Along with Rackhouse Pub, this week I paid a visit to Pints Pub, the quirky British brewpub that claims to stock the largest collection of single malt whisky outside of Great Britain. I had my doubts -- a number of restaurants make the same claim, including Dundee Dell, an Omaha eatery -- and I noted them: "While that claim is hard to substantiate, this bar certainly has the largest collection in Denver."
It didn't take long for Pints owner Scott Diamond to get in touch, and it turns out that the quantity of expressions on hand is only part of the picture. "There are 53 Fourteeners in Colorado, right?" he asks. "And people pride themselves on bagging Fourteeners. If one person climbs Mt. Elbert every weekend for a year, then he'll climb Mt. Elbert 52 times. If another person climbs a different one every weekend and does 52 different Fourteeners, who's done more fourteeners? They haven't done the same number, have they?"
The same theory goes for whisky, he says. Diamond isn't interested in collecting several expressions from one line -- stocking, say, twenty different Laguvulins or thirty Glen Livets just for the sake of keeping hundreds of bottles on hand. "Distillers release a new expression every few months," he explains. "It's marketing. Having fifty Glen Livets is easy to do, but that's not the point. It's still Glen Livet."
So Diamond's claim is based on his representation of single-malt producers. And on that basis, his assertion is hard to dispute.
"One-hundred-and-twenty-five distilleries have been making whisky in Scotland since World War II," he continues. "We have whisky from 124 of those -- and no one in the world can make that claim." Of those 125 distilleries, only 85 or 90 are currently producing the spirit today, so Diamond has spent the last several years tirelessly hunting down expressions from lost stills (stills that will never produce again) and silent stills (stills that exist but aren't currently making whisky).
"That's where we really stand out, because the whiskys are so rare," he says. "For instance, Glen Flagler. It's not a particularly good whisky, but the still doesn't exist anymore. Every time someone drinks Glen Flagler, that's less there will ever be in the world. But we offer Glen Flagler. You can get that here."
Diamond picked up the 124th producer after scouring message boards for three years. He'd been seeking Kininvie, a distillery that had done a one-time bottling that was only released to employees. Stumbling around in the blogs he peruses for about an hour a day, he located a bottle for sale -- and he spared no expense to get it.
Now he's going after his final conquest, Malt Mill, an Islay malt whisky that was first made in 1908. Malt Mill combined with Lagavulin in the 1960s, and bottles of the original product are nearly impossible to find. But it exists at mega-distributor Diageo, Diamond says, and he appealed for a bottle personally -- but since he doesn't buy huge quantities of every expression that company sells, he was turned down.
"I'm interested in single malt as the genre, as the art form," Diamond says. "Diageo just wants to sell the whisky, sell me different expressions. The Diageo rep says I don't sell enough whisky to get what I want."
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Diamond initially started collecting by producer back when he owned the York Street Cafe (its old home became the Bank, which recently closed; it will soon be resurrected as The Three Lions, a Little Pub concept). "I had forty single-malts and an eclectic beer selection," he remembers. "That was twenty years ago. I started with forty at Pints Pub, because single-malt whisky was appropriate for a British brewpub. I went for 100 and got 100. I expanded and expanded and got to 175 and started running out of space. At that point, the only place to go was not to keep collecting bottles. Having distilleries represented was, I thought at that time, an achievable goal."
In addition to single-malt Scotches, Pints Pub also stocks an expression of every other single-malt whisky produced in the world, including versions from Japan, Sweden and Ireland. But it will be hard to keep up with that now that craft micro-distilling is getting so popular. "It's like craft beer," he explains. "There was a time when you could know every beer coming out of England and Germany. Then it caught on, and now knowing every craft beer that exists is impossible. That's what's happening with distilling." He cites Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey as a single-malt producer on the forefront of that movement.
Ultimately, having a collection with the range of that at Pints allows a whisky drinker to understand the spirit the way he could understand wine. "If you want to have drank single-malt from every place in the world," Diamond concludes, "we're the best place in the world to do it."