David D. over at K&L posted some thoughts on his habit of buying and then not opening red wine, and it got me thinking. How does an individual’s drinking habits affect his or her purchase and consumption of good whisky? As I have descended into the murky depths of whisky mania, I (like many) have begun to think about specific bottles of whisky based on their own individual merit, rather than from the perspective of what fits into my own personal enjoyment of the spirit. If I see a fantastic price on a bottle, such as the Lagavulin 16 I found the other day at Costco, I’m tempted to buy some based solely on the fact that it’s great whisky at a great price, without stopping to think about how often I’m in the mood for a peated dram. Luckily for me, one of the great things about spirits is that even if I open one of those bottles, it’ll still be good for upwards of a year, thus giving me plenty of time to enjoy it fully without feeling the kind of pressure you get when looking at a half-empty bottle of $30 red wine. This does somewhat alleviate the stresses involved in choosing when to open a given bottle. I’m more likely to crack open a particularly nice bottle, knowing that I’ve got plenty of time to drink it.
When I’m standing at the whisky shelf and I pick up a tempting bottle, I’m generally thinking about one moment. The smell, the taste, the finish… the momentary sensory experience of enjoying that whisky. I’m usually not thinking about the context – am I going to be drinking this while watching TV or playing video games, or relaxing with a good book? Will I drink it with dinner or a midnight snack, or by itself? Might I be considering pairing it with a cigar and 30 minutes on the patio, or over the course of a long evening’s varied activities? Might I share it with friends after a dinner party, or hoard it in the back of my liquor cabinet and drink it miserly? These are all questions that I should be asking myself when considering a purchase, rather than focusing solely on the sensory aspects of the liquid itself. The same applies to “special occasion” bottles that collect dust in the back of your cabinet. If you don’t have some special event in mind when you purchase it, you’re likely to let it sit around and take up space. As the owner of my favorite winery says, “Make opening the bottle the special occasion!”
Remember that often what matters is not the rarity, value, or even specific flavor of a whisky, but rather how well you enjoy it in context. As Anthony Bourdain often says on his show, No Reservations, sometimes the best meal in the world is simple local fare and a cold beer served on a beach while your feet are buried in the sand. I might have a few $80 bottles of excellent whisky on my shelf, but if my evening’s activities call for a smooth-drinking $40 blend like Compass Box’s Great King Street, that becomes the better dram despite its lower “score”. Remember to stock your whisky shelf with your own drinking habits in mind, rather than what someone in a magazine (or on a blog!) tells you is good.
Update: David D. has also posted some thoughts on what separates hoarding behavior from appreciation behavior. Another good read.