Nothing undermines sentimentality for one’s possessions like preparing for an international move. But for many who know me, my sentimentality toward my whisky collection turned out to be weaker than expected. Some of that was necessity, some of it was what I came to see as a unique opportunity.
My family moved to Norway from the United States so that my wife could take a great job and so that I could take some time to stay at home with our one year-old daughter. That meant that I would have no income and that our new home would be a nation known for its onerous taxes on alcohol. That’s where the necessity came in: I needed the money I could raise from selling off as much of my collection as possible; and I would not risk bringing in more than the legal limit (1 litre of whisky per person) and having to pay customs and duties that might outstrip the value of the bottles themselves.
Now, I should say up front that I am not a real whisky collector. I know real collectors, and I am decidedly not one of them, not least because I firmly believe whisky should be drunk, not hoarded. Also, as a whisky blogger, I get sent enough samples for review that there are few bottles I need to buy just to try them. Still, I am a whisky blogger, and some whiskies call to me, and others I simply must have in my collection, so I cannot help but buy a few bottles here and there.
At the height of my accumulating, I had maybe 100 bottles, along with countless sample bottles. But last year when my daughter was born, I cut back on buying whisky, both to save money and in an effort to reduce my overall alcohol consumption. In January, when we decided to move to Norway, I stopped buying new whisky almost altogether, and focused on drinking what I had left—and as often as possible with friends. That did not help my overall alcohol consumption, of course, but over the next six months, it did help shrink my collection of open bottles considerably.
Along the way, I set out to sell my unopened bottles, primarily to whisky friends. Fortunately, I have a lot of such friends, and they appreciated what I had to offer. For the most part, I sold bottles to friends at or near my cost, which was a great deal for them, since most of those bottles were no longer available. This helped me recoup my investment in those bottles, but it also gave me an opportunity to share great whiskies with people I care about and who care about whisky.
I also gave away a number of bottles, both to charity whisky events and to friends who would especially appreciate them. This process was even more rewarding than selling bottles to friends. My barber of 16 years, who is new to whisky and who came to the US from Italy when he was a boy, received a limited edition Glen Grant, because he enjoys the lighter flavor profiles and because Glen Grant is the best-selling whisky in Italy. My long-time building contractor, whose family almost all lives in Seattle, received an independent bottling from Westland Distillery. And my co-conspirators at our blog received the kind of treasure trove of whiskies, opened and unopened, you would want to give to two of your best friends, especially ones who had helped you build and maintain a great whisky website for over eight years.
When it was time to move, my wife and I brought two bottles with us: a Gordon & MacPhail 42-year-old Strathisla matured exclusively in sherry casks, and SMWS Cask No. 7.92: Silk Sarong Seduction. The first I held onto because it was bottled in 1969, which is my birth year. I plan to open it on my 50th birthday. The second I held onto because my co-conspirators and I at The Malt Impostor selected it when we sat on the Society’s Tasting Panel one glorious afternoon in 2013, and later we wrote up the Tasting Notes and the bottle description. I have no definite plans for that 27-year-old beauty, but I could easily imagine opening it when my partners-in-crime come to visit me in Norway.
But after all of that, I can honestly say that I do not remember that well what I sold and what I gave away – even though I had owned many of those bottles for years. Of course, that point might also be an argument for letting them go: if they have sat in your cabinet for years and years, you are likely doing something wrong. I should add that I have no regrets about being without any of them – except perhaps in the sense that it is now strange having so few bottles in my cabinet. In fact, I would say that getting rid of my whisky collection turned out to be a source of deep joy. Whisky is not only meant to be drunk, it is meant to be shared. And having shared nearly my entire collection in a relatively short time, that truth is all the more vibrant to me.
Needless to say, I am now starting a new collection here in Norway, though I intend to go about doing so thoughtfully and slowly. And I will continue sharing my collection, even as I build it. But in five years or so, whether we are moving again or not, I think it would be wise to institute another Great Divestment and use it as another occasion to share my whisky more widely. Then I can start the process all over again.
Stephen Mathis is editor and contributor at The Malt Impostor, maltimpostor.com