Whisky Odyssey 2110

Will whisky become super high-tech?

The hangover

I woke up this morning with very unpleasant symptoms; uncrunchable thirst, slight headache, dry skin, dodgy gut and garlic sauce aftertaste in my mouth to name but a few. I grew out of the I’m-never-drinking-again-style lines long time ago, so all I could say to myself when I opened one eye to confirm my whereabouts was ‘I wish they would invent hangover-free whisky’. Wouldn’t that be great?

The nanometre laser

I read somewhere recently that the scientists are very close to building a laser with will project a beam about 1 nanometre in diametre. That is one thousand-millionth of a metre, so pretty narrow. We’re talking molecular level here. Apparently this will revolutionise medicine, help us fight cancer. Human kind is becoming super-smart and it’s about the time, they say we have a planet to save and I think it will have to be through the technology. I doubt the narrow elite will ever be able to persuade the masses to change their lives dramatically for the greater good. Cycling to work, going vegetarian and not flying to Ibiza twice a year is not something my yuppie neighbour would willingly do (but he works in finance so he’s bound to be an idiot). Therefore the technological advancement is our only hope in the world ruled by masses not by elites. Long live the technology!

If my morning-after philosophy is correct here and we will focus on developing uber-super-duper gizmos over the next century in order to save our civilisation, all areas of our activity will be transforming quickly. Think about how the Industrial Revolution changed not only the way we build ships and railways, but also the way we treat diseases, print books, communicate over long distances, teach and learn, sell stuff and buy stuff, kill each other, speak, dress, love and so on. You get what I’m trying to say? Our technology determines what we do, it makes us who we are. We are the technology.

The evolution of whisky making has always been tightly interwoven with the overall technological advancement. Obviously. The way the industry appears to us today, this bizarre mishmash of which a copper pot still operated using a touch screen is a good illustration, is a result of a long process. The new meets the old in the maltings, the still-room and the bonded warehouse. And even though it seems that the old has the upper hand, let’s not forget that things that seem old-school or even obsolete to us, were cutting edge and controversially modern to our ancestors. Without a doubt, the whisky industry is transforming. Not as fast as the car industry, not nearly as fast as the internet, but still. And the symbolic nanometre laser, after it cures cancer, feeds the poor and stops us from boiling, will slowly but surely make its way down into the Scottish glens, under pagoda-shaped roofs. If you’re one of those whisky-purists who defy any change, I have some really bad news for you, pal. The process has already started. Around 6th century AD.

Flying robo-poops

What will the industry and the product be like in 2110 and beyond? Have you ever watched any of those old black and white movies about the year 2000? Flying cars, flying people, flying robo-dogs planting flying robo-poops. But no traces of the internet, global warming, terrorism or cheap airlines. Why? Because despite what your local psychic palm reader would tell you, there is no way to predict the future. But we can try and draw some possible scenarios, right?

I asked about the future of the industry on Twitter this morning and a few really interesting answers came in. For example these two opposing opinions:

Felixosaurus: more aged. And a greater fetishisation of “original” in equipment, method and production (sic!)

AdamSatur: I think the industry, other than small indie, will have lost character and become too homogenised.

Both scenarios seem pretty probable to me. Personally I think the industry will have to accept the possibility of fiddling with whisky on the molecular level. Whisky distillation and maturation are no longer considered mysterious and magical. The processes, although still not entirely controllable, are well understood. The Scotch Whisky Research Institute, countless universities and particular companies have long dissected and scientifically analysed whisky making over and over again. Youthful citrus, powerful smoke and romantic vanilla in our dram are aldehydes, acids, esters, ketones, phenols and so on. Whisky is about organic chemistry these days, it has been stripped of the romantic image, at least to those who know something about it. It has been understood. And to understand something is, usually, to be able to change it eventually.

Flavourless chemicals that will facilitate quality and consistency? Yes please. Laser treated barley? Of course. Robot-built casks? Sure. Engineering flavour in labs instead of waiting for years for an uncertain outcome? Maybe…

But only as long as it means no hangover.


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