Fed by whiskey flippers who think they’re clever, there is a stigma attached to liquor store customers who ask “got anything good in the back?” On the hunt at my local shop in the fall of last year, I skirted that association and asked the shop owner about the bottle of Old Rip Van Winkle 10-Year on the shelf behind him. He said it wasn’t “for sale, for sale,” which he explained meant he’d only sell it to regulars. I pushed my luck. “Got anything interesting coming in?” I asked. “Sure,” he said. “Well, maybe. Write down your email.”
I was buying whiskey and wine from the store consistently for two years when I decided it was time to test the value of patronage. The owner is the cashier, the expert and the guy who replies to questions on Facebook. He’s nice, but he doesn’t have the patience for bullshit. A couple of days passed, and an email notification subject lined “WHISKEY?” popped up on my phone. The store owner remembered who I was and asked if I was interested in a bottle of Weller Full Proof.
When I picked up the bottle — for which I paid well above the official retail price, but well below what it’s worth on bourbon black markets — I wondered when I would drink it. Compared to most who would call themselves collectors, I am a total novice. I have some nice Michter’s put away, discontinued bottles of popular Suntory whisky, a handful of hard-to-find Blanton’s and one legitimately rare bottle of Booker’s 30th Anniversary. I wish this were a flex. My collection couldn’t hold the corks of those you’ll find on Instagram. But the first release of Weller Full Proof, a wheated bourbon that shares DNA with the Pappy back on the liquor store shelf, was a good find for me. I took it home and put it in a cool, dark cabinet with my nascent collection. And then came COVID-19.
During a moment that forces us to reckon with mortality, I recognize that philosophizing about drinking good whiskey feels, at best, twee. But as social distancing days turn to weeks and weeks to months, a helplessness set in — there’s no way to know when things will return to something close to what they were, meaning there is little to look forward to. For me, this hindered anticipation for anything other than my grocery delivery contributes to the hazy feeling many have described already, where Tuesday may as well be Sunday and 8 p.m. is indistinguishable from 3 a.m. So, because I can’t stop thinking about what comes next and coming up empty, and because of the wealth of superfluous shit I have in my cabinet, here’s a proposal: let’s drink the good stuff.
Open your Google calendar, pick a day and time and mark yourself as busy. Get a notebook out and write down what it smells, looks and tastes like. Maybe send a small sample to a buddy (who wipes it down when he gets it) and share a drink over Facetime. Just drink it. As smartly outlined by Breaking Bourbon co-founder Eric Hasman, unless you’re holding onto a unicorn, it’s unlikely you’ll make out well selling it on Facebook. Follow the lead of industry veteran John Hansell, founder of Whisky Advocate magazine, who is spending time during self-isolation cracking bottles of whiskeys worth more than a nice sedan (and posting about them on Twitter). Be inspired by bourbon subreddit user /u/bferret’s neighbor, who gave a whiskey-illiterate redditor a pour of Willet Family Estate 27-Year Single Barrel, valued at roughly $3,000. Don’t have anything rare? Who cares. Give yourself an hour of quiet with something you like.
Beer people have already created a hashtag for the beer equivalent. Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade are Instagram Live-ing themselves drink through their stashes. And while one doesn’t need to create a hashtag or post somewhere for the moment to have significance, it does beg the question — what the hell are whiskey drinkers doing still sitting on mountains of great booze?
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