A few years ago, I had a comically large liquor collection. I’d say I had maybe 400 bottles, all arranged by spirit, brand and age, in a series of white bookshelves in my home office in Dallas. I wrote about booze for a living, so companies would mail me new things regularly with the hope of getting media coverage for their products. Usually I didn’t even open the bottles; I’d just arrange them neatly in their designated slots in the bookcases, labels out.
But then one day I needed to move out of my home. And I couldn’t take much with me, so I allowed myself one milk crate of alcohol. I put the sentimental bottles in first — bison grass vodka I had gotten on a trip to Poland, Suntory Japanese whisky straight from the distillery — and with the space I had left, I tucked in some of the rare and expensive stuff.
Months later, I resettled in an apartment in Gulf Shores and unpacked the remnants of my former life. I pulled the bottles out of my milk crate and arranged them in two little lines on a rattan table I had found at Habitat ReStore for $20. I spent the following years building a new identity, occasionally adding new bottles to my makeshift bar cart and dusting off the old, familiar ones when they seemed forlorn.
But then one day the pandemic came for us. And as I stared down the end of the world, I began to reevaluate my priorities and the point of holding onto certain things. I abandoned a grudge and reconnected with an old friend. I called my grandpa and finally admitted to him I got a divorce. And I eyed those liquor bottles and decided I was going to drink my way through every single one, because if now didn’t qualify as a special occasion, then when would?
When wine collectors have more bottles than they want, they sell off their excess inventory or pop them for friends in “clear the cellar” parties. I like to think they enjoy opening those bottles, savoring each sip and swimming in the lavish pleasure of their collection while making space for whatever comes next. I’m sure some get hung up on the cost, but if value was that important, they’d invest in bonds or Beanie Babies, not a perishable luxury good.
I didn’t really have an emotional connection to my pricey bottles anymore — as Marie Kondo would say, they did not “spark joy” — and I selfishly wanted to allow myself a bit of luxury in these trying times. So, I carefully packed them in a suitcase and rolled them to my boyfriend Gabe’s house, where we had been isolating for the past few months.
Pulling them out one by one, I arranged them neatly on his kitchen counter, labels out.
“Where should we start?” I asked.
“This one,” he said, pointing to a sharply angled bottle of Gran Añejo rum.
Before decanting it, I Googled it to see how much it was worth: six months’ utilities. Gulp. I pulled out the stopper, smelled the dark brown liquid inside and then poured us the tiniest of sips. It was rich and oaky, like a brown sugar-sweetened Café Cubano. We grinned and reached for the next bottle and then the next, working our way through single-barrel bourbon, extra añejo tequila and single-malt whisky.
For a little while, we forgot about what was going on outside. We were rich. We were swimming in lavish pleasure. I was giddy at how laughably reckless we were being, destroying a rare liquor collection, on a whim, that I had protected for years. But it was also freeing. I didn’t have to carry their weight around anymore — I had space for whatever comes next.
Gabe picked up a bottle that looked like a copper beer kettle and spun it around.
“What’s this one?” he asked.
I bristled, knowing this one was a Holy Grail: a Sam Adams Utopia, of which only a few thousand bottles were ever made. I had gotten it as a gift. I Googled it to see how much it was worth now: two months’ rent. Gulp. I took the bottle out of Gabe’s hands and held it close.
“Actually, let’s save this one for a special occasion.”
Alyson Sheppard is Lagniappe’s resident hangover specialist and Boozie’s most unreliable Baldwin County spy. Find her on Twitter: @amshep.
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