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Gang kidnaps rare whisky

WHEN LIQUOR store manager Don Koziak surveyed the damage of his burgled shop in Edmonton, Canada, he thought it was just another break- in in search of booze and fags.

But Canada is a cultured country, and that seems to extend to the palate of its thieves, who stole only a 44-year-old single malt whisky and then sent a ransom note demanding 4,000 Canadian dollars (pounds 1,625) for its safe return. In short: "Give us the loot or the malt gets it."

The raiders had smashed the shop's display cabinet and taken Mr Koziak's prized bottle of 44-year-old Bowmore whisky, one of only 306 bottles produced at the Bowmore distillery on the island of Islay in Scotland's Western Isles. It is so rare that just a wee dram would set a drinker back around pounds 200.

On Sunday, an anonymous caller told Mr Koziak that the gang had been hired specifically to steal the Bowmore and that the bottle was being offered for auction at a local club. The bid on the table was 3,000 Canadian dollars.

"He indicated to me that if I was interested, I could have it for probably 3,500 or 4,000 Canadian dollars," Mr Koziak said yesterday.

Only 294 bottles are in circulation outside the distillery, which has been in existence since 1779. The plant has another dozen bottles of the fine malt because connoisseurs who buy it are entitled to stay for a weekend at a nearby private cottage, take a guided tour, then sample a dram from its stock.

"The bottle is serial numbered - it's engraved with a number 249 of 306, so whoever has it will have a tough time. It's like a stolen piece of art," Mr Koziak said.

So far, police in Edmonton have few leads to the thieves, except for a hammer, broken glass, a fingerprint and some blood left at the scene of the crime. The bottle is insured.