Village of Ames homeowners Patrick Bakker and Nick Drummond heard rumors that their house was once owned by a local bootlegger. While the story was always interesting, it remained just lore until recently, when, while working on their home, the couple discovered several hidden caches of oddly bundled whiskey bottles dating to 1923.
About a week ago, Drummond was repairing trim below a mudroom at the rear of the house. Removing a board from the mudroom’s foundation to install installation, he found that the slab he pried off had a bottom: “Which is weird,” he explained, because that’s typical of a wall — not of a crawlspace.
In the moment, “I didn’t think much of it and kept prying them off,” Drummond said.
“And then, the first package fell out and I didn’t know exactly what it was.”
Simple home repairs suddenly turned into an unexpected excavation, with Bakker and Drummond uncovering a hidden space containing seven bundles of whiskey bottles dating back almost 100 years. Each bundle, said Drummond, “was perfectly sized for the wall.”
The space, “fit all of the packages absolutely perfectly.”
Each bundle — wrapped in tattered brown paper and tied with string — contained six bottles of whiskey. Every bottle was wrapped in straw and paper, labeled “Old Smuggler” Gaelic Whiskey of the Stirling Bonding Company.
The bottles, signed with the name R.M. Clark, are dated Oct. 23, 1923. A back label on each indicates that they contained spirits of “a high degree of purity,” possessed of “excellent quality and flavour” and featuring the characteristic of “maturity.”
Down the hatch
Upon discovering the first seven bundles, Bakker and Drummond continued to explore underneath the mudroom, which has remained unfinished for the home’s life.
“When we bought the house we saw a hatch in the floor but we really didn’t think much of it,” Drummond said, noting that he and Bakker assumed the hatch simply provided crawlspace access.
“After finding that,” said Drummond of the first seven packages, “we decided to go into the hatch.”
The first strange discovery was an apparent lack of floor joists. “Normally, when you go under an unfinished mudroom, you’d see floor joists,” said Drummond, explaining that the surface underneath the floorboards was solid. “There were boards nailed to the floor joists and then there were flathead screws everywhere,” he said.
“For them to use flathead screws at the time for something like that is extremely unusual. It’s expensive, it’s annoying and it just wouldn’t have been done. They would’ve nailed it,” Drummond said, adding of the hidden space, “The only reason they would’ve used flathead screws is if they wanted to get to it again.”
Drummond said that he and Bakker, at that point, “put two and two together,” and thought “there’s whiskey in the floor!”
After prying the ends off two joists, they discovered more bundles, with Drummond noting that there are still two spaces to explore which likely contain additional packages.
When Drummond and Bakker bought their Ames home, the previous owners informed them that the house was once owned by a German bootlegger, pointing out that they had found empty bottles in the attic.
“We thought it was just a cute story,” Drummond added of the supposedly childless smuggler, who is also rumored to have been a baron. If the rumored story turns out to be true, Drummond joked that it would make the past homeowner “a barren baron who smuggled Old Smuggler.”
Drummond’s background is in preservation, so his initial instinct was not to unwrap the bundles, some of which likely contain empty bottles — assumed because of their lighter weight — with others obviously still containing whiskey.
Drummond and Bakker think some whiskey survived because those bottles were stored upside down — their corks remaining wet — while others were stored in a way that allowed the liquid inside to evaporate.
Now, Bakker and Drummond are determined to find out more about their home’s history. One of their goals is to uncover details about how the whiskey ended up in hidden spaces under the mudroom. Soon they hope to peruse Montgomery County’s historical archives, potentially also seeking out and speaking with a Prohibition-era historian.
While Bakker and Drummond are uncertain about the future of the bundles and bottles — with both hoping to one day possibly taste the aged alcohol they discovered — Drummond noted that a goal would be to someday install a glass panel in the floor under which to display the packages, returning them to, and providing a new view into, the hidden space they called home for nearly a century.