Arts & Entertainment

Dowd on Drinks: Readers Sometimes Set Daunting Tasks

Letters from readers aren't restricted to quick comments or arguments.

Frequently, they offer a challenge.

While I sometimes have to pass the buck — no one, after all, can answer all beverage questions with confidence even if one's ego comes in a giant cocktail glass — I usually find that the research needed to respond makes the task pleasurable. I learn as much as my readers.

One recent inquiry sent me on a loop from memories of drinking 7&7's(Seagram's 7 whisky with 7-Up) as a beginning imbiber to reading story after story about ownership changes and brand modifications in the adult beverage industry to more recently learning about the soaring prices paid at auction for vintage liquors. Here it is.

Hello Mr. Dowd:

I hope you can help me. My 92-year-old father passed away in 2005, leaving behind at least seven unopened bottles, some in original boxes, of Seagram's VO ('55, '49, '56, '48), Vat 69 (undated), Dawson's "Special" Blended Scotch Whiskey (undated), and a 1952 Chivas Regal 12 year old Scotch Whiskey, Blended, in original box (dated 1952 by my father). The liquor was always kept in boxes in a dark closet, never exposed to temperature extremes.

My husband and I do not drink hard liquor, so we really have no use for this. Is there a market for dad's collection? Can you possibly steer me in the direction of who … may be interested in purchasing old liquor? Any assistance you can give me would be very much appreciated.

P.S. I am looking at a copy of an article entitled "$2,000 sip of Scotch almost too grand for words" you wrote on April 13, 2005, the day my dad passed away.

— Jane Nathan, Champaign, Ill.

Dear Jane:

That's quite a collection. A pity you and your husband don't enjoy such beverages. It reminds me of the quote usually attributed to Frank Sinatra:

"I feel sorry for people who don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day."

But, back to your inquiry. Selling whiskey is dicey because most, if not all, state laws prohibit such transactions without proper licensing.

You'll undoubtedly need some sort of middleman who is authorized to do such work.

I don't know precisely how much any of your bottles may be, particularly the blended whiskies since they are virtually the same from year to year and, thus, have no particular "vintage." Also, label design modifications could affect the value of any bottles you may have.

Seagram's Canadian whisky, for example, has undergone a number of changes over the years.

Its V.O. was introduced in 1913, but the meaning of the initials was not documented, according to a company historian. Family tradition says it means "Very Own."

In 1940, Canadian Gov. Gen. Lord Athlone granted a warrant for "V.O." and his coat of arms was added to the label. The same year the company's racing stable colors, black and gold, were added to the label as a ribbon.

That lasted until 1994 when the colors were changed to burgundy and gold, and in August 1996 the ribbon was dropped from the design.

Getting a precise genealogy on Seagram's products is difficult because the company has undergone so many ownership and licensing changes in recent years. Pernod Ricard purchased the Seagram's drinks line in 2000. The brand name now exists in such Pernod products as Chivas Regal "Seagram's Gin" and "Seagram's Coolers," in the Diageo product Seagram's Seven Crown and in The Coca-Cola Co.'s Seagram's mixers line.

The Dawson's you mention is on the lower end of that distiller's price scale, but bottles dated in the 1970s and still available on the market are worth about $105. Given the average age of the bottles in your collection, the value probably is in that range.

The Chivas might do well for you. A bottle like the one you describe went up at a suggested bidding range of 150-200 British pounds sterling in a 2004 rare whiskey auction in England and there was only a single bottle of it available. That range translates to $295 to $395 in today's currency.

Good luck in your hunt.


              (William M. Dowd covers the beverage world at


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