So you’ve been collecting whisky for a while and you have a few, or maybe a few hundred bottles scattered across the various rooms in your house but now what? How do you solidify your personal status as a whisky connoisseur versus someone who has a lot of bottles? How can you organise your bottles, or dare I call it collection in a way that makes sense?
Helpfully I am here to help you with all of that with my five building blocks to creating a great in home whisky bar and cabinet.
Number 1 - Decide on your space commitment.
First things first, there is a big distinction between a whisky bar and a whisky cabinet. A whisky cabinet implies a specific place where you can store a ‘few’ bottles, open or closed that keeps them safe and away from prying eyes (well, apart from the chosen few you wish to share the ‘good stuff’ with). On the flip side you have a whisky bar, a dedicated space in your house for you to showcase your diverse and intriguing collection.
The two are not mutually exclusive and should not be seen as such. I, for example, have both a cabinet that holds around fifty bottles that are either my marquee malts or my ‘live’ bottles so they are close at hand for an evening dram following a long day at the office. In addition, in a different part of the house near the kitchen, is the whisky bar that has my more recreational whiskies that are at hand should I need to whip up a cocktail or pour some drams when friends or family pop over.
I’m incredibly fortunate that my wife is both understanding and encouraging of my passion, especially as it has turned into my business so when I declared the now-former utility room was to be cleared out and turned into the ‘whisky bar’ we both repurposed the space within a few days and have never looked back.
Number 2 - Make sure your glassware matches your dedication
Simply put, there’s no point buying expensive and highly enjoyable single malt whisky then serving it from tumblers or shot glassesacting as makeshift whisky vessels. Why? Well, companies have spent a lot of money researching the best glassware for you to enjoy your whiskies from to get the maximum enjoyment from the nose, palate and finish so you might as well do it properly!
Start off by investing in a few Glencairn glasses, you’re going to want to try more than one of your fantastic whiskies in each sitting, especially if friends are round and these are the de facto glass for consuming whisky in the industry, are present in most whisky bars and virtually all whisky distilleries so their credibility and quality are guaranteed.
The Glencairn Glass took years to develop and ultimately won the Queen’s Award for Innovation. In terms of experience, the nose of the liquid is gathered in the body of the glass and then pointed straight through an opening that narrows to bring the different elements together.
There are other options, naturally such as:
The NEAT (“Naturally Engineered Aroma Technology”) Glass, best used when drinking cask strength whiskies as it is specifically designed to remove the nasal burn from higher ABV whiskies by dissipating the ethanol over the rim of the glass.
Another option is the classic tumbler, both versatile and ever-stylish there is always space for this in any home whisky bar or cabinet. My personal preference is for a lead crystal tumbler when enjoying my favourite whiskies and when I have no pressure of dissecting the liquid for the purpose of understanding or review.
Finally, the ISO nosing glass. The design of this one is based on the traditional Spanish Copita glasses used to nose and sample sherry but has been given a contemporary makeover for the whisky market and is more often than not seen at whisky tastings.
Number 3 - Get accessorising your cabinet
Now you are tooled up with the best glassware available in the industry, you need some additional accessories for use when sampling yourself or when hosting others.
Nothing too onerous or costly here, simply optional experience enhancers that will go a long way towards being able to enjoy the complete whisky ritual at home.
Not a fan of adding ice to your whisky? Well Whisky Stones offer you the ability to enjoy chilled whisky without the risk of dilution over time, assuming the whisky lasts longer than an ice cube that is. Simply put them in the freezer for a few hours and they are good to go. Also useful in home crafted cocktails such as the Old Fashioned.
If you want to go all out and add healthy levels of geekery to the mix, get some simple small pipettes to ensure you add just one or two drops to the stronger whiskies to open up their flavour and enjoy them as they were meant to be enjoyed. Tread carefully when adding water to whiskies in the 40 – 43% ABV bracket as you can easily dilute too much, but this is largely trial and error.
Finally, for those who enjoy a peaty whisky, have you considered peat cones? They are little dried up bits of peat that when lit give a slow burning, peat scented smoke. Using them when sampling can inhibit the ability to pick out the specifics to any given whisky’s nose but for the more casual whisky consumption, or if you’re working from home and love the smell of peat, why not light a couple of these and enjoy being transported to the peat banks of Islay or Orkney by the sweet aromas.
Number 4 - Open your bottles!
Ok ok ok. I get it. You’ve amassed these bottles at great expense over the years, you’ve waited in queues at Feis Ile open days and spent hours in front of the laptop screen as the annual limited edition releases of certain distilleries inevitably crash the system due to demand.
But what use is it in a sealed bottle eh? There are lots of debates, heated or otherwise, about ‘collecting versus consuming’ but we can all agree that drinking the stuff at one point or other is the goal, right?
Or just do what I and many others do and where possible buy two bottles, one for the cupboard and one for the bar.
Number 5 - Don’t be selfish, share the malt
Now’s the fun part, you get to show off your curated home whisky bar, associated glassware and accessories by hosting a great night of whisky tasting at your place.
Passionate about peat? Curious about Campbeltown? In awe of the Islands? Set a theme for your evening that sets the tone and creates natural conversation, maybe arm yourself with some facts, trivia and questions ahead of time so you can ensure the evening runs smoothly.
These evenings can be tricky for the host as there will be assumptions as to the quality and quantity of whisky on offer as those who come along will know you’re a bit of a connoisseur and have a few bottles knocking around so the advice would be to set a gentle rule right at the beginning that everyone brings a bottle with them.
This way, contrary to sounding anti-fun, everyone invests in an otherwise expensive evening of hosting and then once you’ve sampled the wares everyone brings over, you can whip out some additional drams as the evening progresses.
Ideally all the whiskies for each person would be poured before they arrive or at the very least before everyone sits down to start the evening. It makes it a lot less chaotic and facilitates simple comparisons between each whisky as you go along.
Don’t be pouring 50ml, 35ml or even 25ml measures, remember you will likely try five or so whiskies in a tasting and, unless you pair with food, this can be a lot for some people to take. Start small with 15ml pours as you can always go back for more of your favourites. This reduces wastage too.
Want to take it to the next level? You could always design your own tasting mats for whisky nights at yours. If you are to use your own tasting mats, ensure you leave space for notes to be written, enough ‘places’ on the mat for how many whiskies you will be sampling and details around the theme so that it feels like a well thought out home event.
There you have it, the five building blocks to a great in home whisky bar and cabinet as well as how to deliver a great evening showcasing your collection and your knowledge.