Many people visit St. Moritz in Switzerland to enjoy the breathtaking mountain landscape, to ski in winter or hike in summer. There is hardly another place on the planet where the air is as fresh as here in the Engadin. It is also home to some of the world’s best hotels, specifically the Kulm, Badrutt’s Palace Hotel and the Grand Hotel Kronenhof.
Some come to try a delicacy in another five-star hotel, the traditional Waldhaus am See Hotel. I don’t mean the fondue (although you can get both the cheese or the meat version, and they’re excellent), nor the Chateaubriand (also excellent), but the whiskey. Here, in the hotel bar, Devil’s Place, you will find the world’s largest whiskey collection, (according to the Guinness Book of Records, if you won’t take our word for it). 2500 varieties are offered, which are also available in the online shop worldofwhisky.ch
Imagine this menu. It has 56 pages!
The hotelier Claudio Bernasconi’s passion for whiskey started over 25 years ago, when, due to the unhygienic water in India, he learned the benefits of whiskey, taking it perhaps a bit further than necessary when he also used it to brush his teeth. (I mean, c’mon, they have bottled water in India.)
The idea of opening the world’s largest whiskey bar came later when a guest told him about a Dutch man who owned a bar with 100 different whiskeys. Bernasconi must laugh at that now tiny dot in his rear view mirror.
His range mainly includes Scottish single malt whiskeys, but also a large selection of blended, Irish, bourbon and other grain brandies from all over the world. The Devil’s Place is now considered a mecca for whiskey lovers from all over Europe and beyond. One summer, a rich, young whiskey connoisseur from China visited the parlor and ordered the single malted Macallan whiskey from Scotland, made in 1878. This treat cost him 10,000 francs (9,990 US dollars) for two centiliters (0.7 ounces).
Unsurprisingly, this whiskey had never been ordered before. The price was intentionally so high because the bottle was a collector’s item, not meant to be sold. The value would of course go down as soon as the bottle was opened. And opening it was a risk, as the customer only paid afterwards.
After trying the whiskey, James Bond’s favorite, by the way, if you think James Bond is a real person, the Chinese guest remarked that even though the whiskey was so old, it tasted just like a typical Macallan whiskey, which surprised him. And perhaps had he known that, he wouldn’t have been so eager to pay 10,000 bucks for it. Bernasconi tasted it too, and can now answer guests’ questions as to how the expensive drink tastes.
What happened to the open bottle? “We hope for more guests,” said Bernasconi wryly.
The bottle remained open and Macallan lovers could try it at the bar. According to Bernasconi, the collector’s value was estimated to be around 50,000 francs. The quality of the whiskey decreases after opening because of oxygen getting in, which left the bottle with a shelf life of five to ten years. Which is still not bad.
A huge media hype around the hotel followed, which caused the owner to check the whiskey for its authenticity. Many blogs claimed that the bottle was most likely a well-known fake, uncovered in 2004. Even historically, the bottle could not have existed — the label declares “Macallan and Talisker Distillery Ltd,”, although in the period in question the two producers didn’t work together.
Oxford University researchers finally confirmed it was a fake. The laboratory samples showed, with a 95 percent certainty, the whiskey made between 1970 and 1972, said specialist David Robertson of the Scottish company Rare Whiskey 101. It is probably a blended scotch. This came as a shock to Bernasconi, who said that his father had bought the bottle 25 years ago for a five-figure sum when he ran the hotel. “During all that time, we never suspected that it could not be an original.”
Bernasconi travelled personally to Beijing to refund the money to his Chinese guest. He wanted to show “that the Swiss are honest people” he said. The unnamed guest claimed he hadn’t feel betrayed, as the bottle had not been opened, so there had been no way to know.