Charcoal & Whisky

Charcoal and Whisky

I’ve never written a book review before, unless you count the one I did on an issue of the Beano for a primary school assignment back in the mid-1990s. It’s not the same as reviewing a whisky, or a rum, or a wine, or any type of drink. There are no aromas and there are no flavours. However, in the weird and wonderful world of whisky (check out that alliteration, my high school English teacher would be proud) you never know what might pop through your letterbox.

Among some bills, a seventh copy of the menu from my local Chinese takeaway, some letters addressed to somebody who doesn’t live at my address anymore and my monthly subscription to Cosmo Playboy, I received a very exciting parcel from the good ol’ US of A. This parcel was a copy of Daniel Zalkus’ book called “Charcoal & Whisky” which is a collection of drawings that document every part of whisky production at Glenfiddich distillery. Daniel was one of eight up-and-coming or award-winning artists who participated in Glenfiddich’s Artists in Residence programme in 2012. This programme began in 2002 and allows artists from all over the world the chance to come to Glenfiddich and use the distillery and the beautiful surrounding countryside to create pieces of original artwork.

Daniel has previously produced artwork for The New Yorker, Timeout magazine and The Guardian newspaper and his style is reportage art; in other words, at Glenfiddich, he aimed to produce on-the-spot drawings which document all stages of whisky production. Now, being armed with a couple of pads of paper, some charcoal pencils and a hi-vis jacket he was able to literally go wherever he found inspiration. As Andy Fairgrieve, curator of Glenfiddich’s Artists in Residence programme, put it:

“The beauty of Daniel’s practice is that it is very low tech. Pencils don’t create sparks and drawing boards don’t have electrical cables. The non intrusive nature of Daniel’s practice allows him to almost become part of the furniture, meaning he can capture some of the most honest and open representations of everyday distillery life that this programme has produced.”

As you can see from the images in this article, Daniel pretty much had an access all areas pass. He met everyone who worked at the distillery and got to know a name and personality that went along with what he was drawing. He said to me in a recent email conversation that “Whisky, for me, now has a human element to it and I like it even more for that reason.” I think we sometimes forget that when we focus on the liquid and give nosing and tasting notes and a mark out of ten. We forget the people at the distilleries who work hard day after day to produce such fantastic whisky. I suppose this is a tribute to them, and what a great tribute it is too.

“Charcoal & Whisky” is available now from Daniel’s online store here for $30 plus shipping costs and the first edition is limited to 500 copies. Each book comes signed and numbered and would be a wonderful Christmas gift for any whisky enthusiast. Unfortunately for my mum I already have my copy. Oh well, another pair of woolly socks won’t go wrong…



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