Man charged with drinking $102,000 worth of pre-Prohibition whiskey held for court

Published On: Jul 18 2013 04:31:35 AM HST

Hidden behind a basement staircase at a Westmoreland County mansion was a secret stash of liquid gold: Old Farm Pure Rye Whiskey.

Distilled in 1912 and delivered to industrialist J.P. Brennan in 1917, 104 bottles of the West Overton Distilling Company's whiskey collected dust until their discovery recently.

Homeowner Patricia Hill surmised Brennan hid the whiskey during Prohibition. Hill purchased the South Broadway mansion from Brennan's daughter at auction in 1986. Since then, Hill has been remodeling the mansion and filling it with antiques in order to open a bed and breakfast, which she did in December 2012.

"The whiskey was buried right back here under these stairs. They were doing renovations down here for the plumbing and electrical and they had to rip out underneath the stairs. Whenever they did, they discovered nine cases of the Old Farm Pure Rye Whiskey," said South Broadway Manor's chef and innkeeper, Rick Bruckner. "The story with this isn't just, 'Hey, we have some really old whiskey.' It's, 'Hey, we have some really old, historical whiskey.'"

Bruckner explained Brennan was acquainted with Henry Frick and Andrew Carnegie, among other important Pittsburghers during the early 1900s. He said the men would come over to the mansion and likely drank this whiskey.

Hill had rented the basement apartment to John Saunders, 62, who will head to trial on charges he consumed 52 bottles of the historic whiskey. District Judge Chuck Moore held Saunders for trial on a felony theft charge and a charge of receiving stolen property. (Photos: Man charged with drinking 52 bottles of historic whiskey)

"The DNA doesn't lie. I'm just disappointed a family friend of over 40 years has lied," Hill said after testifying against Saunders. "It's a shame it took historic whiskey to realize and come to this point, but if it saved his life, maybe that's the best of it all."

In a criminal complaint, Scottdale Police Chief Barry Pritts wrote Saunders denied drinking the whiskey or removing labels from the bottles. Saunders reportedly told police he moved the cases to clean them several times but never opened any of the bottles.

"Saunders said that the whiskey probably evaporated and being that old, it was probably no good," Pritts wrote.

A search warrant was issued for Saunders' DNA sample. Pritts reported the sample matched the DNA profile obtained from three of the whiskey bottles.

A whiskey appraiser in New York City said the retail value of the missing whiskey is around $102,400. Pritts requested restitution in the amount of the full retail value.

Attorneys agreed Wednesday that further expert testimony and evidence will have to be heard to determine the exact retail value of the whiskey.

Photos: Man charged with drinking 52 bottles of historic whiskey


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