Can I drink it: Prohibition edition
November 13, 2014 6:51 PM   Subscribe

I've been helping my mom and grandmother clean out my late great-aunt's apartment. She was a hoarder. One of the things I found today was a small bottle of Prohibition-era whiskey.

It's still sealed, but about two-thirds of it have evaporated away. According to the label, it was made in 1916 and bottled in 1930, and the box says "for medicinal use only." My housemate is very excited about the prospect of tasting hundred-year-old whiskey; I am worried about poisoning my housemate. What's your verdict, guys?
posted by nonasuch to Food & Drink (21 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Check the seal, does it look original or recorked? If it's original, I would try it very slightly (maybe a half shot at most) and see what happens. If not original, throw it out - who knows what's in there.

Heads up though, since your roommate wants to try it - I don't think whiskey continues to age outside of the barrel, the same as other hard liquors. So you're not going to get what most people pay lots of money for a "100 year whiskey". Sure, you technically have a 100 year whiskey but it's not aged like one.
posted by lpcxa0 at 7:05 PM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Friends don't let friends drink 100-year-old whiskey.*

Seriously, though, there are just so many ways this could go wrong, and not very many that it could go right. It's been a while since I've read up on Prohibition-era stuff, but wasn't it a known issue that a lot of the alcohol from that time period was of dubious safety? I might empty it out and keep the bottle because it's a fun artifact, but there's no way I would want anyone to consume it.

*At least not when its origins seem rather nebulous.
posted by litera scripta manet at 7:06 PM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

It won't be good - spirits don't continue to age in a meaningful way inside the bottle. "18 year old scotch" is good because it was aged in barrels, not because it's old. Trust me, if you find some 3 year old scotch that then sat in a bottled for 20 years, you won't be impressed.

Will it be drinkable? Probably. It might not even be THAT much worse than when ti was bottled. Of course, it may have been *awful* when it was bottled.
posted by RustyBrooks at 7:07 PM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

If it's still sealed and in good-looking condition, I would consider finding out if it's worth any money before drinking it. Seems doubtful, but people collect weirder things.
posted by Phredward at 7:09 PM on November 13, 2014 [10 favorites]

My friend had a coffee table book of crime scene photos.

One memorable spread was a group of 8 people at a party who died from poisonous prohibition era hooch. Because sometimes poison, not liquor was the result of illegal alcohol manufacture.

I specifically remember a few bodies propped up against each other on the couch. These folks died mid-party.

What was your question again?

posted by jbenben at 7:20 PM on November 13, 2014 [16 favorites]

I am the sort of person who is willing to try things at Dead concerts so I would totally give this a shot. (Pun intended.) I would start with a smaller shot. HOWEVER, I would at least Google the brand and name for any information I could find. I guess you could be conservative and have it tested for content.
posted by 724A at 7:21 PM on November 13, 2014

Call these guys and ask. Maybe they'll buy it from you. (Don't drink it.)
posted by vitabellosi at 7:25 PM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Here is the Wikipedia page for Old Taylor. I would bet it is not poison in there.

Here are some neat pictures.

"The father of the modern Bourbon industry"
posted by 724A at 7:26 PM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This article addresses the issues specifically. Most likely safe to drink.

This was made in 1916 and bottled in 1930. It was not distilled during Prohibition.
posted by 724A at 7:31 PM on November 13, 2014 [5 favorites]

I would not drink or even taste it. See if it has value as an antique. It isn't worth the risk. At on time during prohibition the ATF put poison in liquor and some people died from it. Do you really want to take that risk for that little reward?
posted by nogero at 7:45 PM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

From the article 724A linked:

. . .there are few, if any, vintage bourbons, but something like Old Taylor Whiskey (a "medicinal" prohibition whiskey) would command a hefty price.

Looks like that's what you have - per your dates, it was distilled pre-prohibition and bottled during prohibition. I'd look into the value for sure.
posted by insectosaurus at 7:50 PM on November 13, 2014 [5 favorites]

If you have not broken the seal AND still have the box. - holy $moke$!

Yeah sell it!!
posted by jbenben at 8:24 PM on November 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

A lot of Prohibition-era alcohols were distilled from wood, which results in methyl alcohol, which can do fun stuff like destroy your optic nerves. I wouldn't drink it, and I would drink a whole lot of questionable stuff.
posted by bedhead at 8:26 PM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also, I'd totally sell it. Collectors would be into that. (For example, I have a bottle of Prohibition-era Fernet Branca just hanging out on my shelf of weird old stuff.)
posted by bedhead at 8:28 PM on November 13, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks, guys! Since it is suck a small bottle (flask-sized, really) and nowhere near full, there are only a few mouthfuls of whiskey left anyhow so it doesn't seem like there'd be much resale value. I think the plan is to taste a tiny amount, and if it is not disgusting proceed from there. I will report back, assuming I do not go blind.
posted by nonasuch at 10:55 PM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you do go blind, you can always use screen reading software and still report back.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:50 AM on November 14, 2014 [17 favorites]

The prohibition-era hooch that caused blindness was generally home-made or generically bottled by bootleggers. No one went to the trouble and expense of counterfeiting actual bourbon distillers' labels and the federal tax seal.

This bottle of Old Taylor is very probably the real deal. And there's a healthy market for unsullied bottles like this one.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:50 AM on November 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is what old taylor bottle and memorabilia have sold for on ebay recently.

Not an exorbitant amount, but not nothing either.
posted by brookeb at 8:17 AM on November 14, 2014

I'm horrified that you're considering drinking it. Not because it's dangerous, because it's not. But because the value you will get from opening and tasting an 84 year old bottle of medicinal bourbon is so very low compared with the value someone who collects this sort of thing will be willing to offer you.
posted by danny the boy at 2:48 PM on November 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

I would not drink anything bottled during Prohibition. In those days it was quite common to take a good whiskey and cut it with cheap moonshine alcohol before bottling. You cannot identify methyl alcohol by taste and a very small amount of it can do serious damage to you.

I know a guy whose father amassed a truly colossal collection of airline liquor bottles, as in over ten thousand of them, before death ended his hobby. Part of his curation process was to drain them so that the contents would not evaporate and leave stains on the inside of the bottles. (If you know someone who wants to start a little museum I can put you in touch.)
posted by localroger at 6:03 PM on November 14, 2014

Response by poster: Reporting back: We tasted it. No one died or went blind. It apparently tasted like good-but-unusual whiskey with a very weird aftertaste, and was improved by watering down a bit. Thanks, guys!
posted by nonasuch at 12:06 PM on December 17, 2014

« Older The quest of finding an apartment in Minneapolis   |   What is the Food Justice Movement? How do I get... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.