That Certain Something

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The Balvenie 125 Photo: Ernie Button

The Balvenie 125
Photo: Ernie Button

Some time ago I posted the intriguing images of Ernie Button, who took photographs of dried whisky at the bottom of glasses.

Button tried taking photos of other spirits at the bottom of glasses, but nothing else offered up quite the imagery of aged whisky.

He turned to a researcher in fluid mechanics, Dr. Howard A. Stone, to gain some insight into the why behind the beauty.

The Balvenie Doublewood 101 Photo: Ernie Button

The Balvenie Doublewood 101
Photo: Ernie Button

Previous work has been done on the science of coffee rings, an issue of particle dispersion.

But while coffee is made of, well, coffee particles and water, whisky is made of two liquids – water and ethyl alcohol, which evaporate at different rates.  And, whisky contains something else – polymers that create the patterns as the liquids evaporate.

The coffee ring effect:

Coffee, like many liquids, contains tiny, spherical particles (see the video below). When a drop of the liquid dries, forces push the particles toward the edge, where they are deposited in a thick line. Image/Text: Peter J. Yunker & Arjun G. Yodh/University of Pennsylvania

Coffee, like many liquids, contains tiny, spherical particles (see the video below). When a drop of the liquid dries, forces push the particles toward the edge, where they are deposited in a thick line.
Image/Text: Peter J. Yunker & Arjun G. Yodh/University of Pennsylvania

What I like about this research is that for the moment is that the molecules responsible for the patterns don’t seem to exist in any of the other spirits or liquids tested. Cognac, for example, creates no such patterns when it dries. Some whiskies work better than others.

The images here are of some of my favorite whiskies, all from The Balvenie.

The Balvenie 140 Photo: Ernie Button

The Balvenie 140
Photo: Ernie Button

Researchers have not yet been able to replicate the effect by mixing water, a ethyl alcohol and particles and letting them evaporate.

The scientists and Mr. Button suspect that it is something that occurs during the whisky ageing process, some unidentified molecules that seep in with the time and flavour, that are at the heart of the matter.

I’m sure at some point this puzzle will be solved.

Still, there’s a part of me that hopes whisky will be able to keep some of its secrets.

The Balvenie 129 Photo: Ernie Button

The Balvenie 129
Photo: Ernie Button

 

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