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    Auction Finds

    Buying old dusty bottles of whiskey

    Would you buy an opened bottle of Seagram’s at auction? How about an unopened bottle caked in dust, looking as if it’s been sitting in an attic or basement untouched for years?
     

    Does whiskey age? I’m asking all these questions because it seems that bottles of whiskey come up for auction quite often at my two favorite auction houses. And buyers – especially the men – clamor for them.

    Four boxes of whiskey, most unopened, were waiting for bids on an outside table at auction this week. I’m always flabbergasted that people actually buy opened bottles of the stuff. I’d be too afraid that I’d be poisoned or get sick or something.

    I asked one auction-goer if he’d buy opened bottles. Said he’d never buy open bottles, but he did bid on three boxes of the unopened Seagram’s. The bidding went toe-to-toe on the boxes, which held about six to eight bottles each. He was outbidded; the boxes sold for about $75. Another box of about six bottles sold for $20.

    I recall having a conversation with another buyer once who bought a slew of mostly opened bottles. Said he would drink some of it and that he had buddies (who consume corn whiskey) who’d help him. Well, if they drink that home brew, they’re brave enough to tap into those opened bottles of the good stuff.  

    Since the bottles at auction looked to be so old, I started wondering if whiskey aged or went bad after so many years. So, I Googled. I wasn’t the only curious one: I found forum after forum of people asking the same question. I learned that whiskey does not age in the bottle; it ages in the cask during the distillation process. It also gets its color from the oak cask.

    The consensus seemed to be that no, whiskey – like rum, vodka and scotch – does not go bad if left unopened, but can lose its vigor once opened. According to a writer on answers.com, as long as the bottle is properly sealed, with the tax seal intact and there’s nothing floating in the liquid, you should be fine. The website nslc.com recommended the same, along with information on the shelf life of other alcoholic beverages, such as beer, champagne and wine.

    But as always, use your own discretion for both unopened and especially opened bottles.

    Most of the bottles at the auction house appeared relatively new, when you think in terms of antiques. But vintage whiskey bottles can be collectible and pricey. In a 2006 post, the blog Art of Drink noted that bottles produced before Prohibition or are out of production are likely to fetch more at auctions.

    Go back even farther and you’ll find even more collectible antique whiskey bottles, as shown on this bottlebooks.com website. Last year, a California Clubhouse whiskey bottle from the 1870s sold for $30,000. The auction sold bottles made between 1850 and 1910,  according to the site worthpoint.com. Click here on the British website Asylum to see not empty bottles but what are described as some of the world’s oldest whiskey still bottled. 

    The auction boxes contained several bottles of Seagram’s VO, the Canadian whiskey that is a hit in this country and around the world. Seagram’s was started in Ontario in 1857 and entered the U.S. market after Prohibition. At auction a couple weeks ago, I came across a nice brown leather box with the Seagram’s logo on the front and intricate designs around the sides. Did a bottle of whiskey come in the box?

    At another auction, I found a brass medallion key ring the company issued in 1938. The medallion – which celebrated 80 years of Seagram’s leadership  – had an image of founder Joseph Seagram on one side and the Seagram’s Creed on the other. Seagram’s provided it to bars and liquor stores with souvenir chains and key rings for customers, according to a May 1938 ad in Life magazine

    So, would you drink an unopened bottle of whiskey from a stranger?

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