Kentucky Bourbon Benefit Raises Over $3 Million for Tornado Relief


December 22, 2021

FRANKFORT, Ky. – The Kentucky Bourbon Benefit auction of rare bottles, private barrel selections and more raised over $3 million to help ease suffering and restore hope for residents of Western Kentucky whose communities were ravaged by a tornado outbreak earlier this month. 

The Kentucky Distillers’ Association partnered with the Bourbon Crusaders charitable organization and Bourbon curator Fred Minnick on the six-day auction. The fundraiser culminated with a live-streamed finale Tuesday night which alone raised $1.77 million.

The total – which is expected to climb – was $3,384,203 as of mid-day Wednesday.

 The auction site is still accepting donations and businesses continue to match funds. Proceeds from the benefit are going to the Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund. The state-operated fund assesses no fees on donations.

Angel’s Envy, Beam Suntory, Brown-Forman, Diageo, Four Roses, Heaven Hill, Michter’s, Rabbit Hole and Wild Turkey  also donated in excess of $1 million directly to the state’s fund, and Beam Suntory gave an additional $500,000 to the American Red Cross. 

Those donations bring the distilling industry’s total impact to nearly $5 million.

“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,” KDA President Eric Gregory said. 

“Through this event, thousands of participants are helping lift spirits across Western Kentucky, provide new hope and create momentum for the years of rebuilding and healing ahead,” Gregory said. “This is the spirit of Kentucky shining through.”

Minnick, a best-selling author and Bourbon expert, said the auction’s success demonstrates the fabric of Kentuckians and Americans. “In life, you get a handful of moments you hope to relive in your final moments. Tuesday night was one for me,” he said. 

“The only comparison I have for what happened here was going to Iraq as a soldier and experiencing the full depth of the American military coming together under one mission. My team worked with two highly professional organizations in the Bourbon Crusaders and the KDA.

“While different than my Army days, I believe the Kentucky Bourbon Benefit represented the best of America. At the core of who we are, we are a people who want to help our neighbor. And in Kentucky, our neighbors needed our help,” Minnick said. 

“The response was tremendous, far beyond our wildest hopes,” said R.J. Sargent, founder of the Bourbon Crusaders. “Our members pulled out treasures from their collections, and the community responded enthusiastically.

“You can see it in the auction results. These rarities attracted lots of bids, and every dollar raised is going to be used to help Kentucky.”

A total of 5,158 bidders vied for the benefit auction’s 429 lots. Bidders came from at least all 50 states, Washington D.C. and as far away as Puerto Rico and Guam. Kentucky, by far, led the way with nearly 1,000 registered bidders.

Highlights included: 

  • A 19-year-old barrel of Willett sold for $401,001 – which Minnick said was the highest ever paid for a full barrel of bourbon. The Bardstown distillery then donated another barrel which was matched by the second-place bidder for a total of $802,002 raised. 
  • A private barrel selection at Four Roses Distillery, aged 17 to 24 years, sold for $278,000. The Lawrenceburg distillery also matched the barrel to its second-place bidder, totaling $556,000. With other rare donated bottles, Four Rose’s final tally was $569,920.
  • Willett also had the third best-selling item: an 8-year-old barrel that sold for $143,000. Again, the distillery donated its match to the losing bidder, raising a total of $286,000 for the benefit.  
  • A barrel experience of cask-strength Angel’s Envy went for $130,000. An Elijah Craig barrel-strength barrel sold for $77,000. Wild Turkey and New Riff private barrels sold for $45,000 and $43,000 respectively. 
  • Nevada-based Distillery Smoke Wagon’s lot of 60 bottles of Rare and Limited Special Batch Small Batch Bourbon sold for $45,000. Smoke Wagon offered and the runnerup bidder matched the duplicate of the 60-bottle offering. Smoke Wagon also had two separate donations that went for $26,000 and $6,650, bringing the company’s tally to $122,650.
  • An exclusive tour and tasting experience at Castle & Key in Woodford County – combined with a private suite at Keeneland for the distillery’s annual Bourbon Stakes in 2022 – sold for $44,000. 
  • A hand-engraved decanter of 23-year Old Rip Van Winkle, one of only 1,200 released in 2009 and donated by Preston Van Winkle, went for $44,000.
  • Private barrel experiences at Maker’s Mark, Old Forester, Boone County, Woodford Reserve and Jefferson’s Ocean all sold between $30,000 and $35,000 each. 
  • The “Mayfield Collection” of 14 bottles recovered intact from Carr’s Steakhouse in downtown Mayfield, which was destroyed in the tornado, sold for $69,475. Nearly all of the bottle’s brands are matching the sales prices with half of the money going to Carr’s for its 29 employees – with a combined 22 children – many of whom are now homeless. 

The total amount raised from the Kentucky Bourbon Benefit will continue to climb throughout the coming days as final results are tallied, including matches from Vendome Copper & Brass, Independent Stave Company and the Kentucky Travel Industry Association (KTIA). 

The site will remain open for cash donations for several months. 

Auctioneer Bill Menish, founder of Menish Productions in Louisville, Ky., donated his services for the live auction and waived all of his fees. Westport Whiskey and Wine, the benefit’s official retail partner, is assisting with fulfillment. 

For a list of the auctioned lots and their sales prices, visit

To watch the live auction call, visit Fred Minnick’s YouTube Channel.