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Monday, 3 September 2012

#Unravel. Can You Get To The Bottom Of It?

Last week, we received this rather peculiar looking bottle from our friends at Aberfeldy.   The label was unlike anything we've seen on a whisky bottle - simply labelled #UNRAVEL, backdropped by some equally mysterious musical instruments - which immediately got us reaching for our laptops.

And hey presto -  here's a short video giving you a little bit of background on the inspiration behind the bottling:

Still confused?  Yes, us too. 

The project is a collaboration with Scottish arts collective, Found and Aidan Moffat, frontman with the now seminal Post-Rock project, Arab Strap.  It explores the link between storytelling, memory and how we are influenced by the dynamics of the audience listening to the story and our actual memory of the events - think of it as the classic 'the fish was THIS big' situation -  but soundtracked by an animatronic band comprised of an organ, percussion kit and chimes, all controlled by a series of 7" vinyl records. Vinyl was chosen I guess because it has a certain truth about it like a storyteller-  you put a needle into the etched groove on a piece of vinyl and what comes out of the end is an accurate 'truthful' representation of the recording... or is it?  

Record players, by there very nature, are NOT a perfect representation of what the musician intended their music to sound like.  They skip, they are prone to variable tempo changes from the particular playback machine, they warp dependent on their temperature and the sonic representation is all dependent on who cuts the vinyl and its thickness/quality. Having worked on the releases of scores of vinyl albums in the past, a lot comes down to the mood of the guy at the cutting lathe on the day -  trust me when I say this, but I used to reject cuts all the time, simply because whoever was working at the record plant that day probably had a hangover, a pair of shaky hands and had cut the vinyl too 'hot' (or loud) resulting in a distorted playback. 

But that is the beauty of vinyl.  They have a personality all of their own and that is why we love them - sort of where the theme behind #UNRAVEL comes into play.   The installation has built in sensors to monitor the environment of the playback - taking into account the opinions of the audience.   

I must confess that I have watched the above video several times now and I still don't fully understand the relationship between how the playbacks are altered by the audience intervention, but the idea is cool.  

Now where does the whisky fit in?

Well that has left us equally confused, as there was little by way of an explanation from Aberfeldy, but in reality, you don't need one.  This whisky (from a single cask, we think yielding 204 bottles) was released as a counterpoint to the installation.  Whisky, by its very nature is the vinyl equivalent of the spirit world -  it evolves as the drinker enjoys it, changing with the environment and the state of mind of the person consuming it.  

We've asked this question several times before, but how would you soundtrack your drinking experience? Do certain whiskies really taste better, or, to apply the #UNRAVEL analogy, tell a different story dependant on how a piece of music alters your mood??  

Hard to quantify, but sure as s**t, when I pull the dust jacket off a piece of vinyl, cue it up on the turntable and wait for that distinct, satisfying moment when the needle hits its surface, my senses start to open up like pores and there's definitely a moment of alchemy as you listen to the first few bars and take in the first tentative aromas, followed by that all revealing first sip.  

By the looks of things the chance to go and see #UNRAVEL for yourself has sadly passed (how come    we've only just heard about this now, when the exhibition it featured in finished in May!?) But, putting this aside, i'm just going to stick on a record  (The Big Come Up, by The Black Keys) and crack this open. Here's hoping that its profile fully #unravels...

Aberfeldy -  #UNRAVEL Bottling  - single cask - 56.5% - NAS

Nose: Dusty books, white pepper and dried ginger, with a hint of winey oakiness. Some brazil nut/walnut dryness emerges further in. Water opens up the spiciness, with Indian five spice notes and a dusting of chilli.  

Palate: Big hitting notes of Oloroso, some rich dates, caramelised orange peel, a dusting of cocoa and some fresh fruit notes too, including a little wild raspberry and green apple peel. 

Finish:  An abundance of dried fruit stays on the palate, with a tiny hint of candied sweetness and golden syrup on the death.

Overall:  A really fine, bold whisky, which, like a great record, starts off with a bang, gets more introspective during the middle and then comes back in epic fashion at the end.