The tricky thing about a whisky collection is that it’s ephemeral, oxymoronic. It will grow, and it will go. How, I have asked myself over many a dram, does one build a collection and enjoy a collection? I even joined a support group to help me with this conundrum. We call ourselves the Jozi Whisky Club, and we operate on a really smart economic principle: every member contributes monthly, and every month one of us takes all the cash, blows it on four or five great whiskies, and hosts a tasting. A stokvel, basically.
The club was the catalyst to my collecting, but Whisky Pig Theo Buchler did it differently. “I started by focusing on diversity,” he says. “I shopped around, experimented, always bought something new.” It’s a good way to broaden your palate, but with a free-falling rand, it’s expensive. In any event, the experience is essential. Drink as much whisky as you can. Attend tastings. Accept samples. Get onto guest lists. It’s tough at first: the distilleries are unpronounceable and the info is indecipherable. But hang in there, because as you progress something remarkable starts happening: you’ll recognise different flavour profiles; you’ll define your taste.”
At this point, it’s imperative that you don’t buy into the hyperbole. Whisky marketers are doing cartwheels to claim your soul. Ignore them and follow your nose. Ideally, it should lead you to Wild About Whisky in Dullstroom where co-owner Dave Gunns wants to help you on your quest. “We like to share our knowledge,” he says. “We guide customers according to their tastes and their budgets, so that they can confidently go and buy a bottle a month.” Or two, as WhiskyBrother managing director Neil Paterson rationalises: “It’s simple maths: exercise control and drink only one dram a night, and you’ll finish a bottle in 30 days. Two a month means your collection grows by 12 bottles a year.”
Buchler and Gunn agree that if you like an expression then purchase a few and try to keep at least one unopened. Buy from the heart, but also consider a few staples. Chivas Regal’s range has something for everyone, the ever-enjoyable Macallans hold incredible value, and Jack Daniel’s will up your diversity. Once you connect with a distillery, make it your staple. I’m a fanboy of Speyside pioneers Tamdhu and Japan’s otherworldly Nikka.
Finding these rare delights is half the fun. WhiskyBrother is a sure bet, where you’ll find both a wide variety of whisky, and some solid advice. But always stay on the hunt. Duty Free sells many limited-edition releases, and small-town bottle stores across the country are stocked with untold treasures. I picked up an AnCnoc 16 for a third of its usual price in Heilbron in the Free State, and there are legends of far greater finds in far more remote areas.
If you reach this point — detouring across dusty roads in search of unlikely gems — well, then you can call yourself a collector. And even if you don’t manage to hoard more than you drink, you’ll love the experience. That’s all that counts.