Whisky Advocate

How many whiskies I have. And why.

January 12th, 2010

I promised in my post yesterday that, if I got 150 people to confess how many whiskies they have, I would do the same. In actuality, we’re already over 200. So, here goes.

For those of you who are only interested in the numbers and don’t care about the “why” part, here they are:

Single malt scotch: 834
Straight whiskey (bourbon, rye, wheat): 286
Irish whiskey: 99
Blended scotch, blended malts, grain whisky: 46
Canadian whisky: 33
Japanese whisky: 15
Miscellaneous artisan (e.g. micro) distillery whisky: 13

I have too many whisky samples (50 ml-200ml) to count and track (hundreds), so I am excluding them here.

If my math is correct, that’s 1,326 bottles. 466 of these bottles are open. Regarding the ones that are open, all the bottles are at least 1/4-1/3 full. I have a policy that, when my bottle gets down to that level, I either give it away to someone who’s going to drink it or I invite friends over and we drink the bottle together.

I am an equal-opportunity drinker. I also love wine (168 bottles kept in a wine cellar), drink more beer than anything (have two beers on tap and over a hundred bottles in a beer cellar–a lot of Belgian and Belgian-style), and have dozens of bottles of rum, tequila, cognac and Armagnac.

Now, I’d like to address the “why” part of my whisky inventory.

First, let me say that, in all honesty, I would rather not have this many bottles of whisky. When I tell you how many bottles I have, I am not bragging. I’m actually quite embarrassed by it. (Kids, don’t try this at home. :) ). If it weren’t for my job, I would have only a fraction of these whiskies.

How does one accumulate this many whiskies? (It really is more of an accumulation rather than a collection. I don’t believe in collections. Whisky is for drinking.) Well, it all started innocently enough, just like most of you. Except I got a head start.

When I first got turned on to single malts back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, whisky tastings and whisky festivals didn’t exist. And the restaurants around where I live didn’t have much to offer. So, when I traveled on business (as a scientist at the time) I would go to specialty whisky shops and just buy the whiskies (with MJ’s Complete Guide To Single Malt Scotch in my hand), hoping that I would like them. Fortunately, the prices at that time were not as bad a they are now. (And I was also fortunate that sometimes I had people like Joe C. at Sam’s Wines & Spirits at the time who let me sample whiskies at his shop.)

I wanted to try as many whiskies as possible, so I bought as many as I could afford (without upsetting the wife too much ). Three bottles led to 30 bottles, and that’s when I started getting the “hairy eye ball” from my wife and that’s the first time I ever heard her utter the phrase “OCD” to me. :) ) . Parlaying my passion into a legitimate business is the only thing that allowed me to justify buying more whiskies. It was for research…

It was–and still is–my intention to have zero bottles of whisky left when I die.  (I will need some help from friends, of course.) You see, one day, about ten years ago, I sat down and did the math. At the rate that I was drinking whisky, there was no way that I was going to finish my stash of whisky even if I lived beyond 80 years old. (I didn’t want to be one of those people who die with a large stash of whisky that shows up at some auction somewhere.) And that’s the day I practically stopped buying whisky. I can count on two hands how many bottles of whisky I have purchased in the past decade. I only buy one or two bottles a year. They are usually whiskies that I like that I can’t get here in the U.S. (For 2009, I bought two bottles of whisky.)

My job actually puts a “double whammy” on the amount of whisky I currently have and continue to accumulate. First, I get review samples. Realize, that I get samples of most every whisky that comes into the U.S. (much more than I actually review formally) in addition to whiskies that aren’t imported here. Second, by the time I am done tasting and reviewing whisky, usually the last thing I want is another whisky. (Thus, the reason why I have all the other booze to drink–especially beer.) So, as long as I am doing what I do for a living, I will be accumulating whisky.

Still, I do try to do my best to keep the whiskies to a manageable level. For the whiskies I don’t need–or no longer need–professionally, I use them at the whisky tastings I host. (Like the one I have in Philly the first week of March.) I also donate bottles to many charity events. And, I promise you that all of my local friends never go thirsty for whisky. :)

So, without going into the specifics of which whiskies I have, which ones mean the most to me, etc. (I’ll save that for a different post), I hope this gives you a general idea of what I have. And why.

71 Responses to “How many whiskies I have. And why.”

  1. Aside from the bottle you found and wrote about in Beer Hunter, Whisky Chaser, what’s the one bottle you wish you still had that has long since been imbibed?

  2. Lavinia Turnbull says:

    …and if your wife said..’John..it’s me or the whisky’..with the provisio that you could keep one bottle…which would you keep(bottle..that is)

  3. WHISKYhost says:

    Great post, John. You seem like such a genuine chap that I just want to come over and help you reduce that embarrassing number of bottles. ;)

    Yours in spirit,
    Jason @WHISKYhost

  4. Marco Nijholt says:

    Haha, you probably have a lot of friends. Maybe we can be ‘friends’?! Unfortunately I do not satisfy the requirement ‘locally’.

  5. Bryan C says:

    Thanks for sharing the details. Makes perfect sense to me… now I need my own cover story to get my wife to look the other way ;)

  6. brian bradley (brian47126) says:

    That is the best cover ever John. Start a successful business to cover the scotch addiction!

    In all seriousness, thank you for sharing, it was a good story as to the why’s.

  7. Sascha says:

    Hi John,

    What’s your take on the behaviour of a whisky bottle once it’s been opened and has significant air volume inside the bottle for an extended period (a year or longer). Are you of the opinion that this affects the overall flavour of the remaining whisky, i.e. that it continues to change with this exposure to air?

    I’d be interested in your take based on your obviously extensive sampling size and experience…

    Thank you in advance if you find the time to comment!

    Sascha

  8. Kevin says:

    John – how do you store all of this? The shelving unit must be MASSIVE!!!

  9. Willie says:

    Lavinia Turnbull says:

    “…and if your wife said..’John..it’s me or the whisky’..with the provisio that you could keep one bottle…which would you keep(bottle..that is)”

    Livvy your making an assumption there ;)

  10. Oh, I should also add that I’m awed by your collection. Though I also appreciate your statement that it’s not the number of bottles you have. Like anything else, folks get different stuff out of whisky, and it’s just great that we all can enjoy it together no matter what it is we get from it.

  11. Thanks for sharing this, John. So, only considering Chimay, no other Belgians, which is your favorite?

  12. Texas says:

    Thanks for sharing your story with us, John! Looking forward to hearing what your favs are!

  13. WhiskyNotes says:

    Thanks for sharing John!

    I’ve witnessed bigger collections of a couple of thousands of bottles, but let’s not get into number comparisons. I’ve also seen huge collections of perfectly uninteresting bottles, so the quality is what counts, and I’m sure you have a few jewels standing on your shelves.

    Personally I’m getting to the point where I only collect what I think are the highlights of the year (maybe 10 bottles a year). These tend to cost a lot, but I have the feeling it’s easier to justify than to buy 100 mediocre bottles for the same price. To satisfy my need to taste lots of new stuff, I buy samples instead (stores selling samples are a welcome evolution if you ask me).

    Now I’m asking myself: which two bottles did John buy last year?

  14. John Hansell says:

    stronglikecask @1: The most I ever spent on a whisky purchased off the shelf was the first release of Black Bowmore. The cost was under $300 and I though my wife was going to kill me. My friends and I drank every drop of that whisky, and loved every drop of it. But I sure wish I had another bottle of that stuff!

    Lavinia @2: I don’t know. That’s a tough one. I have too many bottles with sentimental value, not just monetary value.

    WhiskyHost @3: I was waiting for that one. :)

    Sascha, I use Private Preserve, an inert gas, to spray in my long-term open bottles. It works.

    Kevin, I have two rooms in my finished basement. The first room, which contains all my unopened bottles, is a “whisky library” of sorts. The second room is a a bar with all my opened bottles. Almost all the bottles are harbored there.

    Willie: Good point!

    Stronglikecask @10: Precisely!!

  15. John Hansell says:

    Two-bit @ 11: I like all three Chimays. I have some Grande Reserve bottles going back to the 1970s and have Chimay Tripel as a regular rotation on tap.

    My two beers on tap right now: Affligem Noel and Dupont’s Christmas beer “Avec les Bons Voeux..”

    WhiskyNots @13: You’re right. Good philosophy. Considering all the whiskies I have, there are probably 200 or so that REALLY mean something to me.

  16. Chimay Tripel on tap. Wow. My favorite.

  17. sam k says:

    I have had the honor and privilege of drinking in John’s basement, amidst that amazing display of fine and rare whiskies. I genuinely appreciate his generosity and willingness to share, but am most impressed by the reverence he has for the stories behind some of those bottles.

    “This one was given to me and signed by…” and “We got this one after a distillery tour when I met…”

    John is focused on sharing the experience with those around him, and we get to be a part of that every time we visit WDJK (and his basement!). The overwhelming response to the thread about our own collections shows how much we are engaged in that experience.

    Thanks John, for all you do for all of us.

  18. PeteR says:

    What a wonderful collection. Would make deciding which dram to have after a long day at work somewhat difficult for those of us not tired of drinking whisky by the end of a long work day.

    I also love belgian style beers (most beers actually). Can you share a few US belgian style brands you particularly like?

  19. butephoto says:

    Very interesting reading and it’s good to see how someone as prominent in the industry as yourself feels about his ‘collection’.

  20. Paul M says:

    May you live long and enjoy every last drop.

  21. Andrew M. says:

    “If my math is correct, that’s 1,326 bottles. 466 of these bottles are open…….. Still, I do try to do my best to keep the whiskies to a manageable level.” – John Hansell

    And my wife has the nerve to complain that my 100 bottle bourbon collection is too much!

    Thanks for sharing John!

  22. butephoto says:

    I think with that many bottles you could easily throw your own Whisky Fest!

  23. John Hansell says:

    Sam K. @17: you are too kind.

    two-bit @16: Chimay Tripel is great on draught or on tap. Tonight, we drank Duvel–with sushi. Now, I am doing an interesting side-by-side comparising of two good craft whiskies: Stranahan’s from Colorado and Hudson Four Grain Whiskey from New York.

    Did you know that Malt Advocate was originally a beer magazine. (And I originally was a full-time beer writer/publisher?)

    Peter @18: I love many Belgian beers. Been to Belgium several times touring breweries and cafes.

    Paul M., thank you very much.

    Andrew M., I am bracing myself for all of the quotes (and misquotes).

  24. Having been to several of John’s tastings at Monk’s Cafe in Philly…I can vouch for the fact that he pulls great stuff out of the Malt Mansion for those events… ;)

    Next one is in March…well worth a trip to Philly!

  25. Scott says:

    *books a flight to Philly in March*

    Great collection.. holy smokes..lol…

    Thanks for sharing.

  26. John Hansell says:

    Mark, Not sure what I’ll be bringing yet. I’m thinking “Independent-minded”. Maybe a line-up from the independent bottlers?

    I am always happy to share my special whiskies at my tastings. There are some, though, that I have sacrificed and I still miss them dearly. They include a 1973 Longrow, a 1940 Glenlivet (G&M), a 1974 OB Ledaig, a pre-prohibition bourbon bottled for The Cloud Club in NYC. There are more, but I don’t want to bore you. Still, better to share them with people who appreciate them in an environment where they can afford it, rather than die and have some collector buy it and have it collect dust somewhere.

    A general comment: I have a lot of special whiskies for various reasons and I promise to share my thoughts about those with you in an upcoming post.

  27. Yossi says:

    @John – What night will the tasting in Philly be? I may plan some work travel around it (if it’s a public tasting that is…)

  28. Yossi says:

    P.S. I am in awe of your collection and can understand your mixed feelings about the size of it.

  29. sam k @ 17: you are too right. I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting John (or any of the others on this blog), but my whisky learning curve has been a vertical line since first I visited here in 2008. The only question I’ve ever asked that John wouldn’t answer was this: “If you were going to recommend one whisky for my backbar, what would it be.” John was most kind in his reply, but I laugh at myself now for asking.

    John @ 23: I’d love to try the Duvel, but I’d stick to Rocky Mountain Oysters instead of sushi. I tried Stranahan’s at a tasting in Cheyenne last summer. It was billed as a “surprise sample” at a Scotch tasting. I must say, for the price I paid for the tasting, I wasn’t impressed. And, yes, I recall from another post that MA covered beer. I love beer, but I’m glad you cover whisky now.

  30. John Hansell says:

    Yossi: My tasting in Philly is March 2nd at Monk’s Cafe. They are only taking 20 people, so…you might want to call them for a reservation. (215-545-7005). I also want to book a tasting in NYC @ DBA in Feb or March.

    Two-bit @29. Very kind of you. But sorry, I can’t recommend just one whisky. And I still review and cover beer for All About Beer magazine, America’s longest-running beer magazine.

  31. John Hansell says:

    WhiskyNotes @13: the two bottles of whisky I purchased this year: The inaugural release of Kilchoman, who I bartered with a fellow WDJK reader from Amsterdam and the Old Rip Van Winkle Family Reserve 23 year old, another barter, (great whiskey from an historic distillery and very nice packaging too–love the decanter).

    But, now that I tasted and reviewed the Brora 30 (2009 release), I really would like to have a bottle of that juice! I won’t buy it though, because I am sticking to my “don’t buy” philosophy.

  32. Ernest says:

    John:
    Great piece; very heartfelt. Please drop a message on this blog when and if you set a date for a tasting at dba as I’m only a 90 minute train ride away. BTW, Dupont’s Avec Les Bons Voeux is one of my favorite all time beers. In fact all their saisons are truly wonderful. Been to the brewery and it’s a must visit if in Belgium. Cheers.

  33. John Hansell says:

    Earnest, I’ve been to the Dupont brewery three times! (Great cheese too, BTW.). And to keep up with my tastings (and other tastings), you need to subscribe to our free “WhiskyNotes” email newsletter.

  34. Scott Mansfield says:

    Great posting. Pity my wife didn’t buy the “look at my collection in comparison’ line.

    I hope one day you’ll be able to add an Australian whisky to your purchasing list.

  35. Greg G. says:

    John,

    While your passion started with Scotch, mine started with bourbon; specifically, out of production bourbon. Where I live, there’s a wide selection of bourbons that date back decades, the oldest being a 1965 Old Fitzgerald Bottled in Bond. I don’t have a definitive count, but if I were to make a guess, I would say somewhere around 150 various bourbons, 15 or 20 Scotch and a handful of Irish Whiskeys. I laughed at your “hairy eyeball” comment as I’ve received the same look from my wife when she looks at my hoard of 350+ bottles of bourbon. If ever you need an older sample, give me a shout.

  36. BA says:

    I can’t believe no one has asked for links to pictures yet! I’d love to see this.

  37. Ernest says:

    John:
    Yes Dupont has great cheese. Unfortunately when I went I had just eaten a huge lunch consisting of about 20 different Belgian cheeses and pates at the Brewery Vapeur brewing day in Pipaix. When we arrived at Dupont they were perplexed as to why we didn’t touch their cheese. Thankfully someone spoke French in our group and explained that we had been eatng cheese for the several hours before arrival!

  38. lawschooldrunk says:

    wow. I am so driving by emmaus, PA next time I drive to NY from DC.

  39. Todd says:

    John, what is the best time of year to set up a time share in your neighborhood?

  40. MarcP says:

    Once again John, an excellent post! I think a post required in the near future needs to have photos of the various collections posted. I can only imagine that a 1300+ whisky collection resembles the heavenly light at the end of tunnel! :)

    SamK @17: Well said and I could not agree with you more.

  41. John, after having bought so few bottles over a long time, could you please also tell us how big your accumulation was when you decided to stop buying?

    In a way I am rather impressed that you managed to hold on to your decision. But I guess the steady flow of review samples didn’t make it too hard.

  42. Gal (@galg) says:

    few Qs:

    1.where do u keep it all?
    2.i can come any day and drink some.
    :)

  43. Lavinia Turnbull says:

    Willie…I think your comment says more about you than John lol…mind you, would Audrey sacrifice her shoes :-)

  44. B.J. Reed says:

    Wow, more than the Dell :)

    What I find about many people with large collections is how generous they are in sharing those collections with others.

    I like your goal of finishing them off before your die – I try to share as often as I can either at tastings at the Dell or with friends who share my love of single malt whisky.

    If I cannot accomplish that I can guarantee one great wake!

  45. bgulien says:

    Hi John, smashing collection, and if the X-mas bottles you choose from are an indication, the quality is pretty good as well.
    Hope your insurance is good, with al the flammable items in the house.

  46. That’s a warehouse, not a cabinet :-)

  47. Mark says:

    Your set of bottles is almost as impressive as your attitude toward it.

    Rhum agricole, gin, cognac, armagnac and wine are what supplement our array as well. The scale is different!

    Moods, seasons and just being able to choose from only good options, make me glad for the diversity.

    Thanks for sharing — and I say that to all the others, too.

  48. Louis says:

    John,

    I am amazed that you could get through an entire year and only buy two bottles (even realizing all of the samples sent in your direction). It is rare that I buy less than two bottles at a time :)

    Slainte.

    Louis

  49. John Hansell says:

    Louis @48: don’t feel too badly. I still remember the days when I was bringing back 10+ whiskies from Scotland, crammed in my luggage and carry on bags.

    Jean-Luc @46: I like to use the phrase “Library”. :)

    Oliver @41: That’s a good question. I’m not sure exactly how many bottles I had when I vowed to drastically stop buying whisky about a decade ago. It definitely was less than 1,000, and much less than I have now.

    gal @ 42: see my post @14.

  50. Red_Arremer says:

    John, I’m a big fan of vatted malts. Which ones do you have in your collection/accumulation?

    I wouldn’t even ask, but I’ll bet it’s competing with grain for least bottles.

  51. John Hansell says:

    Red, the majority of them are Compass Box whiskies, but I also have Wild Scotsman, Sheep Dip, Cutty Pure Malt, and JW Green. I had some old vattings from the 1970s and 1980s, but used them all at my whisky tastings.

  52. lawschooldrunk says:

    Can we get some pics of your whisky library?

  53. Louis says:

    John, @49, I look forward to doing that someday, and hopefully more than once :) But that will have to wait until I am done with tuition.

  54. MrTH says:

    John, a library has books in it. If I ever get organized enough to have a whisky room in my house, I’m going to call it the Orcadeum–’orca’ is Latin for jar or pot, and of course there’s a nod to my favorite place in the world, Orkney, which the Romans called Orcades.

  55. David says:

    Wish I could make it to Philly on a Tuesday night, Monks is my favorite restaurant in Philly. Do you ever do tastings in DC? Impressive collection!

  56. John Hansell says:

    LSD @52: I will definitely do that, but not sure exactly how soon.

    Mr TH @54, so that’s what I should call it…

    David, I have done DC in the past, but no plans at present.

  57. Wayne says:

    John:
    Thank you for this post. You say that when your bottles go below a certain level you drink them down or give them away. Is this because the whisky changes when exposed to too much air?

    I have only a modest accumulation and they are all open except for the duplicates. People tell me that whisky does deteriorate in open bottles, but I haven’t noticed this. If it does deteriorate, how would the deterioration be different from whisky still in barrels which has a lot of surface area exposed to oxygen due to evaporation?

    Thanks.

  58. John Hansell says:

    Wayne, yes. And to keep a good supply of friends too. :)

    If you haven’t noticed anything, then I wouldn’t worry about it.

  59. You need to show pictures of how you store it all!

  60. WolfgangU says:

    John, thanks for your honesty. I do envy your collection and regret not being one of your ‘local friends’.
    But I don’t think I envy your for having to taste whisky for a living, day in day out. “…by the time I am done tasting and reviewing whisky, usually the last thing I want is another whisky”. The prospect of a dram or two at the end of my day or the tasting with friends on the weekend is a very special thing I am looking forward to all day/week.
    But then of course I am glad you are not like me or we would not have this blog or in this quality.
    BTW: I’d be interested in the health issues with drinking so much alcohol, i.e. do you calculate units and set any daily or weekly limits? Maybe a topic for another thread.

  61. Gary says:

    Nice post John. I am fascinated with the amount of whisky you own. How do you keep track of all of it? Do you have it documented somehow?

  62. John Hansell says:

    WolfgangU @60. A good topic to discuss. Stay tuned…

    Gary, it’s all on an Excel spreadsheet. And it’s organized by country/region in my “library”.

  63. I would love to see pictures of whiskey collections such as yours. I am jealous. My wife on the other hand, thinks this is nuts!

  64. Mike Dereszynski says:

    Hi John,
    I dont want to rain on the parade of envy and admiration of your river of whisky BUT, I am sure Amy is like my wife and others and has probably asked “what if?”.
    Do you have it insured for unexpected loss ie theft,fire ( Johns mini Heaven Hill fiasco in the basement !) ?
    If so, how do you go about putting a $ value on it. I know the occasional auction can give you some idea of value, but as we have seen this past year bottles of the same release can vary from auction to auction.
    Are their expert appraisers out there that work with insurance companies?
    Just wondering as I look at my bottles and try to answer my wife’s “what if?”
    Mike Dereszynski

  65. John Hansell says:

    Jason @ 63: I’m sure there will be pictures in due time.

    Mike @64: I have alarm systems out the wazoo. Plus, I have my two friends: Smith & Wesson. You should contact your insurance company to discuss.

  66. Gary says:

    Thanks John. I figured you must have had it logged on your computer somehow. Well, if you are ever up Connecticut way and want to share…;)

  67. alexiust says:

    John,

    Great post and great thread. I’ve enjoyed reading it and despite the various numbers of bottles in our collections (I’m at 6 – all open) that were all uniform in our enthusiasm for whisky. My kind of bunch!

  68. MrTH says:

    Messrs Smith & Wesson reside here in Springfield, Massachusetts. They have their limits, though. Massachusetts Mutual is here, also.

  69. John Hansell says:

    Mr TH, I have this other friend. I just call him ADT.

  70. patrick says:

    @59, Richard, by the way, how many bottles do you personally own?

    John, thank you for all your post. Should I ask you which is the oldest bottle you own?

  71. Tim M says:

    Great stuff, John. With the advertising for Monks, I hope Tom will hold a seat for me. Would hate to miss it this year! BTW, have meant to ask for awhile – there is a Hansell Rd right down the street from me in Newtown Square, any relation?

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