Do you remember the first drink of whisky that you ever had? Horrible, right? And it took a while to gain an ‘appreciation’ for the taste. The bottle sat among the other bottles in your liquor cabinet, or your father’s cabinet, depending on how old you were when you got started. The nectar of the gods, sitting there along side the rum and the gin and the vodka. A rose among the thorns.
Then you bought a second bottle. Now you have a scotch and a bourbon. Then a third, because someone recommended one. Now it’s decision time, because your little liquor shelf is starting to get crowded. Then you go to your first spirits festival because you’re starting to actually like whisky. You taste a bunch and start to develop whisky preferences. So you come home with two more because ‘they were really good’. There’s a sense of pride developing. The next time your friends come over, you have the bottles on display – on your fridge, or on a shelf in your kitchen. But afterward, you don’t really want to put them back in the liquor cupboard with all that other ‘common’ liquor.
This is how it happens. The shelf becomes a display case in the basement or the rec room, because the collection has grown to ten bottles. It just wasn’t complete without an Irish whiskey, and something from a place called Islay. And then you got your first 18 year old single malt for Christmas, because you’ve been dropping hints for three months.
What we are leading up to folks, is the ultimate prize – the whisky room. I got mine five or six years ago. Now I need to explain how you can get yours. It’s all about the Anatomy of a Whisky Room.
For me, it wasn’t terribly difficult. I have a pretty big basement and a brother-in-law who’s a decent carpenter. But, to justify the time, effort, and cost, to anyone who needs justification, you need to be shrewd. And frugal.
Step 1 – pick a suitable spot and a suitable size. My room is about 14 x 14 ft. I carved it out of a storage room in the back corner of the basement, so I only needed to build one complete wall and fix up a couple of others.
Step 2 – start with just the basics. As you can see in the picture above, just drywall and paint, with a bit of decorative trim around the bottom. Super basic door. Peel and stick tile right over the concrete floor. Three tiles for a dollar at the local thrift store. Canvas painter’s tarps stapled to the ceiling joists. Remember, a whisky room is a labor of love. It’ll take a few years to get it just the way you want it.
Step 3 – basic furnishing. It starts with what you have kicking around the house, or your sister’s house. I didn’t buy any furniture. A couple of old wooden crates, some old family stuff that no one in my family wanted. Throw it out? Not a chance. A couple of dish cupboards from my parent’s old house. Voila!
Step 4 – ambiance. It’s important to display your whisky treasures. Which means a couple of things. First, you need to have shelves, etc. to get the stuff up there. Second, and perhaps most important, you need proper lighting. For me, that meant one eight-foot track, mounted diagonally on the ceiling. You can put as many lights as you want on one simple fixture.
I was in a local antique/junk shop one day and noticed four little wooden drawers from an old sewing machine. I wondered if a whisky bottle might fit. I bought them – $4/each. It was like they were designed to display whisky. Over the next couple of years, I found a bunch more. Add to that, a series of completely mis-matched shelves from thrift stores. Perfect and cheap.
Step 5 – more ambiance. Books from second hand stores, magazines, signs, and knick-knacks. An old globe, a lamp, a brass bell (from Bell’s Whisky), whisky napkins. Stuff that you find once you start looking.
Step 6 – expansion and upgrading. Once you get the room up and running, then it’s easy to gradually start changing and upgrading. A better quality display case. Additional lighting. A rug on the floor. Some chairs for your whisky room guests (although I still use folding chairs). And then the cool part starts to happen. Friends start to bring you things for your room. Including whisky. Bonus. My buddy, Frank, brought me a 1907 Scottish distillery map that he found. My niece brings me all kinds of old whisky glasses and bottles from her yard sale tours.
When I first built the room, we had a dish closet in the corner of my newly minted whisky room. I didn’t remove it initially, in order to save money. Last year, I build a duplicate closet in another part of the basement, moved the dishes out of the whisky room, and re-purposed the closet into a corner nook. A nice little expansion. There was some splurging involved, in the form of an old mantle that I found in an antique shop. And a great Dewar’s sign that my nephew found at a yard sale. I traded it for a case of beer. Sweet deal – for him. He doesn’t drink whisky. I added an old bowl where I deposit the cork from every dead whisky bottle.
So there you have it. The journey from that first bottle to where we all really want to end up. All you need to do is take that first step. Then, over time, it just sort of comes together. And there is nothing more rewarding than to bring the gang down into the whisky room to have a dram and to spread the love. Whiskylove, that is. But remember, you don’t need a whole room, or even a whole cupboard full of whisky, in order to enjoy a dram with fellow enthusiasts. The key is to enjoy. Cheers!
Here are a couple more pics of my room. Just because it’s fun to share.