As a bourbon enthusiast whose bottles long ago hit the triple digit mark (a milestone for any collector), displaying my bottles became just as important as the actual bottles themselves and the hunt to obtain them. That is until I had kids.
When I started buying an above normal amount of bourbon for one person, like many enthusiasts, I used whatever shelving I already had. But I quickly realized this wasn’t going to hold my ever-growing collection both from a shear numbers standpoint, but also from a structural standpoint. Taking storage more seriously at this stage of my collecting career as my whiskey collection continued to grow and grow, I tried to plan ahead. Or so I thought.
I built floor-to-ceiling, open-faced shelving that was large enough for future expansion. Of course shelving remains relatively static, but my collection did not. It took a few years but I’m getting ever closer to maxing out my shelving capacity again.
But at this phase of my life, running out of shelving space is the least of my concerns. I have two kids under three, and they have shown me, and more importantly my collection, how ill-prepared we were for their arrival.
It isn’t until you have kids that you quickly learn that everything in your house is now a climbable mountain that calls to your child to conquer. My beautiful open-faced shelves that proudly displayed my trophies from my legendary hunts became nothing more than a seductive jungle gym whispering to them: “Go ahead. Climb me. You know you want to.” My trophies were now ACME anvils waiting to be knocked over, landing on unsuspecting bean-shaped toes. Bottle caps became nothing more than musical instruments when plucked from their resting place. And the whiskey itself, well who cares about that as it flows from the bottle onto the floor and all I hear is, “Daddy, look at the water!”
As my collection grew, I didn’t think much about the fact that it was taking up so much space, which meant it grew horizontally as well as vertically. This meant easy access to even the littlest of my people. At two years old, my oldest daughter can reach up to the kitchen counter, meaning the lowest bourbon shelf has to be at least 4 feet off the ground. And she’s only two. It’s only going to get worse from here.
At that point, it quickly dawned on me that my proud collection that I spent so much blood, sweat, and tears (and way too much money) on over the years, needed to be locked up. It’s quite the transition going from proud papa of a Pappy Van Winkle, whose photos littered my phone and social media feeds, to a proud father of two daughters who captivate my every waking minute.
This lockdown is a sign that times are a changin’ in my life. Not only is it that much harder to make trips to the liquor store, I struggle to keep up with every bit of bourbon news that happens, and I have way more grey hair than I used to.
Naively at first, I thought my bottles only have to be locked up until the kids are old enough not to touch them, until I realize it won’t be long after that before they are at the age of wanting to actually drink what's inside the bottles. If I don’t, my bourbon is suddenly going to start tasting a lot more watered down during those years. So my collection will be locked up at least until the kids go off to college which is about 18 years from now. Wow, that feels like forever.
I finally bit the bullet and decided my collection can no longer be the display piece my pre-fatherhood self desired it to be. So much of bourbon collecting is about showing off, not only to your friends and family, but also to yourself. I don’t know how many times I just stood looking at my collection feeling impressed with it and myself.
But times change as do priorities. No Pappy is worth a broken toe. No impressively displayed collection is worth a broken arm or leg. For the foreseeable future, my collection will be behind lock and key. Not from would-be robbers, but from peanut butter encrusted sticky hands whose only crime is being too curious.
This past week, my new bourbon shelves were completed and installed. As a handy person I planned to build enclosed shelves myself, but quickly found the time needed to do such a task did not exist with 24/7 quarantined children. I hired a professional cabinet maker to custom design new high rise condos for all of my bottles. Come to find out, as you get older and your collection continues to grow, so does the hidden cost of storing it.
Of course I could have never done as good of a job as a professional. My bottles might not be displayed as enthusiastically as they once were, but they still look and feel as good as they ever have (I must be getting old if I’m saying that line). But with each passing phase in life, my collection continues to grow and my shelves grow up and mature with me.
What started as something with zero thought, over the years has demanded much more and become more sophisticated right along with me, without me ever thinking about it in that way. What started as a random piece of wood tasked with holding a makeshift bourbon collection, has transformed into a statement piece of its own, that may even rival what it’s holding inside it. Now this masterpiece expertly fabricated with oak, stained in a very particular way, under lock and key, illuminated with LEDs, showcases just how far I've come since I started amassing my bourbon collection.
As I organize my collection and decide where all of my bottles will now rest in my new cabinet, I can’t help but recall when I bought each one and what I was doing in my life at that time. I then wonder how many of these bottles will be with me into old age. Which unopened bottles should I save for a specific time or age. It will be impossible to drink my collection in my lifetime, so how do I plan on enjoying it during my life and who gets to inherit it after I'm gone? After investing in bourbon cabinets, do they also inherit those too? Will they love it as much as I do?
Who would have thought how you store your bourbon collection could be an allegory for life? Bourbon collecting isn’t a race and your collection is something that slowly grows with you throughout your lifetime. Being a bourbon enthusiast can be heartbreaking and exhausting at times, especially when you don’t score a particular limited release, but your collection can say a lot about who you are and can hold a lifetime of memories within it.