Permanent collections: Jacyara de Oliveira | Varyer

A Case for Accumulations

Permanent Collections: Jacyara de Oliveira

I’ve never been a great collector.

I was never particularly interested in rarity. I find the dedication and intentionality required of serious collectors to be, in a word, boring. I don’t get much joy out of seeing a complete set of something, or a tidy pile of another.

I’m not a completely soulless individual, mind you. Nor am I a strict minimalist. I just have a tendency to accumulate as opposed to collect, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

Accumulation has such negative connotations: people assume accumulation is completely irrational, careless, messy, and greedy. I wholeheartedly disagree. Accumulation is a sort of living journal: a set of things that represent a time or place or person. These pieces are portals and time machines, stoking memories of a life lived. Our things hold magic, whether we gather them with intention or with intuition.

I have, on my home bar, a small accumulation of flasks of varying brands and bottlings. They aren’t particularly valuable or in great shape: most have been opened (sue me), the labels are beat up, and there are more than a few ounces missing. I picked them up over a period of time from a little bar in my neighborhood called Rich’s, and they have the effect of immediately transporting me to the body and spirit of my 25-year-old self.

I don’t know who first took me to Rich’s, but I do remember the feeling of anticipation as I stepped up to the front door of what looked like basically every other neighborhood corner bar in the city: a standard brick facade suspiciously devoid of windows. We were here because this 100-year-old establishment purportedly had a basement— the same size as the bar—full of bourbon, scotch, and brandy purchased over the course of the many preceding decades, and they were selling it for cheap. I felt like I had access to something so special and so secret, I was thankful to be included.

On top of the wild inventory, Rich’s was home to a woman: Sherry. Sherry could be found, more often than not, tending to the bar at Rich’s from noon ‘til 2 am. Her warmth, generosity, and camaraderie were admirable verging on the point of disbelief. At first, I was visiting Rich’s for the rarity, but I kept coming back for Sherry.

She was an accountant by trade and had found herself tending bar at Rich’s when her client, the owner, needed assistance. We built a bond over the Rich’s basement: researching the inventory, deciphering what came from where, and taste testing along the way. It was usually pretty quiet, frequently the only sounds came from the television or the pool table around the corner. She came to visit me at my bar and I got to show her what I loved about bartending: loud music, quick-paced service, and cocktails.

Each time I went to Rich’s, I’d buy a flask to take with me. I’d pick whatever looked oldest: Smirnoff, Martell, Cutty Sark, all from the 70s and 80s, and pop it on my shelf at home. I felt like a custodian of something special and knew that Sherry was being kind, finding the good stuff, and sliding it my way. We came to trust each other with this special thing: a mixture of moment and product.

Unfortunately, after a time, that trust was broken. A friend I had introduced to the bar had convinced Sherry on a previous visit to sell them a full-size bottle from a recognizable brand. They then used the bottle as a part of a winning cocktail competition presentation. While they only used the bottle for show and there was of course no mal-intent, Sherry still felt like she had been deceived.

I knew she’d likely never feel the same way about me or the other young, vintage spirit-obsessed bartenders that were now a frequent occurrence on her steps. I stopped purchasing bottles there and made myself content to stick with whatever she brought up from the depths of the old bar. Eventually, my visits grew fewer and further between, until I moved away from Chicago for a time. Her bar was one of my last stops on my way out of town.

Each time I pass my bar at home now, my eyes glide over the little flasks. The bottles and the memory of the late, quiet nights in Rich’s have stuck with me through multiple moves across the country, and across the city, and always bring me joy at having shared space with people as unique and special as any rare whiskey might be otherwise considered. Our things hold magic, and whether we acquire them by chance or by choice, we’d do well to make time for them.

A Simple Recipe

Whether I’m enjoying my current company or the company of a nice memory, I like to keep my cocktails on the lighter side. Sweet Vermouth and tonic— two things that should be in everyone’s fridge, in my opinion — provide a nuanced and subtle backdrop to any engagement.

☞ 1 part Sweet Vermouth (I like Carpano Classico) or Ghia for a non-alcoholic option
☞ 3 parts Tonic (Fever-Tree Mediterranean Tonic works nicely here)

Add all ingredients to a highball glass with ice and stir gently to combine. Express lemon oil over the top and garnish with a lemon peel.

For more bottles of intrigue check out our recommendations: list of worldy beverages