Literary giant Gray mixes whisky with a dash of Walt Disney

HE has designed album covers, murals and penned the eccentric and elaborate illustrations for his own books.

Alasdair Gray's first-ever whisky label for the limited edition 12-year-old Inverarity blend

Now Alasdair Gray, one of Scotland's greatest living writers, has followed Pablo Picasso and Prince Charles by designing his first label for a drink bottle.

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The author of the modern Scottish classic Lanark, Gray has just finished the design for the limited edition 12-year-old Inverarity blended whisky.

He said: "The colour range suggests Walt Disney to me, but then Disney films were a very potent influence on me in childhood."

The label features a bright purple version of a hill he has climbed several times, with a red sun setting behind it. It was, he observed, "somewhat on the gaudy side".

The label shows the view from the head office of Inverarity Vaults, and the original now hangs proudly in the office of managing director Hamish Martin.

"There has not been any whisky label done this way before," Mr Martin said. "I find it quite mouth-watering."

Gray, 74, remembers growing up admiring the giant figure of Johnnie Walker, perhaps the best-known international symbol of Scotch, on the side of Glasgow's Central Station. "I'm talking about pre-war – there was a very big image of him designed so that his legs actually did walk, and that's the one I remember," he said.

"I've designed book covers and book illustrations but that's the only commercial label that I've been asked to design."

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It will go on sale in a limited edition of 3,000, launched on St Andrew's Day along with A Gray Play Book, a new collection of the author's plays.

The 1997 blended whisky costs 25 a bottle. Mr Gray was paid 1,200 plus a crate of the spirit, which he says he will mostly give to friends at Christmas, rather than drink.

The rear label features a quote attributed to Sir Hector Mc-Keller, a fictional character from his celebrated play The Fall of Kelvin Walker, described as a "successful Scot."

"Reckless intoxication is an option open to all Scots since Uisge Beatha, the water of life, was first distilled," it declares.

Mr Gray's art has ranged from the murals he is gradually completing on the walls of the Oran Mor venue in Glasgow, to paintings shown at the high-profile Frieze art fair in London.

"I know the features of the hills, I know the Clyde curving round there," he said yesterday. "It was an idea of dawn and dusk happening, the moon becoming visible as the sun set."

Inverarity Vaults, a Scottish whisky producer and wine importer founded in 1991, has already teamed up with the cutting-edge Timorous Beasties design firm in Glasgow to produce a range of labels. It has produced special editions for organisations such as the National Trust for Scotland celebrating the Culloden battlefield site.

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The firm linked up with Mr Gray through Oran Mor. As soon as they met, said Mr Martin, the versatile artist began sketching out ideas. He added: "The label he has come up with is the view I see right out of my office."

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