Tim Peterson is on a divine mission of peaty proselytization. “My favorite thing about sharing my whiskey collection is seeing someone who says ‘I don’t like Scotch’ find their moment of liking a Scotch,” says this SLC-based whisky evangelist as he pours yet another finger of aromatic whisky into a delicately-flared Glencairn glass. Tim’s challenge this particular evening? Convincing our editor--who likes bourbon but can’t hack “the overwhelming taste of band-aid” that she associates with Scotch--that he can find a single malt out there to her liking. He continues, “I don’t get it when people get judgemental about other people’s palates; everyone is different, and women have stronger taste sensors than men. I’m a big believer that you should drink what you like.” And with an arsenal of over two hundred bottles to back up his calling to find a match made in hootch heaven for every guest, we’re more than happy to attend as his alcohol acolytes. That we do so in an actual adorable Speakeasy bar, dug by hand out of what used to be the coal cellar of his west Sugarhouse cottage basement? Well, that just adds to the surreal and celebratory vibe of the whole experience. (Just watch your head if you’re over 6’2”).
It all started in 2011, when Tim was visiting friends in Phoenix and they went to Costco to stock up for the weekend. One friend picked up a bottle of Kirkland Scotch, which Tim—who was at the time a casual wine, beer and occasional mixed drink kind of guy—assumed would taste like ass. Instead, it was a revelation. Costco bottles Macallan 15 year-old Sherry Cask Scotch under their own label, and it comes from award-winning stock. “My friend’s dad lined up a tasting of Scotch and said ‘Just sample this with no ice. Trust me.’” And from that moment Tim was goddam gobsmacked. “I completely fell in love with peated Islay whisky. I became obsessed with learning all that I could about Scotch, and then American whiskey, too. I totally geeked out on it.” That love for whisky translated into a long trip with his college-aged daughter through Scotland, visiting every distillery he could and tasting as they went. He started carving out part of his budget for buying killer bottles every week or so, and since he travels all over the country for his day job as a Human Resources manager for a major corporation, he’s located the best liquor stores in every city. After amassing a collection of a hundred bottles or so, he started talking with his girlfriend, Jessi, about building a place to enjoy them with friends. According to her, “When Tim started bringing his bottles to come to live at my house, I knew he was serious. When he built the Speakeasy, that was better than a ring to show his level of commitment.”
It’s a helluva treat for any whisk(e)y lover to visit Tim's space: he’s got everything from Kentucky bottled-in-bond bourbons, to rare Spanish single malts, to elegant Japanese whiskies and Bruichladdich’s phenol chart-blowing Octomore. His organizational system? Some bottles are grouped by size. The single malts, regardless of origin, are all showcased on one wall of whisky. Let’s repeat that with the reverence it deserves: a fucking wall of whisky. Around the corner of the bar is another wall (another wall!) of American whiskey made coast-to-coast, though Kentucky brands are his favorites (Amen, brother). Bourbon, rye, you name it. “I’m not as much of a fan of Canadian and Irish whiskies,” says Tim, “but I’ve got a few.” We sip, we talk, we sample some more. And he’s a wealth of knowledge about every single bottle in his collection, with on-point brand history info, a keen palate of his own, and personal stories about the slew of distilleries he’s visited. I personally think it’s wonderful that Tim’s a pretty proletariat collector, with some bottles represented just for the hell of it, like David Beckham’s Haig Club single malt (notes of Drakkar Noir, a bit of 90s Eurotrash pop in the finish), and a bigass bottle of Wild Turkey 101 (his and my favorite hootch for heavy-handed cocktails). It’s in the name of research, people, as we sample some more; we’re still trying to find Amy’s ideal sipper. Each empty glass gets turned over onto the bar of red and white oak to “add spirit to the wood” until we run out of glasses and Tim wipes some more down. Amy finally has a moment: she identifies her favorite smell, "Pirates of the Caribbean” (the Disneyland ride, to be clear). A little spicy, salty, fruity and sweet in a rare sherry-barrel-aged single malt from Spain, Navazos Palazzi.
How does the economics of this work, you ask? “Friends helped me build the Speakeasy,” says Tim, “and they contribute a bottle when they come over to sip.” He also has a jar under the bar for donations to the cause, and when it gets full he buys a bottle or two on his extensive wish list. Whisky Magazine tapped him to blind-test judge samples for a recent blending competition, and he has a huge following on social media. There are a couple of bottles he’ll never open for sentimental reasons—a bottle of that anterior Kirkland Scotch, another of local malt whisky made and signed by all of the guys at Sugar House Distillery from their first barrel, a bottle of Elijah Craig with the now-discontinued 12 year old age statement on the front label—but Tim thinks it’s a damn shame to keep whisky on the shelf. He believes that creating a great environment in which to share spirits only makes the experience better. We’ll drink to that.
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