Last year, designer Nick Drummond and his partner Patrick Bakker purchased a home in the tiny hamlet of Ames, N.Y. More recently, they discovered that their classic American foursquare, built in the early 1900s, came with a few spirited historical surprises.
“We were told a story from the prior homeowners how it was supposedly built by an old German bootlegger,” Drummond told Unfiltered via email. And the couples’ new neighbors agreed, adding that the supposed bootlegger was possibly an aristocrat, a count or a baron. “We loved and embraced the story,” Drummond said, “but never thought it could be true!”
Drummond and Bakker started renovating the house this past September, removing wood from outside their mudroom to add some 21st-century insulation. As ruined trim fell from the wall, so did hay and a bit of debris … or was it? “It turned out to be the remainder of a package!” Drummond recalled. And in the package was a bottle of whisky, wrapped in paper. But it wasn’t the only one. Drummond soon discovered another, and another, and … you see where this is going. It was a stash! A hoard fit for a Charleston-dancing, password-only speakeasy. “The history of the house hit me,” Drummond said. “I realized it was at least partially true!” They soon realized that the mudroom’s ceiling and floor held secret stashes as well. They’ve found 78 bottles so far, and they’re not finished searching. “We do think there are more potentially hidden!” Drummond said.
But where did the bottles come from, and are they still fit for an old fashioned?
The bottles of aptly named Old Smuggler whisky appear to have been made in the 1920s. Drummond believes they were shipped from Scotland to Canada and then smuggled south—Ames is about halfway between the border and New York City, which would have made it a logical Prohibition stopover. (It’s worth noting there was also a great deal of counterfeit whisky floating around the States at the time.)
Unfortunately, the past hundred years in the mudhouse walls weren’t entirely kind to the secret stash, and only about a dozen of the bottles were still full when discovered. On Thanksgiving, Drummond and Bakker opened one of them. “Holy moly! That one had a kick for sure,” said Drummond, “and was actually not bad!” The couple plans to keep one or two of the full bottles and to auction the rest. They’ll be keeping a stash of the empty bottles under a glass panel in their mudroom floor so that guests can have an easy peek … er, peekeasy?
The man who built the house was known as ”Count” Adolph Humpfner. A bit infamous, he reportedly gave himself the title “count,” and died leaving a large fortune. “Many articles cite the origins of his wealth as a mystery,” said Drummond. Apparently Humpfner tried to shed some light on the situation himself, writing an article in which he claimed not to be a bootlegger. Much of what’s been written about Humpfner comes from coverage of the legal battles over his estate. One claimant turned out to be an imposter posing as his widow who had vanished 20 years earlier. As if that wasn’t preposterous enough, the actual widow was found alive after being declared dead. “She ended up splitting the fortune with [Humpfner’s] sisters,” Drummond explained. According to local reports at the time, she had run away when Humpfner refused to divorce her.
The “Bootlegger Bungalow” story has spread quickly since November, in no small part due to Drummond’s documenting it on Facebook and Instagram. “We have been absolutely overwhelmed with the amount of emails and inquiries from people asking to buy the booze!” he said, explaining that’s why he and Bakker are bringing the bottles to auction. But those aren’t the only emails they’ve received. People across the country have helped the pair with their mystery, offering articles and research. “We never expected for the story to blow up how it did,” Drummond said, “but it has been so fun.”
Enjoy Unfiltered? The best of Unfiltered's round-up of drinks in pop culture can now be delivered straight to your inbox every other week! Sign up now to receive the Unfiltered e-mail newsletter, featuring the latest scoop on how wine intersects with film, TV, music, sports, politics and more.