Nine Great Whisky Heists and Hijinks
The whisky world has had its fair share of crime. During American Prohibition, people had to get, let’s say, legally creative, to get their hands on some whisky.
But since then, whisky gangsters, chancers and petty thieves have gone to great lengths to get their hands on a bottle of the good stuff — and make a buck while they’re at it.
As it happens, high-priced whisky really lends itself to the perfect crime. Bottles are small and portable, and an extremely high-end bottle of Scotch can be worth tens of thousands of dollars. Plus, there’s a red-hot black market for special bottles.
Of course, we here at the Club in no way condone such skulduggery. And please whisky lovers, don’t try this at home.
Here’s a list of nine remarkable whisky thefts and hijinks from across the globe.
1. A Lorry Load of Trouble: Whisky Receipt Thwarts £3m Heroin Shipment
Edmundas Bruzas of Arklow, Ireland denied any knowledge of £3m worth of heroin in his lorry when he was questioned by Border Force officers last week at the Port of Immingham, Lincolnshir.
Bruzas said, as far as he knew, he was only carrying strawberries bound for Ireland. And the heroin? Well, he said there was no heroin when the cargo was loaded into the lorry in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
But Bruzas’ love of whisky was his ultimate undoing.
Officials found a receipt for a bottle of whisky he’d bought next to the 60 tape-wrapped blocks of heroin.
"It was impossible for Bruzas not to know his cab had heroin in it," said National Crime Agency (NCA) operations manager Carl Barrass.
Bruzas knew the gig was up and admitted his guilt.
So, that leaves one question that you’re all aching to know: what was the bottle of whisky? A bottle of Grant's Triple Wood Scotch Whisky.
Bruzas was sentenced to 12 years and six months in prison.
This case is infamous. In mid-2013, Buffalo Trace reported more than 200 bottles of 20-year-old Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon and 13-year-old Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye — worth tens of thousands of dollars — had disappeared from the distillery over the years.
The distillery launched an investigation to get to the bottom of the missing booze. But no luck.
The following year, an anonymous tipster exposed a long-term employee who had been taking advantage of lax security measures in two big Kentucky distilleries: Buffalo Trace and Wild Turkey.
The employee masterminded a ring and was stealing loads of whisky and reselling it through a network of local connections.
The thieves took in more than $US100,000 worth over five years. The kingpin wasn’t just stealing bottles and cases of whiskey from Buffalo Trace; he was casually driving away with entire barrels of the stuff and then selling those full bourbon barrels to collectors — brazen or what!
In both cases, their activities went undetected for years — mainly because of a lax inventory system. And, both companies almost expected employees to pocket some booze as a normal part of business.
No doubt Wild Turkey and Buffalo Trace tightened ship in the wake of the scandal.
3. Glenglassaugh Gift Shop Heist
Gift shops are big targets for theft, because they often have some rare bottles on hand, and they may actually be less stringently guarded than your average bottle shop.
The people at Speyside Scotch distillery Glenglassaugh found that out the hard way in 2014, when an overnight raid netted more than £10,000 in whisky from its visitor centre in Aberdeenshire, on the edge of the North Sea.
The thieves swiped bottles of 37-year-old and 40-year-old Glenglassaugh whiskies. Apparently, fans of the distillery, they also lifted branded shirts and other Glenglassaugh merchandise.
They were never caught.
4. Walking Out With a 50-Year Glenfiddich
In 2013 a man walked into a busy Toronto liquor store, dressed in a brown trench coat and walked over to a locked display case. He jemmied the case open and helped himself to a bottle of 50-year-old Glenfiddich Single Malt - one of only 50 in the world and valued at $26,000.
He put the bottle in his trench coat, grabbed a cheap bottle of wine, and paid for his wine at the register. He left the store with his wine and his $26,000 prize, and no one noticed a thing.
5. Balvenie 50-Year Robbery
In 2015 a man barged into a Montreal store on a weekday morning, “possibly” armed with a handgun according to police, and demanded an extremely rare bottle of 1962 Balvenie single malt Scotch.
The robber had exceptionally good taste—that Balvenie is one of only 88 bottles ever made, and in 2021 fewer than 50 are thought to exist in the world. That one bottle alone is valued at $50,000 or more.
Fortunately, no one was hurt. The criminal was never caught and the bottle never recovered.
6. The South African Jack Daniel's Heist
In South Africa in 2018 a gang of six thieves managed to hijack an entire delivery truck full of Jack Daniels by posing as police officers and fitting their vehicle with blue flashing lights.
Under the guise of a police stop, they pulled over the truck and hijacked it, making off with a massive quantity of Tennessee whiskey valued at roughly $240,000. Wow.
The culprits were caught but only a portion of the stolen Jack was recovered.
7. A Group Effort Scotch Theft in New Jersey
Another broad daylight bottle shop theft, this time in New Jersey in 2017, and a little more sophisticated.
Four men kept store employees occupied while others blocked the line of sight of potential witnesses while one of the gang broke into a glass case containing big-ticket items.
They stole a bottle of Tullibardine 1952 valued at $US28,000 and a 50-year-old Highland Park worth $US22,000.
There’s reason to believe, however, that they may not have been experts, as they also swiped a $US68 bottle while missing a $US42,000 bottle in the same case.
8. La Maison du Whisky Heist
This heist holds the record for the most expensive heist in history. In 2017, Paris’s famed La Maison du Whisky, a temple of rare and vintage bottles, was hit in an overnight robbery.
The store’s most expensive bottles were targeted.
The two thieves were after luxe bottles of vintage Japanese whisky and nabbed 69 bottles worth a whopping $US800,000.
One of the bottles was the Karuizawa 1960, known as “The Squirrel,” one of only 41 known bottles from a now-defunct Japanese distillery. That bottle alone was valued by the French press at $US230,000.
The case was never solved.
9. The Caretaker Who Guzzled Century-Old Whiskey
This is a case of a guy who just really seemed to enjoy drinking whisky that he shouldn’t have been drinking — more than 50 bottles of perfectly preserved pre-Prohibition whiskey, to be precise.
A cache of about 100 bottles was discovered in the walls of a Pennsylvania mansion in 2012 - a pre-Prohibition brand called Old Farm Pure Rye Whiskey, bottled in 1912.
The bottles were subsequently valued at as much as $US100,000, not primarily for the quality of the whiskey but for their historical significance.
The home’s owner trusted the bottles to a friend who was hired to renovate the house - John Saunders.
The owner checked on the bottles a year later and half were missing.
Saunders was the only person with knowledge of the bottles and their location. He denied drinking them, but DNA testing matched Saunders’ DNA to samples found on the lips of several of the bottles.
Ultimately, Saunders was arrested in conjunction with the missing whisky, but he passed away of natural causes before he was able to stand trial.