2,800 bottles of whiskey on the wall: Gaslamp bar nabs Guinness world record for most whiskeys

Colleen Kilbride considers her many, many choices at The Whiskey House.
(Hayne Palmour IV/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

If you’ve ever had a tough time deciding which whiskey to order, steer clear of San Diego’s The Whiskey House.

Last week, Guinness World Records certified that the Gaslamp Quarter bar has the globe’s largest inventory of whiskeys — 2,467 distinct bottles.

Inside this dark, cozy bar, the dizzying collection runs from Aberfeldy, a Highlands Scotch, to Zeppelin Bend, a Michigan bourbon. The shelves are crowded with imported hooch from Japan, Australia, Finland, Mexico and 21 other nations.

Domestics are well-represented, too, as customers have their pick of bourbons from 45 states. These represent the usual suspects — bottles from Kentucky could fill an entire wall; there are 17 varieties of Woodford Reserve alone — and unexpected locales. Anyone for a dram of Paniolo, “the Spirit of the Hawaiian Cowboy”?

“There’s a ton,” said Steve DeWarns, a visitor from San Francisco who was sipping a Kentucky Mule, a bourbon-ized Moscow Mule.

Rarities abound, like the 46 percent bourbon aged in cabernet barrels, a specialty of San Diego’s Malahat. Should you crave something more venerable, there’s a staggering lineup of “Olds”: Old Bones, Old Breezer, Old Camp, Old Grand Dad, Old Fitzgerald, Old Forrester, Old Henry Clay, Old Medley, Old Overholt, Old Pogue, Old Potrero, Old Rip Van Winkle, Old Scout, Old Whiskey River.

Four years ago, Alex and Lais Minaev opened the Whiskey House in the former site of Candelas, an upscale Mexican restaurant. They began with 150 to 200 whiskeys, a sizeable amount. But Alex kept hunting down more.

Last year, he read an article touting a half dozen bars with impressive whiskey stockpiles. The Whiskey Bar wasn’t mentioned, but the story did note the then-reigning Guinness champ: the Hotel Skansen in Färjestaden, Sweden, with its 1,179 different bottles.

“I’m reading that and I think, ‘we’ve got more.’ So I called Guinness,” Minaev said.

To set the new mark, The Whiskey House had to prove that it consistently offered such a broad array of usquebaugh.

“They all had to be on the shelf for the last six months,” said Yago Duarte, the bar’s general manager.

Last Tuesday, the bar was visited by Christina Conlon, an official Guinness adjudicator. She spent seven hours inspecting bottles, plucking them the shelves and comparing them to a list the bar had supplied Guinness last summer.

By 5 p.m., it was official. Conlon presented the Minaevs with a Guinness World Records certificate, bestowing the championship on The Whiskey House and its 2,467 bottles.

The collection still grows. The current inventory, counting bottles added in recent months, exceeds 2,800.

The most popular: Angel’s Envy, $13 a shot.

The most expensive: Michter Celebration, 2016. Only 256 bottles were released, which accounts for its sobering price: $1,100 a shot.

“We’ve only had one person order that,” Duarte said.

The Whiskey House also pours wine, beer and other spirits, while its kitchen serves burgers, ceviche, scotch eggs and other dishes. But there’s no missing the specialty of the House. At night, the back-lit shelves glow warmly, bottle after bottle extending into the bar’s dim recesses.

“You just keep adding,” said Alex Minaev. “It’s kind of a hobby. It’s not exactly a smart business decision.”