Artists and scientists create ‘whisky tornado’

The installation spatialises whisky creating a mesmerising alcoholic twister. Picture: Contributed
The installation spatialises whisky creating a mesmerising alcoholic twister. Picture: Contributed
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A TEAM of artists and scientists has devised a mesmerising way to sample Scotland’s national drink.

The “whisky tornado” allows connoisseurs to partake in a tipple by breathing in from a column of swirling vapour.

The Scotch mist art installation, which has attracted the interest of whisky-tasting clubs, uses industrial humidifiers to transform the spirit into an alcoholic twister.

By sucking from a straw placed into the centre of the spinning vapour, people are able to taste the drink in a new way, while still getting a hit as the alcohol is absorbed through their lungs and straight into their bloodstream.

The artwork, envisaged as a metaphor for “the impact the Scottish weather has on flavour formation in whisky”, is the brainchild of Bompas and Parr, a studio that specialises in putting a creative twist on everyday foodstuffs and beverages.

Developed in conjunction with scientists and technicians at King’s College, London, it uses industrial humidifiers known as ultrasonic oscillators, contained inside a bell jar.

Sam Bompas said he hoped the tornado would help to “demystify” the world of whisky and educate people about how distinctive flavours are achieved. He added: “If you’re able to see something that’s quite figurative and visual, it can make it a lot more accessible.

“We wanted something … visual, exciting and engaging. It’s often very difficult to articulate the elements of a great whisky when you just have a glass in your hand.

“There are many things which go into making the flavours of a whisky, and we thought it would be interesting to look at the meteorological elements. Sunlight, temperature, rainfall and humidity all contribute to the distinctive aromatics.”

He added: “The tornado is part art installation, but it also gives people an experience they’ve never had before. When you see it moving, it’s almost hypnotic.”

The gastronomic wonder, which creates a vapour of Talisker single malt, was on display at King’s College’s Festival of Food and Ideas last week. The exhibition will transfer to Leeds Gallery on Saturday.

“I’ve been to hundreds of whisky tastings,” said Mr Bompas. “The very best are the ones that get people excited. If you can do something unexpected and different, it can start a dialogue.”

Asked if a licence would be required to display the tornado, he added: “You would only need one if you were selling the spirit or charging admission.”

Dr Mark Freeman, senior lecturer in economic and social history at the University of Glasgow, liaised with Bompas and Parr. He explained the effect of the landscape and the weather on whisky.

He said: “The weather affects the type of barley that can be grown, the amount and quality of water for making whisky and the environment in which whisky barrels spend their many years of maturation.

“Some writers argue that whiskies in the casks take flavour from the atmosphere around them, and it is easy to believe this when watching the windswept seas battering the islands on which many single malts are distilled and matured.”

But he added: “Battling the elements is part of the romance of the whisky-making story.”

Expert’s opinion: It’s a beautiful piece of art, but a pure alcohol ‘hit’ may not be a good idea

This sounds spectacular. Visually it will be wonderful, and I’m quite sure it will give you an idea of what whisky is like. But – and this is quite a big but – I wonder how sensible it is to give people what could be called a pure alcohol “hit”.

It also misses out on a couple of elements which make up a whole whisky experience.

One of the most important things about drinking whisky is how it feels in the mouth; the way the flavours appear and evolve as they pass across your palate. To inhale the aromas and taste the flavours as they are constantly changing at different times – this is what whisky drinking is about.

Inhaling it through a straw seems to by-pass all of that.

The other aspect to drinking whisky is the social side to it, to share opinions, to talk about different drams. It brings people together.

This “whisky tornado” seems to me to be isolating people, rather than bringing people closer into a social gathering.

I am just finishing a new book and part of it is looking at different ways of drinking whisky. I have tried hundreds of different combinations, with different whiskies and mixers such as soda water, ginger ale and Coke.

There is no right or wrong way to drink it. Whisky just needs to make you smile.

I’m quite sure this new tornado its a beautiful piece of artwork, but I will still be sitting down with a good

old-fashioned glass of whisky.

• Dave Broom is a whisky expert and award-winning author who has been writing on the subject of Scotland’s national drink for 25 years.