Posted by: Ted
There’s a bottle I need to kill. Actually, there’s a number of them, but this particular one is an old bottle of Dalwhinnie 15. It’s been sitting around on the shelf with about a good dram’s worth left in the bottom for at least a couple of years now. I have a suspicion this may turn out to be a problem.
People tend to think of whisky as being very durable. When it’s aging in the barrel all sorts of funky interactions are happening of course, but stick it in glass, that delightfully chemically stable substance, and it’ll stay unchanged forever. Maybe… although that theory does seem to have been challenged recently by the number of very old, rare whiskies that have been tested and found to have somehow magically changed themselves into much, much younger, inferior whisky that is most definitely not (‘we are so sorry to have to break this news to you sir’) that phenomenally expensive 1880’s Ardbeg you bought as a sure-fire investment. Hmm, quite.
Getting back to the point though, nearly-empty bottles left to their own devices just never seem to taste as good (or at least not the same). The flavours are diminished and changed somehow. Oxidation, causing changes to the molecules through increased oxygen interaction, gets bandied around a bit, but sources on the repository-of-all-knowledge indicate that this may not actually play as much of a role as I previously thought. Another theory that I quite like is that because alcohol and other molecules in the whisky are volatile, evaporation and dissipation occurs every time the whisky is poured, meaning some of the flavours are lost and the balance of components is changed (a more detailed explanation here care of the excellently anorak-y Whisky Science blog).
That being the case, why don’t we just finish of all those damn dregs and move on to pastures new? The thing is, psychologically it can be quite hard to bring yourself to kill the bottle. Back when it was full, we splashed the contents around with great abandon, sharing it generously with friends and pouring stoaters without care. Once the level drops below the plimsol line though, you start to think ‘gosh, that’s getting low. Better go easy… maybe I’ll save it for a special occasion’. It can be even worse when you’re a somewhat slack whisky writer: ‘Oh man, I should really get around to reviewing this. Sometime. Hmm, I better leave some in there… I’ll definitely get around to it soon’.
Sentiment plays a part in prolonging the life of a bottle as well. The attachment of a particular memory to a particular bottle means that we can cling even harder to the remains, fighting against our natural urges as top predator in the whisky food web. For example, I bought that bottle of Dalwhinnie as a present for my dad over six years ago. When he died in 2013, I inherited it. The stupid thing in this case is that there isn’t any particular sentimental value attached to it. It wasn’t his favourite whisky, we didn’t spend a magical night bonding over it, or a wild night getting shit-faced on it.
Yet for some reason I haven’t been able to force myself to do the dirty deed and finish it off. It just sits there gathering dust and, stupidly on my part, potentially diminishing in quality and strength. Look, if I’m forced to dig deep for an honest reason for my reticence, I think I’ve just been using the tenuous sentimental value to put off having to write a review about it. Which come to think of it, is definitely the reason that I’ve been hoarding the last slick of my Nikka Yoichi 15 for too many years. Ugh, motivation, why are you such an indolent mistress?
Perhaps it’s just an excuse to keep buying new bottles?
So what is the point of this rambling musing? I think we need to be brave, to step up to the crease and face down that last dram before it’s too late. Sometime you’ve got to kill the things you love. It’s the kindest thing to do.
Just, some other time maybe…