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Up Close, Dried Whiskey Looks Like the Cosmos

Ernie Button's 'Painting Pictures with Whiskey' photos reveal the beauty at the bottom of your bourbon.
November 26, 2014, 11:30pm
Glenlivet 162, via

Artist Ernie Button's is embarking upon a study of chemistry and fluid dynamics, but with a twist that would make Hemingway proud: by using microscopic techniques to analyze the remains of dried whiskey left over on the inside of a glass, he's discovered a hidden beauty in the imperfections of alcohol. The project, known as Painting Pictures with Whiskey, isn't just an aggregation of beautiful microscope photographs, either—it's also a study in how the stinging brown stuff can forms complex patterns when in the absence of water.


Button did his research with the aid of Howard Stone and the Complex Fluids Group at Princeton University's Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and presented at the American Physical Society's Division of Fluid Dynamics Meeting this past Monday. "It's a little like snowflakes in that every time the Scotch dries, the glass yields different patterns and results," Button writes on his website, describing his gorgeous findings. "Some of the images reference the celestial, as if the image was taken of space; something that the Hubble telescope may have taken or an image taken from space looking down on Earth."

He and Stone found that the patterns form due to something called the Marangoni Effect—the different evaporation rates of water and ethanol—combined with the physical artifacts created in the whiskey-making process, like dissolved sugars and microscopic bits of aging barrels. These irregularities create the galactic patterns Button speaks about, clumping together to form swirling, planetary forms within the leftover liquid. In Painting Pictures with Whiskey, Button uses colored lights to accent the abstract forms, helping define them as either terrestrial or celestial.

Aside from looking totally otherworldly, Button's collaboration with Stone and company reveals some useful information about the ways in which liquid becomes a film on a flat surface. While these findings have applications in practices as disparate as industrial manufacturing and tea leaf reading, we're just happy knowing that up close, regardless of the age, smell, or taste, all whiskey has the potential to be beautiful.

Dalwhinnie 125

Ardbeg 124

Jura 103

The Macallan 150

Aberlour 103

Aberlour 133

The Balvenie 125

The Macallan 103

The Balvenie Doublewood 101

Specimen - Glenfiddich 15

Glen Moray 110

Visit Button's website here for the complete photoset.

h/t Discovery News



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