Monday, May 21, 2012


When I’m worried and cannot sleep,
I count my blessings instead of sheep…
 Irving Berlin

Click on any picture to expand for detail.
I will readily admit that I have a rather comfortable relationship with John Barleycorn.  By sixty, one either coexists with moderation or one does not.  Sadly, those who don’t, may not see sixty: think decreasing radius turns. Still, I was a bit surprised when my affinity for moderate amounts of the hard stuff made itself known to the mother of the wife of my best friend and riding buddy.  [We’ll pause here for a moment allowing the reader to sketch the necessary branch of a rather extended family tree.] 

On the occasion of my 60th, said friend treated me to a baseball game at AT&T Park followed by a night’s respite at his beloved mother-in-law’s house before returning home.  She prepared ribs.  Between the rib course and the lemon meringue pie course, a box was placed in front of me.  Attached to it was a note, which I will transcribe in its entirety:

This is a story for the “Story Man”

When a gentleman holding the rank of Captain of the Hillsborough Police Department was recovering from pneumonia in December 1982, Cathy Crosby, wife of the famous crooner Bing Crosby, brought her favorite cop a present.  It was a bottle of Bing’s favorite Bourbon.  Bing, she said, would always have a sip before he “crooned.”  But this was a special bottle, made before prohibition but not legally sold until after, according to the stickers on the bottle.  Bing just kept it in his booze collection and never opened it.  It was 53 years old and starting to evaporate when she gave it to the Captain.  Not being a bourbon drinker himself, the bottle rested, never to be opened.

Years after Bing died, everybody told the Captain he should have the bottle sealed to prevent it from evaporating completely.  That is how it got waxed and sealed.  When the officer died in 1992, he was toasted with his favorite alcoholic beverage, champagne.  For the next 20 years, Bing’s bottle of Bourbon got shoved further and further to the back of the liquor cabinet.  Occasionally the story of the old bottle in the torn box would be told and some smart youngster would say, “Hey Mom!  I bet you could get a bundle for that on E-bay!”  Bing – and the Captain – would roll over.

So here we are today, getting ready to celebrate a storyteller’s 60th birthday.  Who better to carry on the famous “Bottle of Bourbon” story?

Love always,
“Mom” and Captain Ernie

The neck of the bottle peeked above the tattered edge of a box opened and closed many times as the story was told and retold.  The front of the box carried the hooch’s brand “Old Charter,” as well as the name of the distributor “Wright and Taylor.”

Along one side read the words “Fully matured in wood;” along the other: “For medicinal purposes only.”  This was a product of a thirteen-year Constitutional fiasco called Prohibition.  Clear wax covered a foil wrapping further sealing the mouth and a cork that had slightly imploded into the bottle. 

Carefully slipping the package from the package a curious amount of empty space topped the four/fifths full vessel, though the cork had never been pulled.  Original paper labels were still affixed to the bottle as well as the paper tape that banded the wax on its neck.  There were two dates.  One here, “made spring 1917,” one there, “bottled fall 1929.”  Originally, the contents had been aged 12 years.

I set the bottle in front of me and looked at “Mom.”  Crosby had handled this.  It was his brand.  It helped him croon.  Are you sure?  Her eighty-three-year old eyes expressed nothing but delight.  I found myself running through my limited catalog of Crosby songs and settled on lyrics from a tune which had debuted in the 1954 musical “White Christmas.”

The vintage bottle rests in the back of my liquor cabinet, behind the Knob Creek, the Basil Hayden, the Lagavulen and some 18-year-old Macallan.  In five years it will be a hundred.

Between now and then, my riding buddy and I will debate long and hard whether to, if, and if so, how to dispatch its contents.  I lean toward simply parking it in a dark corner of the cabinet and, when the time is right, passing it on to some next generation.

However, I have this comfortable relationship with John Barleycorn – one that, sometimes, nudges me toward less than the most appropriate end.

Resources:  Crosby sings “Counting Your Blessings”:

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. From a reader in Slovenia:

    Call me when you decide to open the bottle. I can be there within 24 hours.

  2. Bakersfield:

    This ain't a bottle of drinking Whiskey, it's a bottle of gifting Whiskey. Pass it on to someone who merits it and can understand my first statement.

  3. Parts unknown:

    If it has evaporated 20% of its volume, Remember most whiskeys start out at 43% alcohol by volume. 86 proof
    That means it has lost 50% of it's alchohol.

    Since it has done this, I have two suggestions.
    1. Chug it before it gets any weaker.
    2. Keep it as a family heirloom.

  4. From Seattle:

    By some accounts, the phrase "bottled in bond" that appears on the label, means among other things that it's 100 proof. Or more - I think the point is not that it's exactly 100 proof, but that it's barrel strength and hasn't been diluted to the usual 80 or so for bottling.

    But among the things that might be of value about this bottle, I imagine the alcohol content is low on the list. It's an interesting, sort of philosophical problem. We know the contents are not stable indefinitely, we know that they won't keep getting better and better indefinitely, and at least my guess would be that it's actually getting worse at this point by any objective standard that would be applied to whiskeys in general. But it could be fine. Could be really fabulous. I think the best course is probably to leave it in that bottle, and savor it in your imagination.

    1. "I think the best course is probably to leave it in that bottle, and savor it in your imagination."

      I think you'[re on to something, Seattle.

  5. Oregon:

    Taste and reseal, otherwise you are preventing the bottles contents from fulfilling it's intended purpose.

  6. Calgary:

    I agree, no value in saving it. Its value is in it's enjoyment and that is what you should do. Though I wouldn't chug it down like cheap swill, save it for occassions that are fitting of its value and have a toast.

    I have a bottle of 30 year single cask Glenfiddich that I enjoy in just such a manner. Though it was a quite expensive bottle (a gift from my wife), it worthless unless enjoyed.

  7. From Montana:

    I suggest opening it and seeing how many small bottles you can get out of the large bottle. You'll need to do some research about doing so in a manner that protects the whiskey, but it is doable I imagine. You could also have a lable made up that reflects the history of the bottle.

    Once you have the small bottles you can enjoy them on special occasions or give them as gifts. Maybe even establish a tontine like agreement with your friends. Give each a bottle. As they leave this world the bottles are consolidated until the last remaining member drinks them all.

    And by the way, whoever wrote that piece in the blog is a very good writer.

    1. Thanks, Montana, for the kind words. I hope you will check into the Church of the Open Road frequently - and when you're out this way? Let's hook up for a ride.

  8. Whiskey isn't like wine. It doesn't get any better spending a lot of time in a glass bottle. Aging is a function of its interaction with the charred oak on the inside of the barrel (it also loses about a third of its original alcohol content through the sides of the barrel). Once bottled, it should pretty much stay the same, unless some of the contents evaporate through the cork. The only really interesting thing about the contents of this bottle is that, if intact, they'd let the drinker know what Old Charter tasted like back in 1929.

  9. From the Bay Area:

    I'd drink a toast to Bing…
    While listening either to his singing (or watching a movie with that) or listening to the even better music of one Salvatore Massaro, aka Blind Willie Dunn, aka Eddie Lang, one of the first modern jazz guitarists. Crosby was a major patron for Lang.

  10. From North Carolina:

    The cork isnt any good anyhow and the bottle is not in "factory" condition since it had several attempts to help seal it up. I would put on your best Crosby album, get a rocks glass and your favorite cigar and give it a try. You can get a new cork from a wine making supply place to close it up with after you try it out. Let us know how it is...

    1. Coincidentally, my daughter is a winemaker (of renown) in California's Russian River - Dry Creek Valley area.

      Good thought, NC.

  11. From Australia:

    Whiskey from the prohibition era? From Bing Crosby's collection? Are you serious?! Wow!!!

    To my mind the story and history is better than the flavour could ever be.

    In high end vintage wine circles - say Grange Hermitage - you can have old wines appraised, topped up with a suitable vintage and resealed for further long term storage. If it was me I'd be seeing if I could do something like that with this wonderful bottle. There must be some old whiskey collectors/conservators out there. Maybe talk to the folks at Old Charter?

    Great story. Thank you.

    1. Thanks, Australia. I hope you will check into other "Church of the Open Road" posts. And when you're in Northern California, we'll need to hook up for a ride.

  12. Massachusetts:

    I have a friend who has a Brough Superior SS-100. He takes it out and rides the piss out of it. He delights in blowing away Vincents. He will gladly tell you that motorcycles are meant to be ridden, not kept pristine in a museum where nobody gets to ride them.

    Whiskey is meant to be tasted. Not kept in a bottle for a century and looked at.

  13. Lousiana:

    The raison d'etre of spirits is to be consumed. Drink the the bottle.

    1. Cannot disagree, Louisiana. Still, this bottle without the liquor...

      I don't know, man...

  14. Australia responds:

    If your buddy lost 10% or more of his Brough every time he tool a little ride I doubt it would be out much!

    The mystique of this Bourbon is that it has passed through these hands over the years and remains intact. That's some history. Prohibition booze - man that's cool!

    It's just an empty bottle that used to have a cool story if it ends up drained!

  15. I've been saving great bottles of bourbon for my son since the day he was born. He's now 18, and in a couple of years, I'll give him the collection. If Bing's bottle was mine, I'd gift it to my son - with instructions for him to pass it on to his heirs. If I didn't have my son to give it to, I'd drink it. Just my two cents!

  16. Its ironic that you have excellent accounts of California riding with a few comments each discuss Whiskey and the world comes out.....maybe the direction of blog should change......I'll drink to that...A sad sight for sober eyes.

  17. From Maine:

    I think you have answered your own question.

    In five years it'll be one hundred..

    There would be nothing else to do with it but find a suitable time and locale, some select colleagues and a few cups.

    It likely has little value beyond the stories and they'll live on long after that bottle is history. There is no provenance.

    Do with it what was intended. And surely, do with it what Bing would have.

  18. I agree that a bottle like this is to be enjoyed. I suggest that you continue to enjoy it and by telling the story and honoring the sentimental value above the contents.

  19. Carolina:

    Whisky is not like wine. Once it is out of the barrel and in the bottle it doesn't "age" any more. What you have is a very old bottle of 18-year-old whisky . . . . with a very cool story. Keep the bottle with the whisky inside of it. Find another bottle of 18-year-old whisky to drink.

  20. New York:

    I have a bottle of Crown Royal with a 1970 tax stamp on it. It was 12 years old when it went in the bottle so that means it was distilled in 1958. The only reason it is still sealed is that it was my grandfather's. When a suitable occasion arises, it will be opened.

  21. Greetings all,

    First a little disclaimer in the interest of fairness: The Church of the Open Road often links posts to a couple of forums which have national and worldwide readers. Many of those readers have read this post and commented. Some of those comments are copied and posted here - in the interests of furthering the discussion.

    Previous posts also garner some commentary, but as in this case, the Church doesn't necessarily copy 'em all here.

    Regarding Bing's bottle of hooch: My riding buddy has a grandson who, in about 20 years, will reach the age of consent. If all goes as planned, the story will be passed forward as will the Old Charter.

    Thanks for everyone's comments. This has been both fun and enlightening.

  22. From Pennsylvania:

    Since the cork has eroded, and evaporation has taken some of the life, a taste could prove fantastic or horrid. With a great story to the bottle and it's contents, from time to time I would be inclined to play a Crosby tune or two, recline, close my eyes, remember the best sip of spirits that ever caressed my vocal chords , multiply that by 100 and smile. Years from now after The Story has been passed, another will do the same. Immortality.

  23. No, no, no,no....don't open it!

  24. Mr. B!
    Great piece. I can't believe I'm just hearing this story now and not from Mom! Marcia and I both love the brown nectar, so should you decide to open it, we'd love to be part of it. Don't forget the ladies like their booze, not just the boys!
    The Captain's granddaughters

    1. I know, right? How did we never hear this? I offered up some of my Pappy 15-year as a plea for him not to open it. And I'd like to humbly request we have the bottle bequeathed to us in any last will and testaments, por favor!

  25. Two things about this bourbon I know, ladies.

    1. I am not worthy, and
    B. It'll be passed forward.

    PS: Uncle Randy and I are all over that Pappy 15. I'll even supply!

  26. Don't be a fool DRINK IT