A whisky room. Sigh. You’ve dreamed of having one of these at some point, admit it. Well now’s your chance! With most of us in isolation, travel minimised, working from home and social distancing, a great way to pass the time is to design and build your own whisky room. Ignore that still small voice in your head saying “I don’t have enough space”, and “it will cost far too much”. Here are a few tips, pointers and ideas to get you started.
I don’t remember that much from my years at uni, but one dictum that stuck is “structure follows strategy”. Before leaping headlong into this project, consider what the room will be used for, who will use it, and when will it be used. All of these issues will have an influence on the design and functionality of the room.
Will it be used just for yourself, a group of people or just one or two others? Will you host parties, whisky tastings and events, or will it be a quiet space to relax in the evenings and on weekends? Will it be a multipurpose area, with perhaps a computer desk, or big screen TV? A library as well? Is it a dedicated or shared space?
The Space Itself
Once you work out what the space will be used for, the next step is to find that part of the house or apartment that could be available for reconfiguration. Most of us don’t have the luxury of having an empty room just waiting to be re-imagined into something magical. Usually there is quite a bit of negotiation, horse-trading and haggling needed with those important people that live with you.
Of course there are the obvious solutions. Park the cars outside and convert the garage. Force the kids to share a room so you can convert the other. Whilst appealing, these options may not be that practical in the greater scheme of things. You may need to think a bit laterally, and redefine what might be considered a ‘room’. It could simply be an alcove, with some shelving added for bottles, and a desk and chair. An existing study can become a shared space. Use your imagination, get buy-in and agreement from the others in the home, and don’t be afraid to start small. You can always expand later.
What You Will Need
Once a space has been found, the next phase is to work out what furniture and accessories you will need, bearing in mind any limitations imposed by the space available.
Firstly, you will need somewhere to store open bottles, closed bottles and glassware. Decide whether you want all bottles to be on display and visible, or if you are happy for bottles to be stored in a closed cupboard. If glassware is to be stored out in the open, be sure to keep them upside down, to prevent dust and bug ingress.
Now consider furniture. A comfy chair or chairs, a sofa, a table, a bar counter. A lot of this will be determined by what you think the space will be used for (see The Concept above), and the limitations imposed by the size.
Then there is decor. Do you have empty walls to fill with whisky-related artwork, posters, maps, signed T-shirts, viking helmets and memorabilia?
Chances are you have a picture in your head of what the ideal whisky room should look like. It could be based on what you have seen (and drooled over) on Facebook or Instagram, what you have experienced at someone else's home, or at a whisky bar you have visited. You may be lucky, and be able to style the room from scratch, or the decor may have to match that of the existing room. There is no right or wrong answer here, but some ideas are:
- Modern chic (white, stainless steel, clean lines)
- Prohibition/Gatsby (polished wood, leather and testosterone)
- Industrial (copper piping, raw wood, plumbing supplies)
- Gothic (all black)
- Op Shop (a mix of random bits and pieces)
Sourcing the furniture and accessories is, for me, the most fun part of the whole exercise. There are so many options available, most quite inexpensive, and accessible online (which is important, since none of us are wandering about much nowadays). IKEA, Bunnings, etc have heaps of options at reasonable cost. Vinnies, Sallies and Lifeline stores are a treasure-trove of delights. One can find almost everything you will need on both Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree. (careful, these can be dangerously addictive.) It is also an area to let your creative juices flow. For me it is taking old antique suitcases and converting them into whisky bars.
Think about lighting as well. Is there enough light from the existing fittings, or do you need additional mood lighting. Strip LED lights have really come down in price, and are great for installing on shelving.
Choosing The Whiskies
This is almost the same as “How long is a piece of string?” Each of us has a different taste in whisky, different budget and different drinking habits, plus a limit in the space available for storage. Where we can provide some guidance, however, is in the categories or types of whisky to consider when looking at building a collection:
- Daily Drinkers & Cocktail Whiskies: The term ‘quaffable’ is often used to describe these whiskies, but it does them a bit of a disservice. There is a growing selection of good value (under $70.00) blends, blended malts and single malts, as well as American whiskies, that fall into this category.
- Single Malt Scotch: This category contains the Classics. Scottish brands that have been around for literally centuries, and because they have become so familiar to us they are often overlooked. They are those whiskies that once revisited evoke the response “why have I neglected this for so long?”
- The Internationals: With more and more countries now making whisky, it is hard to choose a selection that represents World Whiskies. You can’t go wrong, however, with a few covering Ireland, Japan and Australia.
- Top Shelf Whiskies: These are the extra special whiskies, typically visited infrequently, and for ‘drinking with intent’. They could have been given as a gift or purchased to commemorate a special occasion or workplace success. All whisky is made to be drunk, so be sure to reward yourself once in a while.
We've also done the hard work for you and curated a brilliant list of whiskies (shown below) to help you get started!
Much has been written and debated about the best type of glass to use for drinking whisky. Some swear by a particular glass, others are happy to use whatever is at hand. A distinction should also be made between a glass for drinking whisky, and a glass for tasting whisky. As we are talking about your home whisky room here, let’s stick to glasses for drinking whisky. Whisky glasses can be grouped into three main categories:
- Fluted stemless glasses (like the Glencairn)
- Fluted stemmed glasses (like the copita)
It is useful to have a selection of each of these categories in your whisky room, as the choice of glass, much like your choice of whisky at a particular time, might depend on your mood. One way to increase your range of glasses is to browse the Op Shops, as they all have impressive glassware sections - including decanters and water jugs.
What To Avoid
- Glass shelves: They might look great, but placing a number of whisky bottles on glass shelving is akin to playing Russian Roulette. Or not backing up your computer hard drive. It’s not a matter of if, but when they will break. They also are unforgiving when it comes to showing dust.
- Shelves that are too deep: Just like in your kitchen pantry, bottles placed at the back of deep shelves or cupboards will tend to disappear. Whisky shelving does not need to be more than 300mm deep, which allows for three bottles to be stacked one in front of the other (or a box or tube, with the bottle in front)
- Shelves that are too long: In the same way as bookshelves bend and bow if they aren’t supported at regular intervals, whisky shelving will do the same. Make sure there is a vertical support every 6 to 8 bottles (if the shelf is thick enough then you may get away with 10 bottles). IKEA-style cube systems are good for this, as you are limited to a maximum of 4 bottles per cube.
- Shelves that are too low: It is best to aim for shelves that have 400mm clearance, to accommodate taller bottles. There is nothing worse than having bottles that simply won’t fit on the shelves that you want them to be on.
- Storing open bottles in deep shelves: Open bottles, which presumably are the ones you will be accessing most often to drink, run the risk of never being found if they are kept hidden in deep shelving (just like the three-week-old salad hiding in the back of the fridge that turns into an autonomous lifeform). Rather keep your open bottles on a table or counter where they can be viewed from all sides and from the top, so you can see the levels in the bottle.
- Avoid heat and light: Be sure to keep your whiskies away from heat and light. If they are out in the open, install blockout curtains and blinds on windows. Don’t use lights that generate any amount of heat too close to bottles, and test that the ceiling doesn’t get too warm if bottles are being stored on top shelves.
- ‘Shelfies’: Us whisky folk are rightly proud of our whiskies, and love to share them on social media. Maybe I’m being a bit paranoid, but please be mindful that some people looking at the photos of your whiskies online are not as like-minded. Before posting photos of your whisky room or collections, ensure that your location and address can’t be traced. Nefarious people might see social media posts as a shopping list!
16 Whiskies Every Whisky Room Needs
It was a surprisingly complex and lengthy process to come up with this list of 16 essential whiskies. Initially the idea was to have just 10, then when it was obvious that the panel wasn't going to reach consensus, this was stretched to 12. Extensive heated debate followed, as well as tough negotiation and trade-offs (I'm prepared to leave out X if you include Y), leaving us with this list.
For each category we wanted to make sure we had a broad representation of styles. For Daily Drams & Cocktail bases, a Bourbon, a rye, a sherry cask and a peated whisky. For single malt Scotch one from each of the 3 major styles, an ex-Bourbon cask, ex-Sherry cask and a peated (and we couldn't not include Lagavulin 16). For internationals, the 4 major non-Scotch countries, Australia, Japan, Ireland & the U.S. And for top shelf, also, one from each of the 3 major styles and an Australian.
Daily Drams & Cocktail Bases
A delicious bourbon, excellent for making cocktails, but also for drinking neat or on the rocks.
Many popular whisky cocktails call for a rye whisky as the spirits base. A strong whisky, but a rye with more delicate spiciness, Rittenhouse is extremely versatile
A blend of Glenturret, Highland Park and Macallan (possibly others also) malts, matured in first-fill and refill American and European oak cask, before being finished in first-fill Oloroso Sherry butts for a further six months.
Exemplary Single Malt Scotch
A brilliant example of classically flavoured single malt Scotch. Light, delicate, citrus-y and extremely well-price. A staple in any home whisky bar.
Young enough to still contain the malty flavour of the spirit, old enough for the oak influence to take shape and aged in Sherry casks - think hints of raisins and savoury, dessert spices.
Ardbeg 10 is considered to be one of the better core expressions from any Islay distillery and has even been written of by one very famous whisky writer who said ‘If perfection on the palate exists, this is it.’
Around The World
It's just damn tasty, and it's a no-brainer as far, as we are concerned, for us to recommend you give this one a go (or get another if its been awhile!).
Hakushu Distiller's Reserve is our pick of the relatively recent non-age Statement Japanese core range releases from Suntory, and actually distilled in Japan!
Made in Melbourne by Australia’s rock stars of affordable whisky using 100% Australian barley aged in a variation Australian Red Wine barrels.
The Top Shelf
One of the few whiskies where the packaging is best in class and the liquid inside is just as good! It really does look amazing on the shelf and goes even better on the tongue.
A relative newcomer on the Australian whisky scene, Spring Bay was established in 2015 but is already making a name for itself with some cracking releases.
Recipient of the highest rating amongst all whiskies in Australia by TWL users, the GlenDronach 18 is everything a good Sherry cask single malt can be. Hint: don't wait!
When peated whisky gets this old, the smokiness starts to mellow in to a refined smoulder. This prime example of older peated whisky is one of our favourite new whiskies from 2019!
About The Author
David Ligoff is the founder of The Whisky Show and former co-founder of World of Whisky (the only specialised whisky shop in Australia) and one of the foremost authorities on the local whisky scene. His speciality is events, with 30 years’ experience in this industry in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. He is the organiser of the highly successful The Whisky Show, held in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, with over 20 whisky and gin shows enjoyed by thousands of people over the past nine years.
Whisky Room Picks
"sort by reviews descending" "twl/Home Whisky Room"
Timing couldn't be better for this, as just this week in the FB whisky group we host, Whisky Lover Australia, someone in the group asked for examples of their whisky shelves to use for inspiration. Many of those shared were quite good so we thought we'd use them here for examples. Enjoy!