NEARLY 100 years ago, in the dead of the night, scores of casks of whisky were smuggled along secret tunnels to a North-East harbour and shipped to US shores for the enjoyment of gangster Al Capone and his prohibition-era crime syndicate.

The famous epoch of 1920s bootleg liquor trade might have passed, but its rich history has now been revived after a whisky firm with strong North-East roots started supplying single malt to the US again.

Spey Whisky has returned to the country after John McDonough signed a £140,000 deal with Chicago-based importer Stoller to sell the drink in the US.

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It is the first time it has been back in the country since his grandfather, Alec Harvey, moved casks of the Scotch whisky brand from Seaham Hall, in east Durham, to waiting ships in the harbour.

Family legend says Mr Harvey set up a warehouse in the cellars of the formerly abandoned building, selling and moving their Spey whisky while doing business across the Atlantic in illegal speakeasies.

Clients allegedly included the Country Club, owned by ex-Broadway showgirl Belle Livingstone, who told dancers to use Spey private malt as perfume on the backs of their legs.

Mr McDonough said Spey is now the third-biggest seller of whisky in Taiwan and was now being primed for new markets in Russia, France, Brazil and the Middle-East, after his firm, Harvey's of Edinburgh, bought Speyside Distillery last year.

Mr McDonough said he was delighted his family link to the US had been revitalised, and said the company, which also has a base in China as well as headquarters in the North-East, hopes to create new jobs in the future.

He said: “The last time Spey was drunk in America may well have been by Al Capone and his cronies.

“The US is experiencing a huge renaissance in single malt Scotch whisky sales so this offers enormous opportunities for us and we're really looking forward to seeing how well it goes down over there.

“My grandfather was quite a character, and up to all sorts of stuff, so I'm sure will be having a laugh about this deal.

“He did a lot of trade in the North-East, including the exports to the US, but this is big stuff and the scotch whiskey market is vibrant at the moment.”