Drink your whisky samples!

Who doesn’t like whisky samples? Okay, most would probably prefer full-size bottles, but for most of us mere mortal lovers of the amber nectar, samples are a great thing.

We collect samples at festivals, we bring back home unfinished drams from tastings, we swap them with friends, we get them for free or we stash a way hidden liquid treasures of times gone by. Some of us might even keep an archive – a liquid sample library of all the bottles we’ve ever opened. Is there a whisky lover out there who doesn’t have samples?

I am a sample hoarder. I have brought back samples from my Scotland trips, from tastings, festivals and meetings with friends. I also keep a liquid library. I even bought a huge archive of 6 cl samples from one entire year’s worth of entries into the Malt Maniacs Awards when they were sold by a friend for a good cause.

Needless to say, in total that’s a LOT of sample bottles kicking around, stashed away, waiting to be discovered “someday”. And so late last year I made the decision to do something about the “backlog” and start drinking and enjoying my samples. What I did not expect was how mixed my experiences would be.

My disappointing discovery

As I started opening and enjoying the samples, I noticed that some of them had gone a bit “weird”. They didn’t taste right. Some were even so awful, they had to be dumped, and I know these were good drams at one point or I wouldn’t have saved a sample.

Many of the ones I initially tried were collected in the 2014-2015 time frame, many from tastings. Some bottles were filled to the brim, some had a bit (or more) of air in them. Some were in plastic bottles, most in glass ones. Most of them had electrical tape or (most of them) Parafilm around the lid to protect them. Some of the samples that were “off” were also professionally filled into fresh sample bottles back in 2011 (without Parafilm) and showed no signs of leakage or failing bottle tops. I think my friend Jo still remembers the moment when we were looking forward to trying a sample of a 30-year-old Talisker, but it just tasted “odd.”

Basically, I can see no clear pattern. Some are fine, some are not. The only thing that was consistent is that samples with a significant amount of air (either because the bottle was too big or a portion had already been consumed earlier) faired significantly worse than those in full, perfectly sealed glass bottles, but these provide no guarantees either!

The takeaway message: Drink your samples

Drink your samples! Don’t save them for your heirs or for your retirement. Put them in good glass bottles, seal them, make sure there’s as little air as possible and consume them within 2-3 years. I have yet to find a sample taste “off” that fits these criteria. If you want to store whisky samples for longer periods, I’d suggest keeping a stash of “monitor” samples filled the same way and stored under the same conditions just for the sake of monitoring and try one of them every couple of years just to be sure. I know I’ll start keeping a much closer eye on which conditions seem to perform better than others but that’ll take time. Until then I have a few sample bottles that should be enjoyed sooner rather than later…

What are your experiences with samples and keeping/storing them? Let me know in the comments section!


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8 Replies to “Drink your whisky samples!”

  1. I’ve tried a lot of samples, but never stored them long enough before drinking.
    I’ve a few of them into my collection I’d to store for some time. They’re 3cl of liquid and about 0.8 cl “empty”, air. They’re wax sealed, but I’m not sure it’s enough. Have you any experience of wax-sealed bottles?
    Thank you

    1. Hi Paolo, sorry for the long time to reply! I would guess that wax sealing would be the best option but I do not have experience beyond one or two years (no problems there…)!

  2. It’s not only samples you need to worry about.
    Full bottles if left in sunlight, extremes of temperature or ‘agitated’ also deteriorate.
    As for partials, drink them.
    It’s what they were made for.

  3. So far so good. I use 100ml with screw caps and 250ml bottles with cork stoppers. I fill them to the brim. I store them away from direct sunlight. Preferably in darkness but not all of them can go in my cabinet. I also tape the heck out of them with electrical tape. The good good good stuff has lasted 2 years or more (the rest I drink within 6mo – 1yr). When the 250ml bottle drops below half full I transfer to the 100. The only thing I can say is that for whisky that is spicy or “zesty” it can become mellower/flatter over time. I am assuming because of evaporation of the alcohol.

    1. Interesting! Do you notice the change in the opened or unopened bottles? It is generally accepted knowledge that whisky, once opened, changes with exposure to air. Young, peated whiskies are extreme examples of that. Some whiskies (many, even) improve once opened. Really depends on the whisky. Also, I think bigger “samples” (like 100 or 250ml), if full, don’t change as quickly (when closed) as smaller volumes.

  4. I am terribly sorry, people – it seems the mail server settings on my blog were borked so I only now realized I had comments waiting to get published. All fixed now!

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