Local residents share stories of their liquor collections

By: Maria Allard | Metro | Published November 21, 2022

 This Jack Daniel’s lamp is part of Ursula Ketchum’s collection.

This Jack Daniel’s lamp is part of Ursula Ketchum’s collection.

Photo by Ursula Ketchum

 Local singer/musician Tosha Owens, pictured, has been collecting Jack Daniel’s bottles with her friend, Ursula Ketchum, for almost 30 years.

Local singer/musician Tosha Owens, pictured, has been collecting Jack Daniel’s bottles with her friend, Ursula Ketchum, for almost 30 years.

Photo provided by Tosha Owens


METRO DETROIT — On occasion, Sandi and Simon Frith invite a group of friends over to their Ray Township home for an evening of bourbon tasting.

Although the Friths are not “big drinkers,” they love to share their extensive bourbon collection with others. Some bottles are opened and enjoyed, while others stay closed to increase their value.

“We try to get at least two bottles of each so we can enjoy one,” Sandi said. “A lot of our friends love the Blanton’s or they like the Buffalo Trace, which is well-priced and has a great taste to it. We have friends who love the Four Roses. The bottle design is always nice for a display.”

The Friths are among many local bourbon collectors who stock up, not necessarily for drinking, but for the decorative bottles that adorn their custom-made home bar.

“We look for all the hard-to-find bourbons. It’s a fun hobby,” Sandi said. “The hunt is always the fun part. You get to meet different people and talk about bourbon. Sometimes, it can take years to get specific bottles of bourbon. We subscribe to a lot of bourbon newsletters, so we know what to look for to add to the collection.”

One collection they’d like to complete is that of the Pappy Van Winkle rare, limited edition bourbon, which includes six bottles. The Friths already have the 10-year, 15-year and 20-year aged barrels. They are halfway there and just need to add the 12-year, 13-year and 23-year selections.

“I’ve had Pappy before. It’s very good. For me, my favorite is always going to be Basil Hayden,” Sandi said.

If displaying your liquor collections at home, Sandi suggests to “make sure you have it in the right cases.”

“Bourbon collections are very popular right now,” said Bill Matouk, owner of Woods Wholesale Wine in Grosse Pointe Woods, which supplies wines and liquors of all varieties. “It’s American. Most bourbons come from Kentucky, but a lot of it is coming out of Indiana.”

Michael Palazzolo, liquor manager at Woods Wholesale Wine, said many millennials are starting to get into tequila collections.

“Tequila took off in the last year,” he said. “For it to be good, it’s got to be clear with no additives or additional flavorings.”

The Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia collection is very popular at the moment.

“The bottle and the case, that’s part of the allure for some people,” he said. “Some people buy a batch to drink or display. Some people keep the empty bottle.”

For those with home liquor collections, they are easy to take care of.

“You can just dust them. The bottles don’t have to be a certain way, but extreme heat or cold is not a good environment. You want to keep them high up, not near flooding,” Palazzolo said. “You don’t want the labels to get damaged. When pouring, you want to be careful.”

With the holidays approaching, Palazzolo offered some tips for home parties. Sometimes, the host likes to make drinks for everyone.

“Some people look forward to making drinks so a person can make a house cocktail for the night,” Palazzolo said.

But it’s also OK for guests to make their own concoctions. Just make sure to have all the proper ingredients and mixers. 


‘The design is just beautiful’
Nearly 30 years ago, lifelong friends Ursula Ketchum and Tosha Owens began seeking out Jack Daniel’s bottles just for fun. When they headed out to a local club, the world-famous Tennessee whiskey was their beverage of choice. Soon, the pair began purchasing their own bottles of Jack, not for consumption, but to showcase at home.

It all started when Ketchum, a former St. Clair Shores resident who recently moved to the Traverse City area, stopped inside the Tunnel Duty Free Shop across the border in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. There, she picked up a replica of the 1895 Jack Daniel’s bottle.

After that, she and Owens each started their own collections, finding distinctive bottles in all shapes, styles, proofs and monetary values. Sometimes, the stylish bottles had already been opened and emptied. Other times, they remained untouched, still full of whiskey. Whenever the collectors came across two of the exact same bottle, they’d open one and preserve the other.

“If it’s not opened, it increases in value,” said Owens, a local musician and singer who resides in Detroit. “It’s best to pick one bottle to open just for special occasions. We try to get as many holiday-season ones as we can get. We both have the 150th anniversary.”

One favorite of Owens is her 1895 Jack Daniel’s replica.

“There’s no paper label. It’s all glass,” she noted. “Everything is etched like the old days.”

Another treasure is the Riverboat Captain decanter.

“The design is just beautiful,” Owens said.

One more standout is Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select Tennessee Whiskey. There’s a reason for that: crooner Frank Sinatra and Owens share the same birthday, Dec. 12.

Ketchum owns approximately 60 different Jack Daniel’s bottles. Many are stored safely in view in a China cabinet, surrounded by shot glasses, wine goblets and whiskey tumblers. One favorite is the Silver Cornet Decanter commemorative bottle.

“The shape is so unique,” Ketchum said. “Some of the special bottles I have are from the ’60s and ’80s.”

The Limestone Spring Water, Single Barrel Proof, Monogram and 1904 Gold Medal series are all part of Ketchum’s Jack Daniel’s display. Ketchum not only is devoted to Jack Daniel’s, but also has an interesting Harley-Davidson beer can collection, a group of Maker’s Mark bottles, not to mention an unopened Pepsi bottle with superstar Elvis Presley front and center. Even though they don’t live in the same town anymore, Ketchum and Owens’ long-lasting friendship has continued, many times over a glass of Jack when they visit each other.

“Every once in a while, Tosha and I will sip and relax,” Ketchum said. “You just talk. It’s just so relaxing.”

Ketchum’s interest in bottles dates back to her childhood when she and her mom, Marty, would frequent different antique stores to pick up decanter liquor glassware.

“I liked their fancy shape and their color,” Ketchum said. “It was not just a straight glass container. We displayed them all through the house. We put colored water in them, red, blue, green, purple. When the sun shone through, you could see a rainbow.”