Is Whisky Art?

Farquharson, Joseph; ‘The Weary Waste of Snow

In John Farquharson’s ‘The Weary Wastes of Snow’, we see the sun creeping over snowclad hill. A small stream trickles slowly through the wastes in the centre, a frozen sheep lies to the right as a small bird flies down to investigate. Another bird flies towards the viewer, the skies showing ominous clouds.

The feelings that come from this are many: admiration of the stark beauty of the landscape which is then offset by the sadness of the seeing the dead sheep.

Sadness, wonder, beauty, hope, and of these are evoked when admiring the painting. The images of death in the picture (represented by the wastes, the frozen sheep and the clouds) are framed against the life shown by the birds, the still running water, and the fingers of light coming over the horizon.

For me, as someone who lived in a hot climate for the first 25 years of his life, I saw snow rarely so the depiction of that is foreign to me. It fills me with wonder. When I first saw snow falling in Edinburgh, I ran outside to film it.

That’s the point of art. Building upon a form – in this case visual forms – the artist evokes feelings and expressions through the emotional power of the work. Art is incredibly interwoven with human history, evolving along side us through our history.

Which leads us on to the burning question that’s been on my mind: is whisky art?

The art vs science nature of the question is obvious and the first thing to debunk. While it may be considered an art by some, whisky is also a science. The knowledge of the creation, the grain, the mash, the stills, the wood – all of these are a formula which is followed by distilleries when they make a whisky. Some might consider whisky to be not art but a craft which could be followed.

But if you were to have a master distiller tell you what to do, exactly when to do things and how, you could have the ghost of Joseph Farquharson guide you in painting your own painting. As much as whisky making is a process, art can be formulaic too.

It’s the hand of the master that has spent years perfecting their art that these pieces come from. The Lady of Shallot, Mona Lisa, Le Traviatta, The Book Of Mormon, Hamlet, Jane Eyre, Bains Whisky, Glen Moray 12 Year Old, Kilchoman Machir Bay, Nc’Nean, Mackmyra Jaktlycka – all of these were crafted by artists making something that in one form or another expresses emotions, leading us to think and wonder over the piece.

Whether it be painting, theatre, literature or whisky, all are art.

If we consider art as something evocative and inspiring, then whisky would surely fall into the category. If we assume art as being expressed through the senses then we have sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste, art is not purely visual. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who does not consider music an art. Touch can be expressed through sculptures and architecture.

Whisky is not a classical art in that sense, but it is timeless. It is made and drunk with the intention of conversation and appreciation, to be enjoyed as much as a fine painting, a piece of music or the written word.

A fantastic Australian artist Christine Porter devised something she calls The Game Of Three. All respect to Christine but I’ll alter the game slightly for our subject matter and current events.

  1. Get together with two friends on a call.
  2. Wander over to your respective whisky shelves and select one at random.
  3. Everyone pour your whisky and spend a minute in silence discovering the whisky: nosing, tasting, thinking.
  4. Ask yourself the following questions;
  5. What do I nose
  6. What do I taste
  7. What do I imagine

Now, just talk about your whiskies. Talk about your thoughts, the taste, smell, what it evoked in each of you. Share a story with one another, giving the whisky what it deserves.

I have in my hand a glass of the Bivrost Nidavellir. On Wednesday, I published a review of it, where I said it smelt of a fresh morning kelp dump, rosemary and charred seaweed. See, when I nosed it, it took me back years, back to Australia, back to when I was a teenager headed to a beach party that lasted all night long with a bonfire.

Evocative, emotional, bringing forth different ideas and imagery, as I sit with my glass and ponder over the depths that the whisky holds it seems obvious that whisky can only be an art. How could something that wasn’t stir so much?

Of course, it’s all down to the individual. Some may or may not consider whisky art in the same way that others may or may not consider Hamilton to be art. I know which boat I’m in and can’t wait to see all the art the whisky world has yet to show.

6 thoughts on “Is Whisky Art?

  1. Very interesting question – is whisky art or science? In my opinion it’s both. There is the knowledge of grains, shape of stills, when to do the cuts etc, but there is also a creative process. You create flavours and aromas – using your knowledge but it’s still a decision from the masters what they want to create and why. If we compare it with photography for example – nobody would say photography is only science and not art. But there is this machine built on optics, (compare it with the distilling equipment) and the user of that machine needs to make decisions about how to use it (choice of lens, settings) to create something – the photograph. In the same way, the distiller makes choices of when to cut, if to double or triple distill, choice of casks, to create something. Both are forms of art as i see it, and it is the art/creative side of whisky that made me become interested in it.

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    1. I like comparison between whisky and photography, and I do think whisky is both. The science behind it cant be dismissed, but to someone who cant paint or make music the process and final piece is art. It’s the same with whisky, a great puzzle where the slightest variable changes the grand picture it makes. Art does that too, so whisky must also be art.

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  2. Absolutely it is. I could not agree more. Almost a hundred things should go right for your whiskey to be just how you want it to be. More than art, it is definitely a science of proportion, numbers, and flavors. Although to brew and distill the perfect whiskey you need to have a passion like an artist.

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