When we brought our newborn son home from the hospital in August, I knew my life would change quite dramatically, but even at that point in time I couldn’t quite imagine how it might unfold. Eight months later, I continue to learn so much about myself and my tendencies. The little guy is a mirror and has taught me to be much more present in my life. It’s absolutely the most amazing experience ever.
One of the things that I’ve come to view with a much more negative eye in the last few months is the hoarding and deep collecting mentality. It’s no doubt because of my inclination in that direction at times. However, having this little guy (and his stay in the NICU) have really given me a deeper appreciation for our mortality and how fragile life can be.
Yeah, I know, what a downer for another whisky post. How does it relate, you ask?
Well, if you follow the whisky blogs, you will have no doubt seen the endless(ly tiring) discussion of collectors, hoarders, speculators and so on. I tried to steer clear of this one because I didn’t really have much to offer on it at the time, and it’s not really my intention to become another voice in the echo chamber with nothing new to say. However, this week brought a new perspective on it it for me as a bunch of things in my life all led me to a shared conclusion.
If you know me in person you likely know that I’ve amassed a fairly decent collection of musical instruments. Over time the cost to store them has gone up and it finally reached a breaking point. I was no longer willing to pay what was being asked to store them. I’ve spent the last few weeks thinning the herd through auctions and have found the forced decision-making to be really refreshing. I’ve tried to plow through my stuff semi-regularly and toss things I haven’t used in a year or more, but my instruments were sacrosanct. Now I’m reducing the collection to the things I use regularly and love, or have plausible near-term need for. Sure, things may break and wear out, but it’s through use and not neglect.
Second, I am reminded of my tasting last summer with Sku who graciously opened a trio of incredible Broras. I didn’t have much to offer – a decent Glencraig. Turns out those three Broras were incredible, and one is high on my list of favorite Scotch whiskies of all time. He could have sat on them indefinitely, waiting for…. who knows what… but he demonstrated that whisky is best enjoyed (ideally with friends, acceptably with random people you’ve met online ), not jealously guarded in sealed bottles hidden from light.
Finally, I was faced headlong with the use vs disuse issue recently when I reopened my Bruichladdich Legacy V whisky. This was the first whisky I’d had that was older than me (an achievement all whisky dorks inevitably feel the need to unlock – go ahead and do it sooner rather than later because it only gets more expensive every year). Fortunately, at the time I opened it, it was absolutely amazing – huge apple notes and floral hints. It really just smelled like an orchard in early fall, with cider presses running full tilt – great grain and fruit notes but never seeming old and tired. Opinions varied widely (Serge liked it; Sku was less taken) but that was beside the point for me – this was one I really, really liked. And I decided this would be the “special occasion” whisky. I would pour it on those most special occasions and savor its endless fruit and goodness and be transported back to my youth in the midwest, making apple butter, apple cider, visiting local orchards and so on.
The problem, as you’ve likely experienced at some point, is that at a certain point, a whisky may go flat. And inevitably there are never enough special occasions to really enjoy and merit pouring of the thing which you found so amazing and special.
Recently I decided I’d waited long enough as there wasn’t anything special to open this whisky which just blew me away. I decided to pour a glass and…. it was a pale imitation of its former self. Oh, it was good. It’s still a B whisky which means I’d rate it good and maybe worth a purchase, but it was previously in the A- to A range for me personally. I’d opened this whisky and in the time since I’d opened it, it had completely lost its magic. What a shame. What a waste. This to me was yet another affirmation of my current state of mind – enjoy the things that are special to you because life moves fast, and it’s better to have great experiences and special memories versus a chronicle of lost potential.
So here’s my advice. That bottle of Pappy sitting on your shelf? That rare Port Ellen? You should open it. You should enjoy it. Life is short. Are you looking for that special occasion? Make some random weekday in April that special occasion where you opened the bottle that you’d been sitting on and enjoyed it. John Hansell agrees. And those open bottles? Just enjoy them. Share them with friends, swap samples, or host a tasting. Or just enjoy it yourself. This deterioration is yet another reminder that nothing is permanent and that life is short. Sku wrote a great blog post on deterioration with age (it does) and Ryan over at Value Whisky
began a series himself (we’ll see if it continues there or at his new blog, Value Bourbon – [looks like he's decided to close up shop totally...])
So in the interest of what was great and what it’s become, I’ll post the tasting notes. I’m sensitive to note that this is the second post I’ve done about the changes in a Bruichladdich in the last few months. Please don’t interpret this as a hidden agenda to say all Bruichladdichs fall apart. I’ve noticed tendencies on this end among other whiskies I’ve owned, but to see a favorite go from “life changing” to to “good” drove me to write this call to open the bottles.
At A Glance
Bruichladdich Legacy V (33y) 40.9% ABV – initial opening
Nose: Satisfying deep wood, a character very similar to an old bourbon. Wood paneling. Light fruits – a hint of pineapple. Lightly floral as well, but wood dominates. Some gentle saltiness, red apples, far-off hints of raisins. A bit of gentle waxiness.
Palate: Medium bodies. Initially grain-based, warming more than ABV would suggest. Fruits here – very strong apples, light pear. A honeyed quality, with some barley reappearing later and some gentle sherry notes.
Finish: Smooth. Apples again. Quick initial disappearance, reemerges momentarily, some gentle wood and light waxiness.
Comment: If this is early ’70s Bruichladdich I’m going to go broke securing more bottles.
Bruichladdich Legacy V (33y) 40.9% ABV – a year after opening
Nose: Slightly dusty with some old wood, but some significant bourbon influence on the nose. Well-developed vanilla, a bit of caramel. Some brighter fruit notes; pears evident against some white pepper and cinnamon.
Palate: Pears initially on the palate with some white pepper and cinnamon, old wood that’s slightly bitter. A bit of apple, some light barley.
Finish: Old wood, pepper, a bit of cinnamon, pears. Waxy apple notes as well.
Comment: This isn’t quite as amazing as I remember it being. It’s a good but undeniably old whisky. It’s gotten quite a bit simpler in the time it’s been open. The clarity of the fruit notes have been subdued and now it’s more of a (good) fruit compote or canned fruit than fresh fruit.