"This is kind of new territory," said industry observer F. Paul Pacult, editor of the newsletter Spirit Journal.
"It's going to start a whole rush of interest in very high-end bourbons, American whiskeys and American spirits. This kind of throws the challenge out."
The Michter's product will reach shelves Monday in select liquor stores, restaurants, bars or hotels in such places as New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Aspen, Colo., Chicago, Palm Beach, Fla., Houston and Boston. The company produced a scant 273 bottles of the blend of whiskeys, some aged up to 30 years, and all are spoken for, its top executive said.
"We've been turning down orders," said Michter's President Joseph J. Magliocco.
Willie Pratt, master distiller at Michter's, blended the whiskey from his favorite barrels, Magliocco said.
Christian Navarro, president of Wally's Wine & Spirits in Los Angeles, plans to sell the product for $3,600 per bottle, more than he paid for his first car.
He had at least five takers for each of his bottles, with movie stars and rock singers among those vying for the limited supply, he said.
"They said, 'I'll pay you in advance,'" Navarro said, adding: "I can't get enough of this product."
The introduction adds a new twist to the growing super-premium whiskey market. The Celebration bottles are embossed with gold labeling, part of the elaborate packaging by Michter's, a small, Louisville-based company known for its premium bourbons and rye whiskeys starting at $45 per bottle.
The company is in the process of expanding its small distillation capacity. Currently, it makes most of its whiskey at another distillery, using Michter's recipes, with its older whiskeys coming from stocks it bought up.
Typically, prices for limited-edition American whiskeys topped out at a few hundred dollars per bottle, though Michter's does offer a 20-year-old bourbon that sells for $600 a bottle and a 25-year-old whiskey that retails for up to $700 a bottle. That pales next to the select single-malt Scotches, cognacs and brandies aged for decades, which can fetch tens of thousands of dollars per bottle.
Pacult said the introduction reinforces a trend showcasing the rising quality of American distilling.
"Up until just about 10 or 12 years ago, American distilling was looked upon as kind of the idiot stepchild of Ireland and Scotland and France," he said. "But now we're seeing that's not the case at all. Perhaps the most exciting innovations are now being made" in the U.S.
Stocks of 20- or 30-year-old American whiskeys are extremely limited, as larger whiskey makers typically tap into their barrels much sooner to try to keep up with demand.
The bourbon sector's focus has been on churning out higher-end products, led by small-batch and single-barrel bourbons. Jim Beam, the world's top bourbon producer, plans to launch a single-barrel offering next March. The makers of Wild Turkey, Evan Williams and Woodford Reserve rolled out special selections in recent years.