Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Whiskies arisen from the ground……like the mythical bird

Yes, you guessed it! The Phoenix… and not just one. This was a party, now and 133 yrs ago !! We were having a whiskey dig party , feeling as high as the mythical bird could fly, with disbelief as one after another Phoenix Sole Agent fifth rapidly arose from the hole in succession. We were the privileged privy diggers to uncover this long forgotten party, where a case of these rare birds was tossed all at once, down one side of a giant 6x6x 10’ deep privy.

It started out as any ordinary Nov. winter spot, with normal expectations, mainly being, just hoping to find any earlier privy to dig. There were 2 early houses now occupying a single property. We had obtained permission and located and dug a very empty 1880’s pit a week before that yielded only 2 unembossed 1880’s pint beers. With hopes of finding the 70’s or earlier pit for this drinker, or maybe an early pit for the other house, we went back to probe more extensively. After an hour of full penetration probing, we were bummed that no other pits could be located by any of the 3 of us. We started talking about packing up and heading to a different house. As we walked towards the gate to leave, for some odd reason Andrew decided to probe right in front of the gate, an area that we all thought had been previously probed, and obviously an area that we had all walked right over numerous times. It turns out, that this area had been probed, but not thoroughly, since it had quite a bit of bricks and rocks in the first couple of feet. Andrew got the probe to go in farther than anywhere else. I noticed the drop from where I was standing about 20’ away. He asked for the long probe. Towards the end of the long probe, it came to a sudden stop,,,,no, not bottom, but on a solid glass object. I could tell it was on a bottle. He repeated the probing one more time, and the results were the same. I commented that I had a feeling this hole was going to be a “bottle hole” and very different from the dud we dug there the week before. No one really got their hopes up though, as we all know that the majority of privies yield junk or broken stuff.

Ned commenced immediately opening up the cap, seemingly eager with his new military boots. I assisted from the top until he got to the point where only one person could dig inside the hole. Ned powered thru the rubble with ease, enjoying the power and comfort of switching from Tennis shoes to boots. I jumped in and dug it down another couple of feet to just above where the probe hits were. Time for a fresh digger to get in and start pulling bottles ! Andrew jumped in and took one side down to touch the layer. In a matter of minutes he had his first hit. As he uncovered it, Ned and I could see it from the top of the hole, before Andrew yelled out “it’s a fifth !! “. Next thing he’s saying it’s a green Phoenix !! We couldn’t believe it ! Normally, we dig Cutters or unembossed fifths. He handed the bottle up and I“classified” it immediately. Before I could finish that menial but important task, he yelled up that he had 3 more whiskies showing ! Within minutes, they rose from the ashes of the outhouse, like mythical birds….. 2 more Phoenix Sole Agent fifths and a Cutter OK. We took a moment to reflect and look at each other in disbelief. Andrew then asked me what the standing Phoenix fifth record was, since he was aware of my famous Phoenix fifth dig back in 1982, and as if he intended for us to break that record with this party. I told him I believed my dig of 6 intact (5 mint and 1 damaged) from that dig was the record. Andrew then commenced to more digging and carefully scraping in the layer with an improvised digging stick that Ned found laying nearby and gave him to protect any fifth from a metal tool mark. He continued on the same side of the privy where the whiskies were coming out. After clearing a little more soil and finding shards of 3 more Phoenix’s, he looked up and told us he had 2 more whole fifths showing. Ned and I looked at each other in awe,,,, myself wondering if even more Phoenix’s would rise from this layer. Both fifths were indeed Phoenix’s !! We were now at 5 intact Sole Agent globby Phoenix’s !! Absolutely incredible !!  I was “classifying” as fast as I could, and Ned agreed tp take the full bucket of fifths to the vehicle to further secure them. In the meantime. Andrew pulled 2 more badly damaged Phoenix’s, one with a large neck crack and a chunk out of the mouth, and another with just a stub left of the neck. At this point, we had only dug on one side of the layer and thought that maybe across the entire pit it could be laden with bourbons. Ned then surmised that there had been a party, and a case was dumped all at once down one side of the privy. Andrew continued to dig, and for awhile it looked like our party was over too. Then, just as we thought it was over, he turns his head up and says, I’ve got a fifth showing. Yes, it was another Phoenix,,,, the last one from their party 133 yrs ago, and what turned out to be the last one for our dig party as well.

Ned jumped in the hole to relieve Andrew. After digging for about an hour along 2 of the other sides, only medicines were coming out. There was one wall left to dig, the back wall, which is usually the best side of the privy. I jumped in, and dug about 10 bottles. For a minute, I thought I had a Miller’s flask showing, but it turned out to be a slick. We were so amped at this point, we wouldn’t have been surprised if the flask had been embossed, but alas,,, the ole counting your chickens before they hatch” got the best of us with the flask !

Fast forward to later in the week,,,,, looking at the bottles. The Phoenix Sole Agent glop-top tally was 6 intact, 2 badly damaged, and 4 broken. 12 Phoenix’s were tossed into that privy, and they are all the earlier varient, glop-tops and older style embossing. Ned’s party theory was right. We had found the remnants of exactly one case of Phoenix fifths ! Now, the best part is, that this case was a mixed batch from the glass factory or from Naber. Alfs & Brune’s warehouse. The color breakdown on the intact examples is as follows: 1 light olive-amber with a good amount of whittle, 1 honey amber w/ touch of olive; 1 dark chocolate red amber; 2 light rootbeer amber; 1 light orange-amber (flashes).  Just as in the 1982 dig,  5 out of 6 of the Phoenix's are near mint to mint. Kinda cool weird... Welcome to the Phoenix Twilight Zone......

History does seem to repeat, as just a little over 30 yrs ago I had dug the other 6 intact Phoenix’s. Seems like as they say at NASA, "The Phoenix has landed”…..hmm… again, this time 2013 ! Thirty one yrs later, 6 more, only this time, the color variety is even better !! Both occasions were when we least expected something good to come out….. Goes to show you, that if you just go out and do it for fun, and don’t expect a pot of gold, you might just find that pot of good fifths or other rare bottles every once in awhile !!


  1. Congratulations guys, awesome dig! There’s something about the Phoenix phenomena that can’t be explained...................

  2. great dig!!!! our 2010 dig of 17-18 fiths was fun but I like picture whiskeys more then the 15 cutters ,open faced Portland hoteling and united we stand sluplate and a few common bitters and the 100 plain union ovals and 5 embossed half pint union ovals and some rare colored meds.two clean wholes 10ft deep had a millers fifth each and a few plain beers in each hole and a few digs with two bear whiskeys were fun but those few digs of more than one or two embossed fifths in a hole don't happen very often. the gary venterini dig in the 1970's allowed me to get three shoulder crown emartin flasks and some jf cutter flasks as well and one a. anjelli flask. the picture whiskeys are still a all time favorite of mine. so the 5 bear whiskeys at one time was a good display with dark yellow orange red and light amber. and a beargrass dug two weeks after takeing three years to get doc ritz to sell his.. all good a few nabobs dug as well but doc Ritz's green golddust was the one I wished I could have afforded in 1978 when he was selling his collection at the time.the search is still on for the elusive California club house since I dug half of one in 1969,,old bumstead....

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  4. Congratulations guys! Beautiful fifths! Dale M.

  5. Fantastic dig! Keep those digging stories coming

  6. Great dig. Why don't the mods think about deleting the Western Whiskey blog and only keeping this one ?

  7. Agree, the whiskey blog is dead. Anyone care to elaborate on another killer 5th that was recently dug?

  8. Hmm. Not recently dug. But one that was supposedly found on the bank of a creek in the wine country a couple of years ago.

    Yep, step right up. For the paltry sum of $44K, plus buyers fees, you too can be the owner of a dirt amber example of a California Clubhouse.

  9. Apologies to all. I just looked at my email correspondences, and stand corrected. The bottom line is $40K plus buyers fees, which takes the price of admission down to $44K and change.

    Ladies and Gents; Step right up. Just not at this pay window.

  10. 20k and there could be some players !

  11. Great dig man the green one has to be one of the best are you gonna bring any of these to Roseville and if you want to sell the broken pieces I would be interested for my cactus/bottle garden Bill Curtiss. If anybody has any good broken bottles they might like to sell cheap let me know

  12. Keep in mind all the great content and write-ups that are stored on the Whiskey blog. Deleting it would be criminal, perhaps transferring it all over might be an option...or we could revive it with some whiskey posts where the western bottle blogs were born and reached a fever pitch.

  13. My oh. my.

    Here's what the owner had to say.

    "I'm not the chattiest person, so let me just say I hope to realize 40K.". My personal
    thoughts, in this market; 15~ - $25~K including buyers fees, on a stretch.

    I was not interested in either buying or consigning. I referred him elsewhere.

    Odd are, it will appear on an auction site in the not too distant future.

    Knock yourselves out~

  14. Just realized that by the time that I'd sent a follow-up regarding the Clubhouse, several other posts had been listed.

    All said; let's not toss the baby out with the bath water. The Glop Top site was a go to place for early western whiskies. The tool top site continues to have a steady following. The Western Bitters site is the cat's meow and has nearly a quarter of a million hits.

    All said and done, it's a real PITA to research and publish fresh articles on a weekly basis if you are a one man band.

    All of the websites have a link to the webmaster, and all webmasters welcome fresh input and articles.

    In closing, we'd welcome your creative efforts in the form of photos and article with due credits.

  15. I'd rather own two dozen nice J.F. Cutter fifths than the least of the Clubhouses. Maybe that's just me, but much beyond 20k for an amber Clubhouse is getting pretty steep. Overrated. It would of course be worth more if any of us had found it though, right?

  16. I agree with J.F. don't delete WGW site there is a lot of information and some great comments I still go to it quite often sure like the picture upon opening the site Bill C

  17. Can users choose to sort posts by tags? Perhaps the two blogs are merged and users can chose to sort the blog and view only bitters or bourbon posts if they want to ?

  18. As the admin of the Western Bitters News I have every intention of keeping this site alive. I try to keep the site current and informative. Anyone that wants to contribute is always welcome and I don't believe in restricting comments unless they get personal or attack someone.
    If you want to post on this site and are not a contributor email me and I will give you the tools to become one. The more participation the site gets the better it will become.

    As for the Glop Whiskey site it is administered by our Utah friend and what he chooses to do with his site is, in my opinion, is his business. it would be a shame to lose such an informative and interesting site. Maybe our friend would be willing to let someone else maintain the site. It seems like there are just a few of us that are willing to put out the effort to keep the interest in the hobby alive.
    - rs -