Welcome to another edition of The Well—a quick weekly breakdown of the stories behind your favorite alcohol brands.
Up this week: The wild history of Eagle Rare, an excellent bourbon that’s remarkably affordable—except when it’s $25,000 a bottle. Keep reading to find out why.
The Wild Story Behind Eagle Rare
Rewind to the 1970s. Boomers are just starting to enter their prime drinking years, and they’re all about synthetic fabrics, disco, big hair, and…vodka. Because whiskey and bourbon? That’s what their parents drank. Not hip.
Enter Charles Beam (if his last name sounds familiar, that’s because it is; he was the grandnephew of James Beam of Jim Beam fame). While the popular spirits market of the 70s zigged, Charles saw an opportunity to zag: Already the master distiller of Four Roses Bourbon at the time, he launched Eagle Rare 10 Year in 1975 as a luxury spirit—a direct challenge to the notion that bourbon had become cheap and uncool.
And his big idea worked. Despite the whiskey-business downturn, Eagle Rare made a name for itself as a quality, 101-proof bourbon and was purchased by Sazerac a little more than a decade later. It eventually began to be produced at the Buffalo Trace Distillery, where it’s still-secret mash bill and aging processes were refined in order to produce the top-notch spirit that’s a go-to among bourbon drinkers.
High production standards means Eagle Rare is very much what its name suggests: rare. Because it’s produced as an “allocated spirit,” it’s not available to distributors on an on-demand basis, and the suggested retail price of about $40 can easily cross the $100+ threshold at times. For expressions of Eagle Rare that are aged even longer, say in the 17- to 20-year range, bottles on secondary markets have gone for around $2,000, with a bottle of Eagle Rare Double Eagle Very Rare going for as much as $25,000. Whew.
If those price tags caused you to raise an eyebrow, you’re not the only one: In 2008, a Buffalo Trace Distillery employee named Gilbert Curtsinger orchestrated a 7-year heist in which he and his associates stole over $100,000 worth of whiskey that they then sold on the secondary market. The haul included 28 bottles of Pappy Van Winkle and 20 barrels of Eagle Rare bourbon. In 2017, Curtsinger was sentenced to 15 years in prison, though was released after 30 days and put on probation.
In other words: Some folks feel this is bourbon worth doing time over. Just sayin’.
- Nose: Complex aromas of toffee, hints of orange peel, herbs, honey, leather and oak
- Taste: Bold, dry, oaky flavors with notes of candied almonds and very rich cocoa
- Finish: Dry and lingering
Why I Love Eagle Rare
- Outstanding bourbon for the price
- Easy to drink neat or on the rocks. It’s also great in cocktails like an Old Fashioned or Manhattan.
- An ideal introductory brand for those looking to explore the intricate realm of whiskey
Creative Director, Saucey