Adventurers Search for Hidden Whiskey, $100,000

Contestants vie for South Pacific trip to search for long-lost case of whiskey.

September 17, 2010, 4:11 PM

Sept. 21, 2010— -- John Blewett and a friend spent 13 weeks in 1978 following odd clues and racing thousands of other people to find a case of whiskey hidden somewhere in New York. Thanks to some good amateur sleuthing, persistence and luck, they beat everybody to the booze hidden atop a Manhattan skyscraper.

Now 32 years later, Blewett hopes to search the jungles of the South Pacific island nation of Tonga to find another case. This time, there's a $100,000 prize attached to the whiskey.

Between 1967 and 1991 distiller Canadian Club hid 25 cases of whiskey in remote locations around the world, including Mt. Kilimanjaro, the Great Barrier Reef and the North Pole, and released clues through a series of ads in Life, Look and other magazines to where the cases were hidden.

However, not all of the cases were found. In fact, nobody has been able to locate one successfully since 1980, leaving nine crates still hidden in their original spots.

So Canadian Club decided to revive its 1960s marketing campaign and recruit treasure hunters though a competition to find the case in Tonga.

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Blewett, who is now 56 and lives in Rhode Island, is one of 16 American and Canadian semifinalists (half are from each nation) vying for eight spots on the Tonga expedition. The public is voting on video entries at Canadian Club's website through the end of the month. All but two are men.

"I'll be the one who finds it. It's just a gut feeling," Blewett told ABC News. "I looked at the other videos. I've got it over those guys."

Canadian Club originally started the campaign to promote its drink to men who wanted to relax after an adventure -- "guys that wanted to get out of the house and try different things," said Brian Stockard, brand manager for Canadian Club.

"At the time there wasn't a cash prize," he said. "It was about finding the case and telling the world about it."

Searchers went to extremes to find cases. In 1968, David Mattoon was a young groom who hijacked his honeymoon and brought his wife Diana to the jungle to search for a case hidden at Venezuela's Angel Falls. She thought they were going to a Mexican beach for a relaxing honeymoon until her new husband told her the real plan on the plane.

Canadian Club Search for Missing Whiskey Cases

The Tonga case was one of three hidden in 1991. But Canadian Club was sold shortly after it was placed in the jungle and no clues ever were released to the public.

Canadian Club, now owned by Fortune Brands, Inc., knows the general location of the case but hasn't verified that somebody hasn't already found it in the past two decades.

"Part of the mystery is that we're not entirely sure that the case is there," Stockard said. "The promotion was set up to have a crew go out any help us find it versus us going out and trying to find it ourselves."

Blewett thinks he has a leg up on other contestants based on his past experience with the competition and his current treasure hunting through geocaching, a GPS-assisted search challenge.

Blewett works for the Navy doing sea trials of submarines for foreign countries. In his spare time he races sailboats and rides his motorcycle -- he used to ride it through the dirt but his wife stopped him after he broke one too many bones.

Blewett is reentering the hunt because he's always wanted to go to the South Pacific. Canadian Club invited him to the launch event of this new promotion. It was there, he said, that he decided once again to search for a case of whiskey.

"If I don't win it, it's OK. Getting to Tonga is a win for me," he said.

But if he does, the 12 bottles will be shared with all his friends who are voting for him.

"And then the wife has plans for all the money," Blewett said.

Finding Hidden Treasure in New York City

Back in 1978, Blewett and his friend Tim Jackson joined the search just for the excitement.

"It was a lot of fun wondering around the city following the clues," he said. "It took us to a lot of places in the city that we hadn't been to."

Clues included, "board a train that some think was named after the smoothest whisky in 87 lands." The answer: the former "CC" subway line. Treasure hunters were instructed to get off at a station "near Adam Van Den Berg's cow pasture."

"We basically spent a whole day in the library looking at the old maps," Blewett said. The pasture turned out to be near the World Trade Center.

Other clues were too complex and perplexed many in the city. Canadian Club had to create a phone line dedicated to giving updated weekly clues. More than 13,000 calls came in each week.

Eventually, the clues led Blewett and Jackson to a penthouse office on Madison Avenue. They told the receptionist they were seeking the case. It was under her desk.

"She'd been sitting on it all this time," Blewett said.

The pair split the booze, with Jackson taking the case cover and Blewett the bottom. He finally threw it out two years ago as part of a process of cleaning out his house to eventually retire to Florida.

While Blewett said he enjoys the taste of Canadian Club, don't expect to see him with a glass anytime soon.

He explained: "I'm a beer drinker, for the most part."

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