I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain. Frank Herbert, Dune
Being fearful of opening your whisky bottles is an uneasy and unenviable position to be in. You can persuade yourself that it’s simply a matter of time – “I will open it, but I’m saving it for a special occasion” – and you can convince yourself that at heart, you’re a drinker and not a collector “I buy whisky to drink, not to look at.” But when those occasions never seem to arrive and bottles start to accumulate layers of dust whilst stored away in cupboards, without ever consciously noticing it, you’ve inadvertently become that which you swore you never were.
Many of us are guilty of hoarding whisky – it rather comes with the territory. There’s always something new and shiny, or old and coveted to acquire. But at the same time, if you’re unwilling to ever open bottles, you *are* a whisky collector. And you’re a collector of the oddest sort. Unlike self-professed gatherers you don’t display your treasures on neatly arranged shelves. You don’t have a whisky room/shrine. You purchased those bottles to drink, but nevertheless they’ve been snaffled away from sight – ready for those memorable occasions that never actually come to pass. And now you’re fearful of actually opening them.
Sadly, the barriers to cracking the seals on whisky are myriad. And the enticements to actually open bottles can, at times, feel limited. But nevertheless, they are in my opinion still potent and relevant.
If you purchase any type of limited release or in-demand expression, the current market conditions dictate that it’s likely to grow in value. And in the case of some releases this can happen rapidly. Filled with excitement that you’ve busted a gut acquiring ‘brand new exciting whisky X’, you quickly note that the market has decided that it’s worth in excess of 200% of what you paid for it just a week prior. Awkward. It’s ‘worth’ more….it’s clearly even more ‘special’ now. Best sit on it and save it for the correct moment, right?
I’m going to argue not. But equally with the caveat that having a near endless number of open bottles isn’t particularly helpful either. There’s an equilibrium to everything.
You’ve not lost any money if you open a whisky bottle. What you lose is the opportunity to capitalise on the present or future demand for that bottle. And let’s be clear - in some cases that is a *thing*. The Karuizawas purchased for £200 that are now worth thousands. The stash of Port Ellen. The UD Rare Malts that were composed in a hurry in tired old wood, but that actually turned out to be largely excellent across the board. Who’d have known at the time? We all have a point where price increases force us to reassess opening our bottles.
But equally outside of large upsurges in prices, the salient question to ask yourself is how much is your whisky experience worth to you?
Is a £50 potential ‘profit’ a significant appeal? Is £100 over what you paid reason enough to file the bottle under special occasion? - and then to be continually fearful of actually opening it.
Coveting bottles for their perceived value means gambling on never experiencing them as they were intended. Nor possibly 'utilising' those bottles in the same manner as you originally intended when purchasing.
Is the promise of the experience, and the prospect for enjoyment measurable? And if so, how do you measure this? What’s a fantastic evening with friends sharing a remarkable and memorable whisky worth? I’d argue that these experiences and moments cannot have a dollar sign attached to them. They’re priceless. They have a personal, not a monetary, worth.
Ask yourself – at every possible opportunity – what’s opening a bottle worth to you?
If you've purchased a bottle for drinking - be prepared to take that deep breath, muster up the courage and crack the seal. "Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."
I’ve had my bottle of Glenglassaugh 30 year old for some time. There’s been a range of releases of this tear-drop shaped old-timer, produced when Billy Walker was at the helm of the distillery, alongside Benriach and Glendronach. Originally released in 2013 and composed of an unknown number of oloroso sherry casks, the bottling has been reissued five times to-date with the ABV being lowering from 44.8% down to 42% for the more recent releases – the last of which was in 2019.
My review bottle is the 2015 edition - bottle number 5,008, so this gives you an idea of the number that available. ‘Limited’ only in the modern sense of the word and acquited at the price point of, from memory, around £140. Last night two bottles sold on SWA for £280 plus fees – which in the grand scheme of 30 year old whisky is substantially lower than the prices you'll need to pay for many of the better known brands.
Nose: Exquisitely rich and packed full of expressive, aromatic wood. Mirror-sheened antique flooring, glossy mahogany tables, and well-polished wood panelling. Fruits are forward and sherry-influenced – rum soaked raisins, sultanas, raspberry and plum cordials with tropical asides of mango slices, flambe pineapple and orange juice. Old tobacco lurks in the background – spent from a well-worn pipe and joined by herbal teas and dried earthiness. In little surprise given the age statement, resting is beneficial – a similar composition overall, but with additional richness from dark chocolate, figs, dates and liquorice. The addition of water offers an array of malt-led aromas – popcorn, toast and amaretto biscuits.
Taste: Sumptuously textured with an arrival all on oils, waxes and balms. Orange peels and zest come screaming out of the gate alongside cinnamon sticks, stem ginger and an array of tropical fruit salad flavours – syrupy mango, guava and pineapple. Aged oak runs throughout – dusty bookcases, leatherette, coffee grounds and chocolate shavings and brings with it a wonderfully progressive dryness. Reduction retains the weight of the distillate – indeed, despite the 44.8% ABV, there’s a surprisingly amount of elasticity here. Lamp oils and greases alongside juicy fruits, black tea, dunnage floors, drinking chocolate and soured oakiness.
Finish: Fairly long with dry oak intermingled with residue tropical juices, fading polish and a scatting of mint leaves.
Glenglassaugh 30 year old offers a highly elegant combination of defined and expressive fruitiness alongside refined, polished high quality oak. It possesses the type of profile that one would expect and demand from a whisky of its age. But its most remarkable characteristic is its extraordinary texture – which is retained even when dilute – a consistent and tremendous sense of structure and weight. I try to walk the talk when it comes to opening my bottles - I’d earmarked this for opening for a special occasion – and in every aspect it proved to be time well spent.