eagle feathers, the Double Eagle Very Rare is a limited release that first arrived on the market in 2019. Since then, a limited number of between 200 to 400 bottles have been released, each with its own numbered letter of authenticity. At 20 years old, it matured for double the length of the Eagle Rare Bourbon, and has a 101 proof, which is similar to that of the Eagle Rare Bourbon when it was released for the first time 1975.
Like several other bourbons on this list, Eagle Rare Kentucky Straight Bourbon is also distilled and bottled at Buffalo Trace Distillery. It’s currently priced at an average of $16,267. While it comes in beautiful packaging and is indeed, as its name suggests, very rare, it’s unfortunately "made for collectors and bragging rights, regardless of how the whiskey in the bottle may actually taste" (via Whisky Advocate).