The “right” time


Whether it’s books, art or bottles, once we’re hooked on something, we become magpies – guiltily gathering a collection of all that’s shiny, new and exciting. But too often special wines or spirits are put to one side, left to wait for the longed-for perfect occasion. Here our Spirits Buyer Rob Whitehead – and shameless bottle hoarder – explains why now is the moment to grab the corkscrew

The finest of drinks are for sharing – or at least the finest thing about them is to share them. And who doesn’t want to drink them, really, when all is said and done? The skills, efforts, talents and good fortune of the many producers whose wares we stock are all expended on and invested in liquids that, to ever have a hope of achieving their inherent destiny, will need to be opened, poured and drunk.

Some of my most prized possessions are bottles or cases that have been jealously, or even zealously, squirreled away for a specific future purpose. They may be from the place I was lucky enough to travel to with my new bride on honeymoon, or have been produced only a few miles from where I was born, or even harvested the very same day my daughter was born. All eagerly lie in wait for the day they are opened and shared, with my wife, or my mum, or my daughter.

But then there are a few more, gently resting bottles, dotted around my house (and a few other safe places known only to me) that are destined to be shared with just one person: myself. Amongst many, one is the very last bottle from the very first case I ever consigned for storage in our warehouse – a case that was by no means exorbitant, but still cost no small sum of money in my early days as a cellarman at Berry Bros. & Rudd. Another is a cask sample, drawn from the first whisky distillery I ever visited, just around the time that I was realising what a tremendous, joyful challenge being Spirits Buyer would be. Just beside that sample is a bottle of beer, bought originally in jest, for a dear departed friend who deeply disliked it – so of course was proffered it with now-embarrassing regularity.

As the world turned, it seemed as if the comfort and nourishment sealed up within these bottles did not have a “right” time to be unfurled. I hid them at the back of cupboards, didn’t unpack them at all between one house move and next. I made consciously vague, cryptic references to them when anyone spied them and wondered as to their provenance. Yet here we are, and the time feels right to consider their purpose.

Have they given all they can give as ornaments, or paperweights, or aide-memoirs? Do I have further to gain from simply watching them get scuffed each time they are jostled? Is the pleasure of a wistful smile sufficient counterbalance for the gentle chiding of my loved ones to tidy up my end of the bookcase? Imagine if one were accidentally broken, by some errant toddler, or worse, my accidental misfortune – what would their diminuendo-ing vigil have been for?

There is tumult in the world, there always has been and always will be – but now seems like an opportune moment to reappraise those items one had been saving to share with oneself. It’s a time for using the agreeable isolation of a few moments spent with a glass to reaffirm the strengths and values that were ascribed to it over the months and years it was waited for. To feel how one has grown and learned through anticipation, and how the world has continued apace with its ineffable thirst for the unknowable future. To risk the disappointment of a corked bottle, or worse, a gloriously embellished memory far beyond the ability of the liquid to fulfil. To sigh, contentedly, at time well spent, and to raise a glass high, to more time to spend contentedly. And finally, fittingly, to know what a small jar of Red Stripe lager tastes like after well over a decade of bottle age.