Friday, March 29, 2013

Whiskey A-Go-Go

Yeah, yeah, I know—This is the second non-beer article in a week, but a story reported on March 22, on the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's online version, is too hard to pass up.

It's a simple story really—Woman buys bed and breakfast. Woman renovates bed and breakfast. Woman finds nine cases of 101 year-old rye whiskey hidden in the basement walls.

See, simple right? Trust me, the story is going to get a little bit more, shall I say, unusual.
Image courtesy of Sean Stipp, Tribune Review

First though a little bit about the whiskey. The woman—Patricia Hill—purchased the South Broadway Manor Bed and Breakfast in Scottdale, Pennsylvania, last year. The B&B was originally the home of J.P Brennan, a turn-of-the-century western Pennsylvania coal and coke industrialist. Mr Brennan, it appears, had a taste for Old Farm Pure Rye Whiskey, made by the West Overton Distilling Company in West Overton, Pennsylvania—a distillery owned by steel and coke billionaires Henry Frick and Andrew Mellon*. The whiskey was distilled in 1912, and bottled five years later, after which Brennan purchased the cases. It looks as if he, or someone in his family, stashed them away when Prohibition started at the end of 1919—there it would sit until Hill and the South Broadway Manor Bed and Breakfast, live-in caretaker—John Saunders—discovered it nearly 100 years later.

Remember, when I said it was going to get unusual? Here goes.

Kindly Mr Saunders has been recently charged by the Scottdale police department with drinking the contents of 52 bottles—or just over four cases—of the whiskey. Hill had been displaying the bottles at the B&B, but after Saunders moved out, she noticed the 52 empty bottles. That's bad enough, but to add insult to injury, those 52 bottles have been appraised by the New York City auction house Bonhams, to have been worth $102, 400.

That's right—$102,400. That works out two just under two grand per bottle.

Of course Saunders denied the allegations, but DNA tests proved, without a doubt, that the 62-year-old care-taker did indeed consume the whiskey—rather than it evaporating—which is what he offered as an alternative explanation for the empty bottles. He obviously never stole booze from his parents liquor cabinet, or he would have known to refill the bottles with iced tea. As a result of all of this, Ms. Hill has decided to have the bottles displayed at the Overholt Distillery Museum at the 19th-Century Historic West Overton Village in Scottdale, rather than her living room.

I wonder why?

Maybe I should have titled this post Whiskey-A-Gone-Gone.

*Ironically, Andrew Mellon would be appointed Treasury Secretary under Warren G. Harding. As Secretary of the Treasury, he would be the man ultimately responsible for the enforcement of the Volstead Act—but you already know this as you've been watching Boardwalk Empire, just like me.  


  1. Craig, that distillery was also famous for Old Overholt, a classic brand of Pennsylvania straight rye whiskey. Straight rye came before bourbon and the two are related drinks (sort of close cousins). The Overholt label still survives and today the whiskey is made in Kentucky by Beam Global. You can buy it in most well-stocked beverage stores and it isn't nearly as expensive as this curio in the story, maybe $15.00 or so. It's pretty good and backs a Genny Cream Ale nicely, or of course one of the numerous surviving old-school PA beers (Stoney's, Yuengling, etc.).


    1. I'd say it was more famous for Old Overholt! I have to admit to loving the Andrew Mellon connection. It just goes to show how flawed the 18th Amendment was, and how unenforceable Volstead was.