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)
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!