Ernie Button, a photographer in Phoenix, found art at the bottom of a whisky glass. Howard A. Stone, a mechanical and aerospace engineering professor at Princeton, found the science in the art.
Eight years ago, Mr. Button was about to wash the glass when he noticed that leftover drops of Scotch had dried into a chalky but unexpectedly beautiful film. “When I lifted it up to the light, I noticed these really delicate, fine lines on the bottom,” he recalled, “and being a photographer for a number of years before this, I’m like, ‘Hmm, there’s something to this.’ ”
He and his wife began experimenting. The Scotches with smoky, peaty flavors, like those from the islands of Islay and Skye in western Scotland, were inconsistent, needing more trial and error to produce the picturesque ring patterns. By contrast, those from the valley around the River Spey in northeastern Scotland “seem like they’ll work every time,” Mr. Button said.
“It takes just a drop or two to create a really nice image,” he said. He started photographing the residues, using colored lights “to give it that otherworldly effect,” he said.
He called the series “Vanishing Spirits — The Dried Remains of Single Malt Scotch.”
Mr. Button’s experimentations revealed other liquor insights. A 12-year-old Scotch made patterns indistinguishable from a more expensive 18-year one. Bourbon, the American whiskey made primarily from corn, generally works, too, although not the young ones like Jacob’s Ghost from Jim Beam, which sit in barrels for only about a year. “Any aged whiskey will make these rings,” Mr. Button said.
Cognac, a liquor distilled from grape wine, does not dry out in this pretty manner.
After several years of creating these photographic prints, Mr. Button was curious about the underlying science of what was going on. (Photography is just a successful sideline for Mr. Button. He is a speech therapist. “That is how I got my interest in science and research,” he said.)
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