15 remarkable drinks-related discoveries
100-year-old whisky found in laundry cupboard
Back in May last year, Speyside Scotch producer Glenfarclas confirmed the re-discovery of the oldest known bottle of its whisky in existence, after it was found wrapped in a tea towel at the back of a laundry cupboard.
The 98-year-old bottle of whisky, from 1920, was first given to the manager of the North Lanarkshire Gartloch Distillery, Stephen Dowell, upon its closure in 1920. It was kept by Dowell until 1947, when he passed it onto his daughter. On discovering the bottle wrapped in a tea towel at the back of a laundry cupboard 31 years later, in 1988, she passed it onto Hugh Taylor – her niece’s husband.
The historic bottle had remained in Taylor’s possession ever since, until the family contacted Glenfarclas about the bottle last year.
The bottle of ‘Glenfarclas-Glenlivet Pure Malt Whisky’ was brought back to the Speyside distillery in April, where it was inspected by John Grant, the grandson of the distillery’s founder and chairman of the board, who confirmed the belief that it is the oldest unopened bottle of Glenfarclas in existence.
“A number of features on the bottle meant he had absolutely no doubt about it’s authenticity,” a release said. “In an age when a number of bottles purportedly from that time are turning out to be counterfeit, this one is definitely the real deal.”
Pol Roger unearths Champagne from 1890s
In February 2018, Pol Roger unearthed bottles of its Champagne from the nineteenth century which had been buried beneath its facilities in Epernay for the past 118 years.
According to a story published by L’Union , cellar master of Pol Roger, Dominique Petit, discovered 22 in-tact bottles of Champagne believed to be from the 1898 vintage in a sealed-off cellar.
Pol Roger was aware that there could be bottles from the nineteenth century buried beneath its facilities, and, using sonar technology, subsequently detected a cavity beneath its site on the Avenue de Champagne in Epernay.
The bottles were trapped in February 1900, when, after heavy rains in Champagne, Pol Roger’s cellar on the Avenue de Champagne in Epernay caved in, bringing down both levels of its facility, and destroying as well as burying the equivalent of two million bottles of Champagne – barrels of wine were lost as well as bottles.
Remains of Samuel Taylor Coleridge rediscovered in wine cellar
In one of the slightly more bizarre drinks discoveries, the remains of celebrated poet, critic and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge were rediscovered in a former wine cellar in north London last year. As the years went by, the wine cellar had become incorporated into the crypt of a nearby church.
Part of the crypt was once the wine cellar of the now demolished mansion Ashhurst House, and the crypt remains half-full of rubble from the demolition. The church, which was built in 1831, now plans to clear the rubble from the crypt and restore it.
According to a report in The Guardian the remains of Coleridge as well as those of his wife Sara, his daughter, also called Sara, his son-in-law and grandson were all rediscovered in the crypt of St Michael’s church in Highgate.
“It has been said that you could see it as appropriate [that Coleridge’s coffin was left in an old wine cellar], but it is not in a very fitting state for him, and the family would support the plans to improve it,” said Richard Coleridge, the poet’s great-great-great-grandson, a police officer based in Newham.
“From a safety point of view it would be quite impossible to bring members of the public down here. But we hope that the whole crypt can be cleared as a space for meetings and other uses, which would also allow access to Coleridge’s cellar. I don’t think we would open up a view of the coffins, but we could place a suitable inscription on the wall,” vicar Kunle Ayodeji told The Guardian.
Coleridge’s body was originally buried in a vault in Highgate churchyard on 2 August 1834. The vault fell into disrepair after it became incorporated into the new chapel for Highgate School, and Coleridge’s body was moved in 1961 and reinterred in St Michael’s Church.
Over the years, however, the exact location of his coffin, and those of his family, was forgotten. It was not until a recent excavation which revealed the entrance to the wine vault that Coleridge’s lead coffin was rediscovered.
Whisky found stashed on warship after 35 years
In 2017, a small bottle of Canadian whisky that was hidden on an Australian warship for 35 years, was discovered inside the ship’s mast.
The miniature of six-year-old MacNaughton Canadian Whisky, wrapped in insulation tape, was apparently hidden inside the forward starboard leg of the main mast of HMAS Sydney by the team that built her at the Todd Pacific Shipyards in Seattle in 1982. The date, 10 April 1982 was also scribbled on the label.
The little bottle then went undiscovered for 35 years while Sydney sailed the seas, completing two round-the-world voyages in addition to other operations.
The Adelaide-class frigate was decommissioned in 2015 and towed to Henderson near Perth in May of this year to be scrapped.
Earlier this month however, a former employee of Todd who had built Sydney got in touch with Birdon – the company that has been charged with breaking up the vessel – to tell them the secret. Cutting away a section of the mast soon revealed the hidden spirit and it was brought out of its metal cocoon.
Despite the lure of sampling the whisky themselves, the disposal team, Birdon, resisted temptation and, as suggested by the drinks business, presented the bottle and an American silver dollar coin, also found on board, to the Australian Navy Heritage Museum in Sydney.
Scientists discover cause of death after studying Frédéric Chopin’s Cognac-pickled heart
Also in 2017, scientists made use of the preserving powers of alcohol, determining the cause of death of celebrated composer Frédéric Chopin after being granted rare access to his heart that has been preserved in a jar of Cognac.
Chopin, who died at the age of 39, was a prolific, 19th century Polish composer who primarily wrote works for the piano. When he passed away in October 1849, it was thought he had died from tuberculosis.
The composer requested that his body should be cut open after his death and his heart taken out and transported from Paris back to his native Poland.
An autopsy was duly carried out and his body was buried in Paris in the Père Lachaise cemetery, also home to the graves of artist Eugène Delacroix, singer Édith Piaf, playwright and actor Molière and novelist Marcel Proust.
It is thought his eldest sister, Ludwika Jędrzejewicz, complied with his wishes, smuggling his heart out of the country in a jar filled with what appears to be Cognac, and interring it in a church pillar in Warsaw.
During the Warsaw uprising in 1944, his heart was removed by the Nazis and given to the S.S. officer Heinz Reinefarth. It was subsequently returned to the Church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw in 1945, where it remained until it was secretly exhumed in 2014. Photos were then taken of the heart.
In a study published in the American Journal of Medicine, scientists discovered Chopin’s cause of death after examining photos of his heart.
They observed that the heart was “massively enlarged and floppy” and coated with white fibrous materials giving it a “frosted appearance” with small lesions across its surface. This led the team to conclude that the revered composer died of pericarditis, an inflammation of tissue around the heart, which was likely caused by his pre-existing tuberculosis.
Wine found hidden in Czech castle since 1800s
In 1985, 130 bottles of 19th century wines were found hidden under the floorboards of a Czech castle. Sommeliers were finally given the chance to taste them three decades later in 2016.
The stash was hidden in the castle in Becov towards the end of World War II by its then owners, the Beaufort-Spontin family, to keep them safe from plundering soldiers, as reported by Reuters.
The wines, which date back to the 1880s, were discovered in 1985 – 40 years after being hidden. Among the collection are Chateau d’Yquem vintages from 1892 – valued at up to 750,000 crowns ($31,000) per bottle – and 1896. Also in the collection was a bottle of Corton Charlemagne 1892 and Porto 1862, with the majority of the wines from the 1892 to 1899 vintages.
The collection has remained untouched, under the possession of the Czech authorities, until 2016. Using a Coravin, Czech authorities invited sommeliers to test the bottles for their value.
Speaking to Reuters, Andreas Wickhoff MW and sommelier said the group was “thrilled” and “surprised” by the condition of the wines. “There was no, no sign of oxidation, the wines were in very, very stable condition.”
Some of the bottles are said to be worth over $30,000 with early estimates placing the value of the entire collection at over $1.2 million.
Restaurant finds stash of Latour under secret trap door
Builders working on a Giggling Squid restaurant in Windsor in 2017 uncovered a stash fine wine, including bottles from Château Latour, Château Rebouquet la Roquette and a Château de Montrabech, worth around £20,000.
The builders uncovered a trap door and hidden staircase to a cellar, which was filled with 2ft of water, as reported by The Times.
Inside, they found cases of unopened wine bottles and stock-taking notes dating from 1980. Among the selection of wines was a Château Rebouquet la Roquette from 1970, a Château de Montrabech from 1976, as well as several bottles of Château Latour.
Before the restaurant was taken over by the the Giggling Squid a rapidly expanding chain of Thai restaurants, it was a Bella Italia restaurant a Pizzaland and a Zizzi’s, who all missed out on making the discovery.
Prior to this it was owned by an Italian restaurateur, Peppino Battocchi, who named it Don Peppino’s and owned the restaurant until the early 1980s.
Stock taking notes found in the cellar date from 1980 and the wines are of the late ’70s vintage, which would suggest that the collection of wines belonged to Mr Battocchi.
Battocchi closed Don Peppino’s in the 1980s to concentrate on La Taverna, another of his restaurants in Windsor, which closed in 2014 after 52 years in business, according to reports in the Windsor and Eton Express.
Battocchi, who would now be aged 84, is yet to come forward to shed any light on the discovery of wines, but is known to have retired in 2014.
Degas sculptures found to be filled with wine corks
In 2017, scientists shed further light on wine’s involvement with the art scene, having discovered that three 19th century wax sculptures by French Impressionist artist Edgar Degas are padded out with corks.
As reported by AOL.com, the discovery was made when the scientists fired X-ray beams at the three sculptures at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.
Degas apparently bent wire into his desired pose for his nude dancer sculptures then bulked them out using things he found in his studio, such as wine corks.
The three sculptures in question, Degas’s only wax sculptures in the UK, are called Dancer Bowing, Dancer With A Tambourine and Arabesque Over Right Leg, Left Arm In Front.
The findings confirm that both Degas’ sculpting methods and the materials he used were “highly unorthodox” and “unconventional” for the time.
The trio were made by the artist in the 1880s from beeswax over commercially produced shop-bought iron armatures that he fixed to offcuts of wood
Rare stash of Madeira discovered by US museum
Two years ago, a US museum discovered a stash of Madeira wines dating back to the late 1700s, making them almost as old as the country they were found in.
Staff at the Liberty Hall Museum at Kean University in New Jersey found three cases of Madeira wine from 1796 and 42 demijohns from the 1820s while working on a six-month restoration project of its wine cellar, reported NJ.com.
The museum believes it to be the largest known collection in the US, and one of the most extensive in the world.
It is thought to be the largest collection of old Madeira wines discovered in the US, with many of the bottles thought to have been shipped to the early residents of Liberty Hall, once home to the Livingston and Kean families, ahead of John Adams’ presidency.
“We knew there was a lot of liquor down here, but we had no idea as to the age of it,” Liberty Hall president John Kean told NJ.com. “I think the most exciting part of it was to find liquor, or Madeira in this case, that goes back so far. And then trying to trace why it was here and who owned it.”
Bollinger finds 600 hidden cuvées
In 2010 Bollinger staff were clearing out their cellars in Aÿ when a rack of wines was removed from a darkened arch. Behind it the team was astonished to find a hidden room which had remained untouched and hidden for decades, containing around 600 cuvées. The youngest was from the 1939 vintage, the beginning of World War II, and the oldest from 1830.
It is believed that the bottles were stashed in secret at the beginning of World War II to avoid German pillaging, with the location, for whatever reason, never passed on to future staff.
In November 2016, the Champagne house decided to auction one of the bottles from the 1914 vintage. Historically, the 1914 vintage is significant as it was the year that World War I was declared by Germany. By the September harvest in September, many men were already on the battlefields, leaving the women to tend harvest and vinify the wines.
The lot, which also included a trip to the Champagne house’s cellars to visit its Galerie 1829 Champagne library, went for US$12,250.
WWII tank found at Denbies Wine Estate
From war time wine to something a bit more military. In 2017, English wine estate Denbies discovered a rather more unusual element of its terroir in the shape of an old tank from the Second World War.
An exploratory dig at the Surrey vineyard had revealed the location of the long-buried armoured vehicle and the whole thing was excavated on 23 May.
It took the whole day to bring the tank out of its chalky tomb and it was displayed at Denbies vineyard for two months before being taken away to be fully restored by a team led by WW2 enthusiast Rick Wedlock.
The tank itself is a ‘Covenanter’, a type of light cruiser tank that was the mainstay of the British army in the early years of the war.
WW1 wine to be salvaged from UK shipwreck
War time wine is also the subject of a recent rescue mission. This week, we reported that an expedition is underway to salvage 50 bottles of wine and/or spirits from a British ship torpedoed off the coast of Cornwall in 1918.
Organised by Cookson Adventures with the aid of various maritime and archaeological entities, the expedition will survey the wreck further and then attempt to salvage around 50 bottles potentially worth several million pounds.
The ship in question was a British cargo ship sailing from Bordeaux to the UK with a cargo of wine when it was torpedoed by a German U-boat in 1918.
Several of the bottles will be ‘accessed’ with Coravin upon recovery to determine their potability and then it seems likely several will be sent to the University of Dijon for further testing and the National Maritime Museum of Cornwall in Falmouth has apparently expressed an interest in housing some in its collection.
Builders find seven bottles of 113-year-old beer under floorboards
In another find uncovered by builders, seven bottles of 113-year-old beer were found under floorboards in the city of Viborg in Denmark in a building which once housed the Odin Brewery.
Founded in 1832, Odin Brewery was later closed in 1988, and at the time was Denmark’s oldest brewery, according to The Copenhagen Post.
Construction workers renovating the building were shocked to discover seven, unopened bottles of beer dating to 1906, stowed inside a wooden box beneath the floorboards.
Speaking to DR Nyheder, Ersted Møller, a curator at the Viborg Museum, said: “The bottles are in exquisite condition with corks and labels intact. It looks like an entire palette of beer from back then. We have bottles from the Odin Brewery at the museum, but none with any content. I’ve spoken with beer experts who estimate that Odin beer from 1906 is very rare.”
“It could be fun to know what a Viborg beer tasted like back in 1906. Odin is a large part of Viborg’s history, and finding these beers is a fascinating prospect that shouldn’t be ignored.”
The news site later revealed that unfortunately, two of the corks had perished and the beer had evaporated, but the five remaining bottles remained full and in good condition.
Accompanying the beers was a note, handwritten by the then head brewer, CE Pehrsson. Dated 20 March 1906, it read: “The old floor was removed by master carpenter Niels Nielsen and a new floor was added. As we don’t know how long this floor will last, these words and some bottles of beer we brew these days will be put under the floor.
Oldest message in a bottle found in Australia once contained gin
A nineteenth century Dutch gin bottle containing a scrolled note, dated 12 June 1886, was found by an Australian family on a remote beach on Wedge Island last year.
Tonya Illman made the discovery while walking on a beach on Wedge Island in Western Australia on 21 January this year. After noticing the glass bottle half sticking out of the sand, she picked it up, intending to display it in her home.
The bottle, which had no lid or closure, was found to contain a damp scroll, tied with twine and measuring 200mm x 153mm, which the family initially thought was a rolled up cigarette. After removing it from the bottle, the family dried it in the oven so that the were able to unroll and read it without damaging the paper.
After the ink properly dried out, it became clear that the message in the bottle, written in German, had originally been on board a ship by the name of Paula.
The team at the WA Museum found that the bottle was made by Daniel Visser and Zonen in Schiedam and is believed to have originally contained gin, or genever – the original juniper-flavoured spirit from which today’s gin originates.
Dutch archeologist, J. van Doesburg, contacted by the WA Maritime Museum stated: “The starting point of production of this specific type of gin bottle is c 1880 (typical tapered shape of the rim). The oldest ones are quite angular, just as older types. The later ones have a more rounded shoulder. The development from angular to round takes about 20-30 years and is gradual. Your bottle should be placed somewhere in this development”.
This makes the find the “oldest message in a bottle” by over 23 years.
150-year-old shipwreck beer returns to Scotland
Believed to be one of the oldest British beers in existence, the ancient brew was discovered by Australian diver Jim Anderson off the coast of Melbourne in the 1970s, close to where the ill-fated clipper, The Light of The Age, run aground in 1868 on a voyage from Liverpool.
The bottle of stout, produced in Glasgow by Tennent’s brewery, has now returned to Scotland, becoming a key attraction in The Tennent’s Story, a new £1m visitor centre experience.
“To think that this is possibly the oldest bottle of beer in Scotland is something I find difficult to comprehend,” said Anderson, a member of the Geelong Skindivers Club in Australia.
“It has been on the other side of the world for so long, and now it’s home again 150 years later. It’s lovely to think that something I found is such a significant part of Scottish history. I’m thrilled to bits to see it here.
“The world was a very different place when it started out on its journey from Wellpark to Geelong. Melbourne was only a small town. Both it and Geelong, where I was born, were only just over 30 years old.
“This little bottle is a reminder of the historic connection between Australia and Scotland, too. I hope people enjoy seeing it and think about those days and the distance it travelled before I found it. It has come home and brought me with it.”