26 Malts was a collaboration between The Scotch Malt Whisky Society and 26. In early 2005, 26 writers were teamed up with 26 designers, 18 teams north of the border and eight teams south. The pairings were randomly decided to compound the nature of creative adventure.
The 52 creatives were then taken through a Scotch Malt Whisky Society ‘three malts’ tasting, at which the colourful language of aroma and taste as used by the Society was explained. The idea of the task ahead was not to emulate this language but to respond to an unidentified whisky as artists not experts, and to use the senses as guides to a creative response, the form of which was to be a unique label.
Each team was duly given an unidentified sample of cask strength malt whisky. They were asked to keep a journal of the collaborative undertaking. The malts evoked some amusing and powerful responses, all of which are recorded in the book ‘26 Malts: Some Joy Ride’ published by Cyan Books.
The central outcome of the project was 26 labels liberated from usual brand constraints – an explosion of colour, wit and passion. All testifying to the provocative complexity and allure of Scotch Malt Whisky and the rich diversity achieved through creative collaboration.Lined up as a set, the bottles with their labels look like no whisky bar you’ve ever seen before. It was a bold and exciting step for the Society and yet it reflects the nature of their malt whiskies. Each bottling is from a single cask from one of 124 distilleries. Each cask is unique and the whisky is bottled at cask strength. This means that it will have highly individual characteristics which may or may not be typical of its distillery’s house style. Branded malts are usually created from a vatting of a number of casks and aged by the youngest cask used. This ensures consistency and a house style. The Scotch Malt Whisky Society, on the other hand, thrives on the diversity of each cask! The 26 labels reflect that.
For members of the Society there has also been the opportunity to buy the bottles making this a creative project with a commercial outcome.
The exhibition, comprising the 26 bottles in a bespoke display cabinet, 26 framed pieces of artwork and a DVD was on show at The Society’s Edinburgh and London venues August through to October 2005. The exhibition was sponsored by Arts & Business Scotland and its run in London was part of the London Design Festival. The exhibition went on show again January 20 – February 26 at The Lighthouse, Centre for Architecture and Design in Glasgow. It has now started a tour around Scottish design consultancies, starting with Third Eye Design in Glasgow, the Robert Horne Scottish Design Consultancy of the year 2006.
“26 Malts continues to be a project that we refer to as a ‘best practice’ example of a business/arts collaboration.”