W hisky is by nature a collaborative act. There is the relationship between the distiller and their equipment where their senses tell them when to collect and cut, how to roll the cask. It is there in the blender’s mind when knowing when to use and how to combine.
At every stage in its making there is interaction: yeast collaborating with sugar, lactobacillus working with alcohol, vapour with copper, spirit with oak and air. Everything is connected. It is a web of interdependence. In Mahayana Buddhism, the metaphor is Indra’s Net - an infinite web of jewels each reflecting the other, all linked. Everything contains everything else, while still being individual. Not opposites, but different perspectives. Harmony rather than tension.
What, then, if you take that principle to whisky, moving it outside the world of production, the reductive realm of it as liquid, or object, or fetish, and find ways in which to explore creativity.
Kandoblanc - Duality Film - Landscape
There have been plenty of collaborations in the world of whisky - distillers working with chefs, artists, or musicians who are given a liquid to use it in some way. What KANDOBLANC, the new venture from the Lakes and Macallan whisky-maker Dhavall Gandhi, asks is how to take that idea further. Not so much, "here is my whisky, make it look great," but can we find ways in which to show that the mindset of the whisky-maker and that of the artist are the same. A fusion.
"...can we find ways in which to show that the mindset of the whisky-maker and that of the artist are the same. A fusion."
Other disciplines do this all the time, the influence of Indian modal scales on the music of John Coltrane, or the influence of Japanese woodblock prints on the post-Impressionists.
Both countries are the touchstones for KANDOBLANC which is based around this idea of harmony and creating an equal creative dialogue between different crafts and aesthetics. It is also about raising awareness of traditional crafts which are in danger of disappearing. A platform to learn and share.
Kando is Japanese for the ‘simultaneous feelings of deep satisfaction and intense excitement we experience on encountering something of unparalleled beauty’, while Blanc is French for white, a colour that symbolises artistic transcendence, purity, and excellence. It is also Dhavall in Sanskrit.
AGA, its first bottling, contains many layers of meaning. ‘Aga’ means mountain, and is also Dhavall’s son’s name. It ties in with the concept of the mountain as being sacred, where the quotidian world and the sacred are linked. The cap therefore is a mountain peak, it could be Fuji-san. It could also be the hat of a Japanese mendicant Zen monk, the bottle itself his cloak. Around the neck is a thread of gold - a reference to the Japanese art of kintsugi, the application of gold dust to mend cracks in ceramics, highlighting their flaws or imperfections. "There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in" wrote Leonard Cohen.
Whisky is itself imperfect. Distillation is a process of purification, but in whisky it is the imperfections, the congeners which give it character. Nor making neutral alcohol but leaving the stuff which prevent perfection is what makes it interesting. And there is no perfection. It’s Persian weavers leaving one flaw in a carpet to show there is no perfection in this world, or as Navajo weavers say when doing the same, as a way ‘to let the world in.’ In the greatest craftsmanship you can see the hand of the maker.
It is the same with AGA. The base looks like scales or feathers made from glass that’s been hand-blown and then carved in an Italian technique called battuto. Not moulded, which is the way of perfection, but embracing chance, skill, and craft.
It extends to the whisky itself. Two casks from 1979, one with finesse the other texture. Opposites melded giving something greater than the sum of its parts. You could say they are ‘old’ but this is more about maturity which is more than wood and spirit. It is a fusion of air and liquid and oak. It is air pressure and time. It doesn’t matter what distilleries are used - that’s a distraction.
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This is the liquid on its own terms. It is less about elevating whisky into an object where meaning is lost - it becomes ‘expensive’, ‘rare’, a commodity - and as a way in which to celebrate connections which have always been there, but never explored.