I love puzzles. I’ve written about that before but it’s worth saying again, I love puzzles. Not just jig saws but riddles, logic puzzles, anagrams, sudoku, all that jazz. Whisky is another puzzle that begs solving, but we’re not talking about solving whisky today, we’re talking about finding it.
I get whisky alerts every day, it’s something I set up to try and stay abreast of all the new releases in the whisky world. As you can tell from my reviews about obscure whisky from around the world it didn’t really pan out, but I did read something recently that caught my eye.
Couple find Prohibition-era whisky in the walls of their home. That’s a title I can get behind, given my love of whisky and as my great grandmother used to hide money around the house till the day she passed away, her not trusting the banks and all that (she was correct though, join a credit union instead).
The story of a couple renovating their home only to find multiple bottles of whisky dating back almost a century is a great read, but it made me wonder about their story and the story of others who had found whisky. There’s some great tales out their of people finding whisky and the ruins of illicit stills and distilleries but also of people hiding it.
As we’re approaching lockdown once again (or whatever the government wants to call it) I realise we can’t get outside to search but there are sure to be some super sleuths somewhere amongst the whisky drinkers, so today we’re gonna dive into a few tales of whisky treasure hunts.
The James Joyce Society Washington – 1982
‘It was a cool year’ – My partners mother, who went to Oxford in 1982
E.T was released in cinemas, Prince William was born, and the anniversary of the 100th birthday of Irish novelists, poet and writer James Joyce rolled around. As one of the many societies around the world formed to remember the beloved author, the James Joyce Society of Washington decided on a little treasure hunt to celebrate the occasion.
On February 2nd 1982 a case of Joyce’s favourite Jameson Whiskey was hidden somewhere in the city, all it would take to find was for someone to crack the clues;
‘The Name; doubly-derived from the common gillyflower’
‘A Royal One 1907?’
‘H.C Earwicker does.’
What would you win? The case for starters, a few bottles to put away and drink to celebrate your detective skills. You would also win two Aer Lingus tickets from Kennedy to Dublin with a horse drawn carriage tour of the city along the path that Leopold Bloom travelled in Ulysses, capped off with a tour of the Guinness brewery and all the Guinness the two of you could drink.
Riddles, whiskey, Guinness, Dublin, Joyce, it’s a dream come true combining everything your super sleuth loves. All you need to do is crack the code and locate the whiskey and it’s all yours.
So what happened?
Four years after the treasure hunt began it looked as though the prize would never be claimed. Despite more clues offered and Joyceans around the US and the world clamouring to discover the location, it appears no one came close, so the James Joyce Society turned to what we all do in times of crisis. They held a raffle, all you needed to do was send in a postcard.
On Bloomsday (16th June) 1986, four years after the case was hidden, the raffle was drawn and out of over 6000 entrants the winner, in what seems a cosmic joke, was someone who had never even heard of the competition.
Harold Coyle answered the phone unaware of what had occurred, his wife sending in the postcard on a whim after seeing it advertised, and later said that his wife had entered many competitions during their time, ‘One of these days, I’m going to win you a prize, Coyley. I think it’s the first thing we’ve won. I don’t remember anything else.” Turns out it was their 45th wedding anniversary too. What a time to remember.
Canadian Club Hide a Case Campaign
This is the coolest thing I’ve ever heard, and I don’t know why people don’t talk about this more often. In 1967 Canadian Club started a competition, a treasure hunt. Named the Hide a Case Campaign they hide 25 cases of Canadian Club across the globe between 1967 and 1991.
This seems like one of the greatest advertising stunts you could possibly imagine, something Don Draper would be proud of. It’s loose, it’s crazy, it’s out of the box, it cements your brand as the puzzler’s whiskey, the everyday whiskey, the adventures whiskey. Would it fly nowadays? Probably not. The cases were hidden in all manner of places, cases have been found at,
Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa
Angels Falls, Venezuela
Great Barrier Reef, Australia
St Helena Island
Death Valley, California
Big Foot Feeding Grounds, Pacific Northwest
Thousands Islands, between New York State and South Eastern Ontario
New York City
Bonnie and Clydes 1934 Hideout, near Gibsland Louisiana
Devils Backbone Reef, Bahamas
Lost Dutchmans Goldmine, Southwestern US
Lewis and Clark Trail, Montana
The Swiss Alps
And there’s still some missing at,
Yukon Territory, Northwest Canada
Robinson Cruseo, Chile
110 Feet from where Stanley met Livingston in Ujiji, Tanzania
Lake Placid, New York State
And there’s one location unknown.
So what would you win? Initially you would win a case of whiskey and bragging rights, so that’s something. With so many cases undiscovered by 2010 however Canadian Club revived the campaign, giving a few lucky adventures the chance to discover a new case hidden in Tonga in 1991, this time with $100,000 attached to it if one of the adventurers could find it. While that case was discovered by Kristina Beall, seven cases are still hidden, six with known locations and one unknown.
So what happens now?
It’s highly likely that some of the ‘missing’ cases were found by people who just happened to stumble across them without realising. As for others they may have been lost, the North Pole clues came with a warning that the ice could shift and move the case.
To make matters more difficult, Canadian Club has been sold during the time to another company. While they might know the general locations of a case or two they are unaware if they have been found. The campaign, and the advertising for it, ceased after the 2010 Tongan adventure.
The final word from Canadian Club on the campaign was in 2015, ‘Unfortunately, those responsible for hiding the cases are no longer with Canadian Club and we don’t have the records about where they are. I wish I could give you more information, but unfortunately, they’re lot.’ Heading to their hide a case webpage yields no results, and it looks like those cases are still up for grabs.
Now I’m not suggesting that we all rush out to search for the missing cases, we are still in the middle of a global pandemic. But if there was any time to start a whisky treasure hunt from your couch, this would be the time. And if any company reading this needs ideas for an advertising campaign this would be the things to emulate. A virtual whisky treasure hunt? Now there’s a brilliant idea.
The SS Politician
There could never have been any doubt that this would make the list, and be the most interesting. The lost bottles from the SS Politician and the story that accompanied them was famously written about in Compton Mackenzies 1947 ‘Whisky Galore!’, followed by the 1949 film of the same name, with numerous stage plays and radio plays adapted and the film remade in the 2016 ‘Whisky Galore’ starring Eddie Izzard. So what is the story?
The SS Politician ran aground off the coast of the island of Eriskay in 1941 with thankfully no hands lost. Within her hold she held some 22,000 cases of whisky and almost 300,000 Jamaican ten shilling notes, the equivalent of almost £10,000,000 in today’s currency.
Not ones to let good whisky go to waste, the island locals swiftly descended on the wreck to grab as many bottles as possible (let’s be honest, who wouldn’t) though as the duty on the bottles had not been paid many of the salvagers faced prosecution, with 19 sent to Inverness Prison with the maximum sentence of two months.
As for the cargo many bottles were recovered by the authorities, though these recovered bottles also faced looting on their way to bonded warehouses. With as much as could be recovered from the ship, half the ship was cut away and sent to the bottom of Eriskay Sound, the remaining half destroyed by gelignite.
So what happened in the end? So may notes were lost that the blue ten shilling were no longer legal tender and replaced with notes printed on a purple and light orange back ground. As for the bottles, some were drunk, some were sold, and others lost. Over the decade’s people have reported finding bottles of whisky on the island, buried beneath shifting sand dunes, hidden under floor boards or within roofs. Bottles have been found by divers over the years, some in 1987 and others in 1990.
How many there are in total found, drunk and still lost we can never know, but this wreckage and Compton Mackenzies 1947 classic captured the imagination of whisky lovers everywhere. Just think, when we can safely leave our houses again you could take a trip up to Eriskay, start diving and see what you can find below. Who wouldn’t want to go searching for whisky?
A treasure hunt can capture the imagination like nothing else. Whether it be a society celebrating someone they love, one of the greatest whisky marketing stunts ever attempted, or the thrill of discovering truly lost whisky, it’s something truly spectacular. Finding the whisky would be amazing, but in the end it’s the story that makes it, and the story is what whisky is all about.
Have you ever found a bottle of whisky? Has anyone in your family ever stumbled across a bottle of something spectacularly hidden? Let us know, as those stories as the great whisky stories we want to hear.