The massive tornado that ripped through Western Kentucky overnight on December 10, 2021 caused tremendous losses. But, as Kentuckians have shown throughout history, we’re resilient, and as distillers and bourbon fans have also shown, we answer the call. In fact, the Kentucky Distillers’ Association and the Bourbon Crusaders set a new bar for fundraising.
The morning after the storms, KDA president Eric Gregory was on the phone with me, Fred Minnick, the Bourbon Crusaders, and all Kentucky distillers (not just KDA member distilleries) to begin planning how we could help with relief efforts.
Within only a few days, the KDA had secured incredible once-in-a-lifetime donations from Kentucky’s signature distilleries, the Bourbon Crusaders had lined up donations of epic “unicorn” bottles from members and friends, and Fred Minnick mobilized his resources to present what would become the largest charitable bourbon auction ever—The Kentucky Bourbon Benefit.
Over a four-day period, the Kentucky Bourbon Benefit listed about 100 new auction items per day, ending with 429 items. Bidding began immediately, with over five thousand total bidders, ending with a live auction of the top items on December 21 at Westport Whiskey & Wine in Louisville. By the following morning as final bids were tallied and donations were still coming in, the Kentucky Bourbon Benefit had raised about $3.5 million for tornado relief efforts, which will all go to Governor Andy Beshear’s Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund.
The top two items were exclusive barrel experiences donated by Willett and Four Roses. The Willett barrel experience—a 19-year-old barrel selection—sold for $401,001, which set the individual barrel record ever, and Willett doubled it the next morning when the second-place bidder agreed to pay the winning bid price. Similarly, the Four Roses experience, which offered a barrel between 17 and 24 years, sold for an astounding $278,000, and Four Roses doubled its donation too, so the second-place bidder increased his bid to net $556,000 for the Four Roses barrels.
Both Four Roses and Willett donated other rare bottles and barrels to the Kentucky Bourbon Benefit, so that just from the generosity of these two distilleries, Western Kentuckians will receive over $1.7 million.
Other distillery partners like Brown-Forman/Woodford Reserve, Heaven Hill, Maker’s Mark, Angel’s Envy, New Riff, Michter’s, Rabbit Hole, and Castle & Key, among others, all made remarkable donations that raked in never-before-seen bidding. And individual donors like Chris Morris, of Brown-Forman, and Larry Kass, retired from Heaven Hill, donated bottles that are impossible to find anywhere. Only one major distillery did its own auction, but individuals affiliated with that distillery made generous donations on their own.
The Kentucky Bourbon Benefit also included 14 bottles from Carr’s Steakhouse in Mayfield, Kentucky, which was devastated by the storm. While Carr’s was demolished, 14 bottles of bourbon survived and were added to the auction, most with matching funds from KDA-member distilleries, Independent Stave Company, Vendome Copper & Brass Works, and the Kentucky Travel Industry Association.
KDA President Eric Gregory said, “The outpouring of support, care and love for Western Kentuckians is truly unparalleled in the history of Bourbon. We are forever grateful for the generosity of distillers, donors and bidders.” Bourbon Crusaders President RJ Sargent added, “The response was tremendous, far beyond our wildest hopes. Our members pulled out treasures from their collections and the community responded enthusiastically.”
Bourbon enthusiasts across the country proved again that it’s not just about the bourbon.
**You can still donate to the official Kentucky relief site here: https://secure.kentucky.gov/formservices/Finance/WKYRelief or to the Bourbon Crusaders, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. If you donate to the official fund, please designate “Kentucky Bourbon Benefit” in the “Fundraising Event” field.