NASHVILLE — Here's a sobering thought: Hundreds of bottles of Jack Daniel's whiskey, some of it almost 100 years old, might be unceremoniously poured down a drain because authorities suspect it was being sold by someone without a license.
Officials seized 2,400 bottles late last month during warehouse raids in Nashville and Lynchburg, the southern Tennessee town where the whiskey is distilled.
"Punish the person, not the whiskey," protested Kyle MacDonald, 28, a Jack Daniel's drinker from British Columbia.
"Jack never did anything wrong, and the whiskey itself is innocent."
Investigators are looking into whether some of the bottles were stolen from the distillery. No one has been arrested.
Authorities are trying to determine how much of the liquor can be sold at auction.
Tennessee law requires officials to destroy whiskey that cannot be sold legally in the state, such as bottles designed for sale overseas and those with broken seals.
"We'd pour it out," said Danielle Elks, executive director of the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
The estimated value of the liquor is $1 million, possibly driven up by the value of the antique bottles, which range from to half-pints to 3-liter bottles.
One seized bottle dates to 1914, its seal unbroken.
Elks said it is worth $10,000 to collectors. Investigators are looking into whether the liquor was being sold for the value of the bottles rather than the whiskey.
"Someone was making a great deal of profit," she said.
Tennessee whiskeys age in charred white oak barrels, but the maturing process that gives them character mostly stops when it is bottled. A bottled whiskey can deteriorate over a long period of time, especially if it is opened or exposed to sunlight and heat.
Christopher Carlsson, a spirits connoisseur and collector in Rochester, N.Y., said old vintages of whiskey in their original containers are highly prized.
"A lot of these bottles are priceless," he said.
"It's like having a rare painting. It's heavily collected."
The raids, prompted by a tip, were conducted at two warehouses and a home in Lynchburg, about 65 miles southeast of Nashville.
Another raid was at a Nashville hotel room where drinks were being served and bottles were being sold.
For now, the whiskey is being stored in a Nashville vault.
Elks acknowledged that pouring out the whiskey would not be a happy hour for her.
"It'd kill me," she said.