Techniques: Living Bottle & Solera Marrying

by Matti

Here’s a fun way to get into homevatting: start a living bottle. A living bottle is a bottle into which you decant small amounts of different whiskies, and in which you always leave a decent level. The nose, taste and finish of the drams you pour from it change with every new whisk(e)y you add. After a while, there may be dozens or even hundreds of different whiskies in the bottle. One of the good things about this (besides it being a hoot) is that the whiskies get the time to grow accustomed to one another, to marry together.

There’s a few different ways you can go about maintaining a living bottle, here are some ideas:

  • Pour the last bits of bottles you particularly liked into it to create a kind of über-blend based on your favourite taste-character.
  • Pour in whiskies you don’t like. Now this might seem strange, but as they say: ‘the only way is up’. You may just create a drinkable blend.
  • Pour in bits of different whiskies with a similar taste-profile (peated, sherried, floral, …) to create Peatzilla, Sherrific or Floralicious (gheghe, I crack myself up)

Solera Marrying

But, to me most in spirit with the subject of this blog is this: use your living bottle to marry a homeblend you particularly like. Every time the bottle goes below a certain level (I suggest doing this before or at the point it is half-full), top it off with the constituent whiskies in the correct proportions. What you are doing now is similar to a process called ‘Solera Vatting’.

SoleraI had some trouble writing this out, so I’ll let Wikipedia explain: ‘In the solera process, a succession of containers are filled with the product over a series of equal aging intervals (usually a year). One container is filled for each interval. At the end of the interval after the last container is filled, the oldest container in the solera is tapped for part of its content, which is bottled. Then that container is refilled from the next oldest container, and that one in succession from the second-oldest, down to the youngest container, which is refilled with new product. This procedure is repeated at the end of each aging interval. The transferred product mixes with the older product in the next barrel.’ When ageing using this method, which can be described as ‘the old product raising the young’, you end up with a mix of the very old all the way through to the quite young in the last vat (and therefore in each bottle).  A big benefit (and the main aim) of the technique is that it keeps the brand-taste consistent, even when the new spirit isn’t.

And it is this consistency which is key to our aims: when solera marrying whiskies, you only have to wait once for your homeblends to marry. Once you’ve judged them to be sufficiently married, you top them up when the level gets below a certain point and can keep serving the blend while the old married couple already in there gives the newlyweds a crash course.

There are not many whiskymakers who use this process: Glenfiddich 15yo is the only one I know of. Do you know others? Have a suggestion for getting the most out of your living bottle? Let us know in the comments!