Black Whisky

This long-term project grew out of a friendship with Christoph Keller, founder of Frankfurt’s Revolver books who sold the business in the mid-2000s and moved to a farmhouse in rural Germany near Lake Constance. The property came with a functioning schnapps distillery, and in order to keep the coveted license Christoph quickly learned how to use it. Within a couple of years he was winning awards for his schnapps. It was around this point that we floated the idea of making a whisky together.

Together we resolved to make a single barrel of 12-year, single malt Scotch-style whisky. Christoph would naturally take care of the distillation, while we would be responsible for raising funds and framing the whole enterprise by design. We sold shares in the project, with the price calculated by splitting the projected cost of production with no surplus profit. During a residency at the Edinburgh College of Art we made a “blind proof” embossed share certificate using un-inked metal type to give to investors as a trust bond, on the proviso that they exchanged them for the outcome 12 years later. The form of this certificate was also used to advertise the idea in publications and exhibitions, and within a few months we had sold all 100 shares. With enough money to proceed, Christoph found an ideal water source in the Black Forest which gave the project its name along with its black market overtones. Meanwhile, we were tasked with finding a used Bourbon barrel (in which Scotch whisky is typically matured). This involved an encounter with the Jack Daniels Corporation in Kentucky, who eventually released a single barrel for us to ship to Germany.

The whisky finally made it into the barrel sometime around 2010. While waiting for it to mature, in 2018 we were commissioned by the Talbot Rice Gallery at the University of Edinburgh to make a screensaver for the art department’s computers. The result imagines a maturing Black Whisky might look (or feel)—an animated version of the cover we made for Dot Dot Dot 18 at a paper marbling workshop in New York, 2011. And the spirit was finally bottled, labeled, shipped to Berlin, and officially launched on the evening of Summer Solstice 2022 where a gradually inebriated audience watched YKSIHW KCALB, a kind of video-diary that recounts the 15-year story in reverse-chronological order, which is collected at along with a few other documents. A book about the project is forthcoming from Sternberg Press in 2023.