This sample of Whipnose, a hopped whiskey from some outfit called the Seven Stills of SF, seems to represent a new low, or high, depending on your point of view, in Sku’s career as a perpetrator of avant garde sample bottle labels. As you can see this one doesn’t even have a label; instead, Brakhage-style, Sku has written the name directly on the bottle. And he has chosen a colour that is all but impossible to read and has written the name vertically down the bottle in a free, almost baroque script. I put it to you, however, that this in fact is a complex text, worthy of analysis in and of itself.
Any semiotician worth her salt probably has a sense of what is going on here but at the risk of redundancy let me offer a reading: the near-illegibility of the text disappearing into the gold of the whiskey in the bottle is an allegory of the relationship between this whiskey and the double hopped IPA it was distilled from—Sku wants us to remember that behind this text (the whiskey) is the trace of another author (the brewer) and also the fragility of the signature, the imprimatur, if you will (and I think you will) of the creator of a small-scale artefact in a late-capitalist economy normally flush with mass-produced goods. This, I think, also explains the use of free-hand in place of the usual printed label (notice the tension between the hard, straight lines of the “w” and the sprawl of the “e” which reaches out to the horizon, evoking as well the symbol for infinity).
So far, so obvious. But why has he chosen to write the name vertically, and from top to bottom? And why in red? Here, it is not Derrida or Marx but Freud who will be our guide. The vertical orientation of the text leads our eye to notice the bottle’s resemblance to a breast, and the writing itself represents an erect phallus. Sku apparently is simultaneously obsessed with the breast and the phallus. But this is no surprise to those of us who have met him. The red, however, reveals a more disturbing issue: blood! castration anxiety! Is this an expression of a more general neurosis? Or is Sku revealing a fear that he is losing his potency as a blogger, dribbling it away with every compulsive post about new TTB labels? I leave it to you to work this out.
Now, on to the whiskey! (You can find out more about it here.)
Whipnose (47%; from a sample received in a swap)
Nose: Very reminiscent (unsurprisingly) of the Charbay R5 which was also distilled from an IPA: hard candy and bright floral notes with a peppery, minerally undertone; close to the border of both eau de vie and mezcal. It’s pleasant but it’s hard to think of this as whiskey. With more time more of a hoppy, soapy bitterness comes to the top and it’s not as nice as it was to start. Water intensifies the mineral note, bringing out a gasoline edge.
Palate: More whiskey’ish on the palate as it leads with the minerally note; then it turns oddly (and not entirely pleasantly) vegetal and earthy before the sweeter and floral notes show up as I swallow. I’m having a tough time putting my finger on what that middle note evokes. And past the second sip it seems less like whiskey than it did on the first. As on the nose, it gets soapier as it sits (again, in the way that some extremely hopped IPAs can be soapy) and then more herbal/rooty. Will water make this more palatable? No, not really: it gets more bitter.
Finish: Medium-long. Thankfully, that weird note from the palate doesn’t hang around and now there’s peppery, minty freshness. Well, after the swallow the sweeter notes pop back up and I’m left with the analogue of a false memory of an experience that wasn’t as nice when it was actually happening. As on the palate with water.
Comments: Interesting enough but not particularly pleasurable on the whole and it went downhill fast. The nose started out well but the finish was the best part, I thought. I liked the Charbay R5 far more.
Rating: 68 points.
Thanks to Sku for the sample!
Masterful. Your analysis of Sku’s sample-bottle calligraphy deserves its own Category, if not its own Blog.
Now we’re talking…
As you so eloquently note, the slippage of the written text on the bottle refers to the “author” (or brewer) of the text (the actual drink), and as we know, after Barthes, the Death of the Author is now complete in our (post-?)post-modern society. The author/brewer/distiller is superseded in the signification/reading process by the text itself, so that every reader (or “drinker”) becomes the author of her own drink, bringing with her, as she does, all her unique past experiences, expectations and pulsatingly fierce frontal-lobe hangovers.
I believe, though, you have missed one important step in your analysis, for it is not Freud who best informs Sku’s (and indeed all whisky obsessives’) psychosis, but his tortured disciple Lacan. It is painfully obvious that the obsession at work here is not just the Desire of the Other. The object itself – this sample, indeed any whisky – becomes desirable precisely because it is itself desired by an-Other.
Hysteria, literally, ensues.
Honestly, I’m shocked at the Eurocentric and class biased nature of your criticism. Had you not sought to relegate me to other status or dwell upon matters of flesh that Freud certainly would have attributed more to your own tendency to project your insecurities on others than anything derived from the text, you would have seen that my script was an intentional challenge, indeed a declaration of class war against that ultimate signifier, the “label.” The scrawl, the blood red ink and the horizontal nature clearly are a revolutionary challenge to Western concepts of beauty, legibility and utility. It is a most wretched label doing violence upon the dominant whiskey paradigm.
I wish you people wouldn’t turn everything into a joke.
Eco’s new novel: The Name of the Nose