5 Ways to Go Broke Getting Drunk

Being something of a middlebrow Scotch aficionado myself (if you're in the LA area, join the club!), I know something about spending money on liquor. When you first develop a taste for the stuff and start building a little home collection, you feel OK about anything that doesn't come in a plastic bottle. But it doesn't take long for your palate to graduate from bottom-shelf 10-year-olds to the older stuff, and that's when your little hobby can become a big pain! Absurdly old and rare wines have been sought after by collectors for a long time, but rare liquors -- and especially rare whiskies -- have only come into vogue in the last decade or so. As a result of this new market, we're now starting to see distillers release breathtakingly expensive bottles in excess of 30 and 40 years old. If you want to go broke getting drunk, now's probably the best time in the history of whisky to do it. Here are five of the best ways to do it.

1. $75,000 - The Macallan Fine and Rare Collection, 1926, 62 Years Old

Whiskies this old were almost unheard of until recently, and now they're making headlines. Macallan being probably the best-known "quality" single malt Scotch in the world (Johnnie Walker is blended), it's no surprise that they would take the prize for the highest pricetag. The oldest and rare of Macallan's super-elite, 10,000-bottle "Fine and Rare" Collection, this particular bottle was originally listed for a mere $38,000, but after a bidding war a South Korean businessman ponied up the $75k. Those interested in tasting this rarest of the rare should head to Atlantic City, where the Borgata Hotel's Old Homestead Steakhouse sells it for a dizzying $3,300 per shot.

2. $11,995 - Macallan Fine and Rare Collection, 1939, 40 Years Old

The distinction for "oldest whisky you can still buy" also goes to Macallan, who describes this WWII-vintage dram as having "powerful wood flavors." After 40 years in an oak barrel, I'd be shocked if it didn't taste like old furniture! But those of you clamoring to spend what granny left you in one go, and cop a pleasant buzz whilst doing it, can order some here.

3. $160,000 - Chateau Lafite 1787

TJ.jpgOK, this is wine (is my bias showing?) but it's worth mentioning if only for historical interest. Unlike the whiskies mentioned here, this price refers not to a particular release of bottles belonging to one vintage, but to one bottle in particular. The wine inside it has probably long since turned to vinegar, but it's the bottle's former owner, and his historical significance, which makes the 1787 sought after. Handy with a pen, this particular owner labeled the bottle himself, and even scratched his initials underneath -- "Th. J." We'll give you a hint: he was one of the USA's founding fathers. (C'mon, people.)

4. $48,000 - Glenfiddich Rare Collection 1937

6 of the most expensive bottles of whisky ever -- sure to be considered chump change soon -- aren't available in Scotland. To find them, you'll have to head east, to the duty-free shop at Hong Kong's Chep Lap Kok Airport. That's right -- and if you're flying to the USA afterward, you may just have to stow it with your checked baggage and cross your fingers.

5. $58,000 - Dalmore 62 Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky

dalmore.JPGThe story here isn't so much about the whisky itself as much as its sale -- only 12 bottles were produced in 1942, one of which was sold in 2005 to a businessman in a London Hotel, who uncorked and finished it on the spot with five lucky friends. (Bitterness and envy proceeded to rock the Scotch world.) Here's hoping he used the company card.

Begins and Ends: European Cities
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
New Program Trains Dogs to Sniff Out Art Smugglers
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Soon, the dogs you see sniffing out contraband at airports may not be searching for drugs or smuggled Spanish ham. They might be looking for stolen treasures.

K-9 Artifact Finders, a new collaboration between New Hampshire-based cultural heritage law firm Red Arch and the University of Pennsylvania, is training dogs to root out stolen antiquities looted from archaeological sites and museums. The dogs would be stopping them at borders before the items can be sold elsewhere on the black market.

The illegal antiquities trade nets more than $3 billion per year around the world, and trafficking hits countries dealing with ongoing conflict, like Syria and Iraq today, particularly hard. By one estimate, around half a million artifacts were stolen from museums and archaeological sites throughout Iraq between 2003 and 2005 alone. (Famously, the craft-supply chain Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 for buying thousands of ancient artifacts looted from Iraq.) In Syria, the Islamic State has been known to loot and sell ancient artifacts including statues, jewelry, and art to fund its operations.

But the problem spans across the world. Between 2007 and 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Control discovered more than 7800 cultural artifacts in the U.S. looted from 30 different countries.

A yellow Lab sniffs a metal cage designed to train dogs on scent detection.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

K-9 Artifact Finders is the brainchild of Rick St. Hilaire, the executive director of Red Arch. His non-profit firm researches cultural heritage property law and preservation policy, including studying archaeological site looting and antiquities trafficking. Back in 2015, St. Hilaire was reading an article about a working dog trained to sniff out electronics that was able to find USB drives, SD cards, and other data storage devices. He wondered, if dogs could be trained to identify the scents of inorganic materials that make up electronics, could they be trained to sniff out ancient pottery?

To find out, St. Hilaire tells Mental Floss, he contacted the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, a research and training center for detection dogs. In December 2017, Red Arch, the Working Dog Center, and the Penn Museum (which is providing the artifacts to train the dogs) launched K-9 Artifact Finders, and in late January 2018, the five dogs selected for the project began their training, starting with learning the distinct smell of ancient pottery.

“Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal,” says Cindy Otto, the executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the project’s principal investigator.

As you might imagine, museum curators may not be keen on exposing fragile ancient materials to four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd, and the Working Dog Center didn’t want to take any risks with the Penn Museum’s priceless artifacts. So instead of letting the dogs have free rein to sniff the materials themselves, the project is using cotton balls. The researchers seal the artifacts (broken shards of Syrian pottery) in airtight bags with a cotton ball for 72 hours, then ask the dogs to find the cotton balls in the lab. They’re being trained to disregard the smell of the cotton ball itself, the smell of the bag it was stored in, and ideally, the smell of modern-day pottery, eventually being able to zero in on the smell that distinguishes ancient pottery specifically.

A dog looks out over the metal "pinhweel" training mechanism.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

“The dogs are responding well,” Otto tells Mental Floss, explaining that the training program is at the stage of "exposing them to the odor and having them recognize it.”

The dogs involved in the project were chosen for their calm-but-curious demeanors and sensitive noses (one also works as a drug-detection dog when she’s not training on pottery). They had to be motivated enough to want to hunt down the cotton balls, but not aggressive or easily distracted.

Right now, the dogs train three days a week, and will continue to work on their pottery-detection skills for the first stage of the project, which the researchers expect will last for the next nine months. Depending on how the first phase of the training goes, the researchers hope to be able to then take the dogs out into the field to see if they can find the odor of ancient pottery in real-life situations, like in suitcases, rather than in a laboratory setting. Eventually, they also hope to train the dogs on other types of objects, and perhaps even pinpoint the chemical signatures that make artifacts smell distinct.

Pottery-sniffing dogs won’t be showing up at airport customs or on shipping docks soon, but one day, they could be as common as drug-sniffing canines. If dogs can detect low blood sugar or find a tiny USB drive hidden in a house, surely they can figure out if you’re smuggling a sculpture made thousands of years ago in your suitcase.


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