While drinking does not always need to be a battle, and hopefully most of the time it is not, of fundamental importance to the savvy and seasoned imbiber of spirits is how one stocks the war chest. And this isn’t just any war chest, this is the cache of whiskies that must have a proper balance of bottles to fortify one’s abode against any unprecedented or decidedly welcome peril.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way. One must stock a celebratory-grade whisky. This is something you tend to ignore, perhaps dusting it off occasionally and admiring it, pondering when the day will arrive when you will be justified in cracking the seal. This object of your fawning, this grail of sorts imparts to you a sense of purpose. The mere idea of trying to justify savoring such a pour will inspire you to set the bar higher, to clearly state goals in your mind, the achievement of which will permit you to raise a chalice of this superlative spirit. Simply possessing the celebratory-grade whisky can make you a better person. And if you torture yourself for long enough, holding out till the moment when you feel you’ve earned your reward, you will probably be so deranged that the whisky will taste as nectar and in the manner of self-fulfilling prophecies, you will love it no matter what. Depending on the depths of one’s wealth this prized bottle can be astronomically expensive. Thoughts of bottles from now long gone distilleries like Port Ellen or Brora come to mind.
Then there is your guest whisky. This term may be bifurcated depending on your relationship with your guests. If your guests are limited to solid friends and family, this should be something a cut above. More importantly, it should be an expression of you. This whisky is an opportunity to let those you invite into a private setting to get to experience an aspect of yourself that you have come to terms with and that you entrust to those around you. It is easy to impress a guest with something rare or fine, but to share a whisky with them that reflects something of your own tastes and personality give them insight into who you are, brings them into your inner-circle. An expression that might surprise them or that you think to yourself “you have to try this.” As you can see this is a highly personalized choice and will vary from drammer to drammer. For my purposes I like to have an independent bottling of an Islay or Lowland malt. Independent bottlers do not produce any whisky, instead they go around to the distilleries and purchase what is usually a single cask. As a result, the whisky they bottle is unique and different from regular releases from the distillery. Some independent bottlers that I enjoy are A.D. Rattray, Signatory, Duncan Taylor and Old Malt Cask.
Then there is the other guest whisky. If you have occasion to suffer guests that aren’t particularly welcome but seem to occasionally wash up on your shore, you might need something to make them feel special while you hide any whisky of real value. A decent blend serves this purpose well. Something you can use on your own when you need to inject several ounces of medicinal booze into the system and you don’t have time for sipping. And when you need to serve it you start out with the old, “I stumbled upon a surprisingly decent blend, you’ve got to try it…” They won’t question you. They are a guest. Such bottles are not difficult to think of or find as there are many at your local supermarket.
Perhaps the most important component of the war chest, one that is overlooked or under stocked at your own peril, is the table whisky. The table whisky, like it’s name implies, is your daily dram. Of supreme importance is to not be lulled in by the somewhat proletariat common-sounding term “table whisky”. The whisky is easily the most difficult to settle upon and requires far more research then any of the previously mentioned bottles. This whisky has to be eminently sip-able but also able to be gulped without a tinge of wasteful regret. This is the whisky you will spend most of your time drinking. And if you value your time, your quality of life, you will make sure you really like this whisky. It serves as both comfort and medicine depending on the situation. It can precede a meal and/or round a meal out. And unless you are rolling in it, it can be inexpensive. For a whisky to satisfy all of these things, you usually have to move on to a new table whisky every 3-to-6 months, or so. Otherwise the familiarity takes away from the overall experience.
Solid table whiskies can be found in the $40-$60 price range, and when you find one you need to keep it well stocked. The table whisky is the last line of defense. Failure to properly stock a good supply of table whisky and keep that supply well tended will result in you coming through the door one night and decimating every more rarified, special occasion whisky in your collection in a misevaluated need to get further lit. Even a few beers can trigger a run on your whisky stash, and to avoid any next-day recriminations over your rare moment of rashness, you need the table whisky to stand up against your temporary lack of judgment. I recently picked up a new table whisky: Cardhu 12. This is a very approachable whisky with a surprising amount of complexity and flavor. However, it is dangerously smooth – so much so that I might have to buy 2 bottles at a time from now on.
Just like a balanced financial portfolio you must maintain a nicely diversified whisky war chest. One that will be able to competently ride the waves of a fluctuating market of guests and fend off an unexpected run on resources. So go forth friends and give your war chest a check up and re-balance where needed. – By Nate