The Colour Of Whisky

Glenmorangie has just unveiled some eye-catching, attention-grabbing new designs across its three core single malts – The Original, The Lasanta and Quinta Rubin.

The respective lead orange, red and deep green design embrace optimism, evokes the hues of sunset and the forest which inspire the tastes.

So much for the Scots.

Award-winning Leeds bar owner and mixologist Mannie Monaghan asked himself a question:

“Is it possible to make a whisky that evokes the colour coral?”

He collaborated with boutique craft blenders and experimental whisky makers Compass Box to experiment. And come up with a solution.

The owner of the city’s Below Stairs Bar at 12 South Parade and former owner of The Monk is inspired by the phenomenon of synaesthesia. It involves the muddling of the senses, hearing shapes, tasting tints and smelling colours.

Synaesthesia or synaesthesia is a perceptual phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. People who report a lifelong history of such experiences are known as synesthetes. Awareness of synesthetic perceptions varies from person to person.

The Russian abstract artist Vassily Kandinsky had it. 4 per cent of people are thought to experience synesthetic perception.

Mannie (Monachain), the son of an engineer and a dentist, says:

“I think it’s important to say that I’m not a true synaesthete.

“When tasting certain things, I have a colour association. The first time I was really aware of it was when eating a bowl of garlic laced mussels holiday in Cornwall when I was thirteen or so. I just remember a vivid bright blue finger by a turquoise green appearing in my mind when eating the mussels!

“I realised early in my bartending career that it was a useful tool for exploring flavours, so I tried to consciously tune in to it. Now, I can’t taste anything without a colour or colour combination entering my mind. I’m not sure if it’s instinctive or trained-in. Asparagus is sky-blue. Angostura Aromatic bitters are a Midnight Blue, which is one of the reasons the bar is painted in that colour!

“I always think of flavours in terms of colours and used coral in my brand design and that’s very much the colour that I wanted the flavour of the whisky to be. I was inspired by Pantone choosing Living Coral as the Pantone Colour of the Year 2019. They described it as being ‘animating and life-affiriming’, that we ‘get energy from nature’ and that it is ‘vibrant yet mellow and embraces us with warmth’. I felt it described a really lovely whisky.”

Born in Wildbourclough, near Buxton in Derbyshire, the former Christmas tree deliveryman had an extended Gap Year:

“I had a place to study Architecture at the Manchester School of Architecture but took a gap year you to work abroad which led to something of addiction to travel and to working. I spent four years travelling and working.”

He worked as a model in Milan and Hong Kong and ran ski chalets, did some snowboard instructing and worked his way down the US West Coast.

“It was when working at the Nitta Lake Hotel in Whistler, British Columbia and coming under the guidance of Hailey Pasemko and Ryan Dyke that I found a true love and passion for food and drink!”

He won the 2019 Rum Frontiers and last year was Flora de Cana’s Sustainable Cocktail Challenge champion. His winning zero waste ‘Steamship’ was created with hand-made cacao and lime bitters, recycled Nicaraguan coffee been liqueur, Fair Trade certified sugar, saline solution, Flora de Cana 12 and served over ice on a coaster made from dehydrated pear.

The Circle - Compass Box

A brand ambassador for Black Cow vodka and Angostura Rum, having won sponsored cocktail competitions, he opened Below Stairs with Tom Kirk and Dan Smithson in 2017.

“We’re currently working on a Whisky Highball with The Circle No. 2.

“Compass Box Oak Cross completely changed my perspective of what could blended scotch whisky could be and became one of my go-to bottles for creating drinks. When I became aware of The Circle, and Compass Box’s approach to the concept of a cocktail competition, inviting innovation and creativity, I jumped at the opportunity to be involved.”

The man from Leeds beat cocktail makers from Singapore, Tel Aviv, Amsterdam, Providence, Florence and Barcelona.

“We had to make two cocktails inspired by the Compass Box tenets “Share and Enjoy” and “Tradition is only half the story”. For the latter, I presented Compass Box Artist Blend in simple wooden cups to set up a feast for the senses. I created five different essences to echo five different moods and accompanied each with a carefully chosen soundtrack and website.

“We also had to create a new whisky blend, attempt to recreate an existing one and design a brand and concept for a new whisky expression which would eventually go on to be the £130 limited edition Circle No.2.

“Over half the recipe is tropical, pineapple-accented whisky from the Glen Elgin Distillery, while whiskies aged in sherry casks lend warmth, energy and a clinging texture. Dashes of a peated whisky, and a little malt whisky further matured in STR wine casks, bring contrast and depth.”

Whiskies come in all kinds of colours. Golden honey (Auchertoshan 12YO), dark gold (Glenfiddich 18YO), deep mahogany (Bushmills 21YO), auburn (Bowmore) and golden syrup (Bunnahabhain 30YO), as well yellow gold, henna, burnished copper, burnt umber and russet as in Bulleit Rye.

The £130 Circle, No. 2 was created as an outdoor whisky to be enjoyed with friends, lounging on a lazy afternoon as the sun sets. Compass Box wanted the label design to reflect the collaborative whisky-making process and the fusing of the senses, as well as bring to life the luminous beauty of coral.

Compass Box is relentlessly focused on reinventing Scotch whisky.  American ex-pat John Glaser is the founder and head whisky maker. The former Marketing Director for Johnnie Walker in London, he started the company from the kitchen of his west London home in 2000. He is an inductee of the Whisky Magazine’s Hall of Fame.

Compass Box launched The Circle programme in 2018 to connect the creative processes of their blending room with those of the bar trade. It collaborates with a select group of bartenders like Mannie.

Lead whisky maker James Saxon says:

“Synaesthesia is as far outside most people’s perception as a fourth dimension. Yet to some, the concept of the senses entangling so they can taste music or see flavour is entirely natural. The Circle, No. 2 is an experiment in one bartender’s fascinating sensory world.

“Compass Box Limited Editions afford complete creative freedom. Each release is one-off in nature and the collaboration with Mannie was no different, a true experiment in one bartender’s fascinating sensory world.”

Chiswick-based Compass Box whisky has launched its Canvas Blended Malt Scotch whisky aged in Vino Naranja casks. It offers the chance for buyers to design their own personalized label.

Award-winning designers Stranger & Stranger drew inspiration from the Renaissance’s use of trophy frames which were traditionally used to showcase and immortalize great personal achievements.

Saxon, formerly of Chivas Brothers, adds:

“Mannie has shown us that the senses can be blended together, and that they can inform one another. Not being synaesthetic, working with Mannie in the Blending Rooms was a bit like trying to learn a new language. Gradually, I was able to suggest parcels of whisky that met Mannie’s vision more precisely. By the end, I did feel as though I was seeing colours too!

“For us, whisky-making is an artistic process, and the whisky is our canvas.”

Mannie won the competition in 2019 and has waited three years to see his whisky released. Says Yorkshire’s latest whisky visionary:

“What does the colour coral taste like?

“It’s unmistakably warm, familiar, and powerful expresses the positivity and vibrancy of living coral.  Try it and see!”

Author Bio:

Kevin Pilley is a former professional cricketer and chief staff writer of PUNCH magazine. His humour, travel, food and drink work appears worldwide and he has been published in over 800 titles.

Photographs courtesy of Glenmorangie and Compass Box

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