The sound of whisky
There are countless ways we can bring whisky to life. But sometimes it’s as simple as finding the right tunes to match your malt, says drinks writer and musician Felipe Schrieberg
IMAGE: Bob Dylan with a dram of his Heaven’s Door whiskey
In pre-pandemic days, there was a sneaky trick I liked to play in my whisky tastings, back when people could be squeezed in shoulder-to-shoulder in intimate venues. I would serve a whisky, and then have people taste it and comment on it. Then, when serving the next whisky in the tasting, I would have everyone put on a blindfold, have a live band start playing music, and make the crowd drink and consider the second whisky without speaking.
Inevitably, the power of the music helped the whisky come alive for people. They would always prefer the second whisky to the first, and hailed the music as a perfect accompaniment to the dram.
The catch? I served the same whisky twice without their knowledge. Their brains did the rest of the work in convincing them of the ‘second’ whisky’s superior quality, thanks to the power of music.
A POWERFUL COMBO
Every time we drink whisky, we are enjoying it in a different context. The same whisky can smell and taste different depending on your mood, what time of day you’re drinking it in, what you consumed before, and plenty of other conditions which can mess around with the electrical signals sent to the brain that represent your sense of taste and smell.
Music just happens to be one of the most powerful context-changers out there, a whisky flavour enhancer that is applied through your ears. If good whisky and good music can independently make you feel great, the combination is therefore powerful indeed. It’s why I drew on my experience as a musician to start The Rhythm and Booze Project, a duo that combines music and whisky in as many ways as possible through gigs, events, media projects, and our own collaborative bottlings.
MAKING SOUND WAVES
We’re not the first musicians to understand this connection. The Pogues, Willie Nelson, Motorhead, Anthrax, and even hip hop giant Drake are or have been involved with whisky. However, two other titans of music have taken a more holistic approach to the whisky creation (or in these examples, whiskeys).
Metallica’s Blackened was created in collaboration with legendary master blender Dave Pickerell. Blackened takes a blend of bourbons, ryes, and other whiskeys and ages them in ex-brandy barrels. The maturing whiskey is then blasted in the warehouse by enormous speakers playing Metallica songs 24/7. In theory, the power of the sound waves leads to the vibration of the liquid, which means more contact between liquid and wooden cask. Intense flavours are generated thanks to the power of metal.
Bob Dylan is also in the whiskey game, and it draws on more than his music. He is working with Spirits Investment Partnership (who created Angel’s Envy) to help create Heaven’s Door whiskey. Heaven’s Door master blender Ryan Perry told me Dylan was won over by their partnership pitch because they wanted to work with him not just for his legacy as a musician but also for what he can contribute as an artist.
“We’re touching on other parts of Bob, his painting and his welding, even more so than we do his music,” he says. “But these are all parts of his artistry that we’re bringing in with his involvement.”
Dylan’s art graces the labels of Heaven’s Door bottles, while their design is also based on his welding work. A Heaven’s Door limited edition 10-year-old whiskey also showcased Dylan’s lyric sheets.
These examples are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the potential of combining whisky and music. It is surely one of the most powerful pairings for whisky possible, for the simple reason that engaging as many senses as possible leads to the most memorable experiences. A perfect way to enhance your whisky, without needing to change anything about the dram at all.