Top Shelf Whiskey Art

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Jun 6, 2013 | By Brandon Workman

Aberlour Single Malt Scotch

The metaphoric bottom of the glass can hold mixed meanings—emptiness or accomplishment, victory or defeat. Mostly, though, we're just disappointed the drink is done. But, before running off for another round, Ernie Button wants us to explore the bottom of our tumbler. Literally. He believes that instead of the night's storyline ahead, what's really interesting is what we just left behind.

Clynelish Single Malt Scotch

Button’s project, Vanishing Spirits: The Dried Remains of Single Malt Scotch, focuses on the residue left by evaporation at the bottom of a whiskey glass. With help from some imaginative lighting, Button turns the dried whiskey into a kaleidoscope of colors, ridges, and patterns. Basically, he’s turning alcohol into art, and he captures the creativity of the beverage’s science.

Highland Park Single Malt Scotch

Button hails from Phoenix and he’s been photographing whiskey for six years. He's made public over seventy-five images, and each captures a different, mysterious whiskey shape. Button describes them as celestial or extraterrestrial. But, you wonder, what exactly are we looking at? Princeton researcher Howard Stone describes: it's the imprint of what the [whisky] was doing when it was trying to evaporate

Stone was interested, and he decided to gathered two postdocs to investigate the evaporation process (drinking volunteers needed?), looking into, specifically, why certain whiskeys evaporate in different patterns. Anecdotally, Button had already identified the same idea. He reports: It seems like the Scotches that are more inland, like a Glenlivet...tend to produce finer lines.

Macallan Single Malt Scotch

While this biochemistry talk is interesting and all, we still find the brown stuff more fun to drink. Thankfully, Button has his priorities straight. His ambition is to get you to take time and observe, which we support when Scotch is in hand. But, this also got us thinking—to get to the residue, who drinks the glass? In the name of science and art, we’re sure it’s a process Button gladly completes.

All images via NPR and Ernie Button