Whisky – Open Bottle Syndrome

I don’t have the whisky discipline.

On a recent count, I had 116 bottles of whisky. That may sound like a wonderful and envious whisky collection but, I assure you, it’s not all it seems.

For those not fully seduced by the power and magic of malt whisky, this amount of bottles will seem obscene. But I urge you to keep an open mind. One day, you will discover the variation of utterly compelling flavours in the whisky spectrum. And you, too, will have to fathom where the delicate balance of easy enjoyment versus eager exploration lies. On your journey, a whisky bottle cookie-trail of evidence is inevitable.

As a child, I had a particularly sweet tooth. Birthdays and Christmas were exciting times to gorge on chocolate and whatever sweets I could get my sticky hands on. I loved everything with a high sugar content. My favourite time of year, however, was Easter.

Picture of a broken hollow chocolate egg

There would never have been time for a photo

The thought of those big, fat, delicious eggs covered in metallic purple foil, that’s what chocolatey dreams were made of. The problem for me was one of restraint. No sooner did I have one in my grubby little paws, it was burst open, cracked and scoffed. It was even more magical when I discovered even more chocolatey treats hidden inside. I guarded them jealously, and devoured them like a hungry dog.  I shared not a morsel.

I hear you. I was ‘just a kid’. Perhaps one who hadn’t yet learned how to enjoy treats sparingly enough to make the fun last longer. But let me tell you; that’s nonsense.

Nonsense, because, on our school bus we had kids who would pull out a perfectly intact, fully wrapped, glittering Easter egg – in June. A bus load of squabbling, chattering primary school kids would be rendered silent by those smug-faced, show-offy little gits.  They, too, shared not a morsel.

I was beside myself.  How could someone of that tender age, have that amount of self-restraint?  I knew it wasn’t because they’d been given forty Easter eggs, and their parents certainly weren’t chocolatiers. Yet here they were, weeks later, eating hunks of creamy chocolate – in slow motion, just to rub it in – hamming it up, putting on a show. Torture to a ten year old me.

Fast forward a few years. I don’t have a sweet tooth anymore, I am fortunate that I rarely crave sugar.  The demoted role of chocolate is now to sit alongside an appropriate dram, solely to enhance the flavour of the whisky. I prefer, now, that my sugar is converted from starch, and promptly turned into strong alcohol, thank you very much. Preferably malt whisky. That’s the best place for sugar. Keep your shiny purple-foil wrappers.

But, still, old habits die hard. I should have around 20 to 30 bottles of polished, sealed bottles of whisky all lined up, face-front from behind the glass doors of my cabinet.  Sitting casually below, I should have a further ten or so open ‘drinkers’ for sipping and sharing with friends. But no.

We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Cupboard

I have 116 bottles, of which a staggering 105 are open. Most of those are nearly gubbed. It’s just as if they were chocolate eggs at Easter, and I’m still ten.  As soon as a bottle passes the door, it’s popped, poured and passed around. Open Bottle Syndrome.

I have, however, matured. At least a little. I share all of my open whisky. The hungry guard dog is no more. After all, you can’t do whisky evangelism and not share your whisky. Watching a friend try a new dram is like me trying it for the first time, vicariously, all over again. No one seems to mind that I’m getting a kick out of their pleasure; they’re obliviously enjoying some fine whiskies. Win-win, right?

Well, no, not entirely. You know how you remember the first couple of drams from a new bottle, and you certainly remember the last few drops as you finish it off, but you never seem to remember what happens to the middle, right? So, that’s me. Stuck somewhere between there and the inevitable bottle cull. I’m afraid to let go.

At times I pluck up the courage to face the issue. I’ll arrange our Wednesday night whisky session around a heel-slaying event, and we’ll actively try to finish off some dregs and do the decent thing.  Sometimes we’re successful and clear out three, four or more.  Yet, as I drop the empties into the recycling the next day I have more than a pang of regret. Until recently, I mistakenly thought that it was the cost that was troubling. So what point is there in enjoying whisky if you’re constantly counting the inevitable cost?

More Than Just a Drink

I’ve realised it’s more, much more, than financial anxiety. More than the cost and effort of replacements. Let’s face it – it’s fun choosing what new dram to invest in next. I’ve discovered that, due to the fact whisky is more than just a drink, more than simply sustenance, every bottle has a unique affect on you. It’s not over embellishment to call it a life experience.

You connect with it. You come to understand it. You share it. You consume it in such a way that you realise it’s a creation designed specifically to do nothing other than magically stimulate the senses. To remind you how alive you are. It does this so successfully, so profoundly, you will never witness anyone stare so long at a glass of anything as they do a glass of whisky. Every bottle gone is like closing a page on another thoroughly enjoyable chapter of discovery.

I can hear some of you warn of what terrible things can happen to some whiskies left too long in a bottle with too much nasty air to spoil them – but there’s a whole other post in that topic. However, inevitably, I should just get on with the task of eating up the crumbs of my own whisky bottle cookie-trail.

All the while courting the fear of someone turning up with a smug face and a sealed, shiny bottle of something long ago demolished and lamented, and it’s Easter all over again.



Edit: February 2017 – Video added – cull in progress.

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