The Debated Record For The Oldest Whiskey Ever Sold

The oldest whiskey in the world pre-dates the American Civil War, at least according to Guinness World Records (GWR). In 2018, following a long and arduous investigation, Guinness granted the official title to a bottle of Baker's Pure Rye Whiskey (via Guinness World Records). Currently owned by Adam Herz, the U.S. screenwriter responsible for giving the world the "American Pie" movie franchise (via IMDB), the bottle of whiskey was distilled in 1847 and likely bottled 10 to 12 years later. Turns out Herz, the guy who dreamed up the comedically raunchy coming-of-age storylines for the "American Pie" series of films, is also a whiskey connoisseur and a member of the L.A. Whisk(e)y Society.

In 2013, Herz and his associates at the L.A. Whisk(e)y Society received a request from a collector seeking an opinion about a bottle of whiskey in their possession. Herz chronicled his reaction and the subsequent investigation to determine the authenticity and provenance of the bottle in a blog post on the L.A. Whisk(e)y Society website, "And when I first saw this bottle, my heart leapt. It had all the hallmarks of the real deal — but I also know that exact feeling is the downfall of every 'mark' duped by a clever fake."

A long and winding road

The then-owner was able to share enough information about how they came into possession of the bottle to get an investigation started. According to the L.A. Whisk(e)y Society, the bottle bore a label stating it was "Purchased November 1943 from the Estate of Mrs. Henry Walters." A bit of sleuthing confirmed Henry Walters was the son of W.T. Walters, establishing a direct family connection to W.T. Walters & Company, a successful mid-19th-century Baltimore distillery that traded in high-quality whiskey (via Maryland Historical Magazine). The owner's family acquired the bottle in 1943 when it was sold at auction in New York as part of what the lot catalog described as a "cellar of monumental proportions," (via L.A. Whisk(e)y Society).

With provenance established, the next step involved authenticating the bottle and its contents. According to the L.A. Whisk(e)y Society, the investigation encompassed research to confirm the validity of the label and the glass bottle. In most cases, initial research would also include an examination of the seal, but the cork on the bottle in question was too compromised to examine without potentially having an adverse effect on its contents. Satisfied, experts at the L.A. Whisk(e)y Society passed the bottle along to the records management team at Guinness World Records for verification and additional, science-based, testing.

Guinness gets on board

According to the L.A. Whisk(e)y Society, Guinness gave the bottle an initial nod before sending a sample of its contents to a laboratory at the University of Glasgow, where it underwent radiocarbon dating. In a blind test of three samples, the lab unequivocally identified the whiskey in question as a product of rye grain grown between 1795 and 1890. A second blind test, conducted at a university in England, returned the same results. It took four years, but the extensive testing concluded the bottle contained original Baker's Pure Rye made from grain harvested in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, making it the last known and only Guinness-verified pre-Civil War bottle of American whiskey in existence.

Adam Herz acquired the bottle about a year after the L.A. Whisk(e)y Society concluded its research, writing on the society's blog, "About a year later, the owner asked if I'd like to make an offer on it, and we worked out a deal." Herz didn't, however, specify how much he paid for the bottle he described as "one of the best ryes that money could buy." But he did make an observation about what it might cost at auction, stating, "Given today's whiskey climate, it is certainly very valuable, but any price would be speculative unless it were actually sold at auction to the highest bidder."

Along came a challenger

While there's only one Guinness-verified oldest whiskey in the world, there are still challengers for the title. In 2021, Skinner Auctioneers put a bottle of Old Ingledew whiskey on the block. A pre-auction announcement stated the bottle is "currently believed to be the oldest known whiskey in existence" and cited radiocarbon testing indicating it was produced sometime between 1763 and 1803. L.A. Whisk(e)y Society's Adam Herz, the owner of the Guinness-verified oldest bottle of whiskey, takes issue with Skinner Auctioneers' description and claims the winning bidder backed out of the sale, citing concerns about its authenticity.

Herz says common "peculiarities" in carbon dating lead to inaccurate results that whiskey experts usually ignore as "impossible." Additionally, he points to a discrepancy between the age of the bottle and its contents. Research indicates the bottle was made between 1868 and 1876, long after its contents, based on Skinner's radiocarbon results. According to Decanter, Skinner Auctioneers acknowledged the discrepancy and offered an explanation. Before whiskey was sold in individual bottles, it was aged in oak barrels and then transferred to glass demijohns for retail display. Consumers brought their own jugs to the store and filled them from the demijohn (via L.A. Whisk(e)y Society). So, in theory, it's possible Skinner's Old Ingledew was distilled years before it was bottled.

Remember Herz said it would be difficult to put a value on his Guinness-verified whiskey? Auctioneers expected the unverified Skinner bottle to go for $20,000 to $40,000. It sold for $137,500.