A former caretaker has been charged with drinking over US$100,000 worth of antique, pre-Prohibition whiskey his employer found hidden in the walls of her Pennsylvania, US mansion home.
Bottles of Old Farm rye whiskey, which date before the 1940s, displayed at the West Overton Museum
Owner Patricia Hill found nine cases of Old Farm Pure Rye produced by the nearby West Overton Distilling Co in the early 1900s in the walls and stairwell of her Georgian mansion in Pittsburgh, built by coal entrepreneur J.P.Brennan.
The bottles were found during a renovation of the property into a bed and breakfast.
“My guess is that Mr. Brennan ordered 10 cases … pre-Prohibition,” Hill told local paper the Pittsburgh Tribune. “I was told by his family that family members used to greet him at the door each day with a shot of whiskey.”
But between finding the stash and moving out of the property last March, Hill discovered that four 12-bottle cases had been emptied.
The property’s former live-in caretaker, John Saunders, has been accused of drinking the 52 bottles of whiskey himself and now faces criminal charges.
“This whole experience has shocked me. I was shocked when I found them, shocked to find Mr. Saunders drank them, and shocked when I received the appraisal. I had just planned to preserve them.”
Police chief Barry Pritts said in a court statement: “The corks were removed or a hole punched through the bottom half to get the whiskey out. The labels were pulled off many … bottles and are now in the bottom of the cases. Patricia Hill knows that the bottles were full and undamaged about one year ago. She suspects John Saunders drank the whiskey.”
DNA obtained from Saunders matched that taken from the lip of three of the empty bottles.
The Old Farm Pure Rye is believed to have been distilled in 1912 and bottled in 1917 before Prohibition, with sealed, pristine bottles from that era worth around $1,000 each.
Joseph Hyman of auctioneers Bonhams, told the paper that although the whiskey may be drinkable, it is the surviving bottles themselves that are valuable.
“Just the fact that … the distillery was owned by industrialists Henry Frick and Andrew Mellon … also gives it some historical value,” he said.