One of The Macallan’s rarest and most exceptional whiskies was introduced to this part of the world at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on 9 June 2017 to about 500 guests in attendance, flown in from across the region.
The sixth iteration of its long-running Masters of Photography series is a collaborative effort between the Speyside distillery and illustrious photographer Steven Klein, whose enviable portfolio includes capturing pop diva Madonna in still and motion on numerous occasions. Aptly named The Macallan Masters of Photography: Steven Klein Edition, the whisky doesn’t cease at merely arousing the senses, it seeks to distil a moment in time through the heavy use of visuals.
In a perfect union of whisky making and photography, both The Macallan and Steven Klein moulded an empty and soulless convention hall into an immersive space that encapsulated the spirit of the whisky and projected the vision, which was enriched by the Roca brothers of El Celler de Can Roca and shaped by the lens helmed by Klein, in its entirety behind the joint effort for those who were present to see, touch and experience for themselves.
“My intention was to examine a world standing still through a moving camera. Typically with consumption of alcohol, there is always an abundance of movement. I thought what if it had all stopped for a moment and I could take a closer look at it,” Klein explains. “The idea is the perception of time. I used one of my favourite designers, Thom Brown, for the characters because I believe his clothes are bridged between the past and future in a great way.”
The dimension-shifting adventure isn’t a fancy marketing gimmick, however, as it was brought to life in an imaginative and riveting walkthrough, named the Time Rift, at the convention centre. Lights were dimmed but only to heighten the anticipations. Mirrors were installed in the Still in Time antechamber to distort perceptions as guests meandered around them. On precise intervals, spot lights would be shone upon models posing as Agents of Time, who stood behind the partially transparent mirrors, announcing their presence. Thereafter they would disappear into darkness once the spot lights faded, revealing only the reflections of those who stood in front of the mirrors.
Further inside housed a Fountain of Time chamber where time was shown on the floor, moving back and forth as water droplets were rising up and down in the blue columns. Meanwhile on the wall of mist were clock faces, signifying it was time to break into another dimension after the mist.
For those who were brave enough to cross the dimension, they were greeted with a selection of four individualistic cocktails made from The Macallan whisky and inspired by Klein’s Time Captured concept: Time Distilled, Time Manipulated, Time Enriched and Time Captured, before they too were transformed into the actors and actresses of Time Captured upon the
first sips as they were bathed in red light, luxuriating in the whisky cocktails as if time had indeed stood still in moments of intense pleasure.
The unveiling that followed soon offered renewed energy as if the mainspring of time had been wound as guests gathered around the centre stage to catch a glimpse of The Macallan Masters of Photography: Steven Klein Edition whisky set, one of a total 1,000 that will be allotted to various markets worldwide. Malaysia receives only 10 sets.
Meticulously arranged within the distinctive black case are Klein’s signed prints, horse’s head bottle stop, along with a range of tools to create serves and flavour experiences inspired by the Roca brothers, and the limited-edition whisky.
Ken Grier, creative director of The Macallan, elaborates on the project as well as the whisky.
Why did The Macallan choose Steven Klein as the photographer for the latest Masters of Photography Collection?
We have had some projects prior to this involving still photography, so we thought it would be interesting to disrupt the rhythm of what we had done. With Rankin, it is a very fashionable project. Then we have Albert Watson, which is clean, classic, black and white, and film noir oriented. Annie Leibovitz is more about the “guy”, portrayed by Scottish actor Kevin McKidd, and the guy’s moment. Next, Elliott Erwitt is very much about Scottish characters and street photography. Lastly, Mario Testino is just about as good as it gets.
So we wanted to change it a little bit. We wanted someone cool and irreverent. I met Klein in New York and shared a Macallan 18 Years Old with him. He likes equestrian, which is why we have a horse’s head bottle stop in the case. He has a dark perspective on things, portrays things in ambiguous ways and he is a wonderful person to work with.
How did the concept of time capture come about?
For Klein, when you are having a fantastic drinking moment, things stop, and you just want the moment to last forever and to suspend time. Hence he had this idea to distil this beautiful moment to enjoy The Macallan. Instead of having an active and dynamic drinking moment, the idea was to make a still moment but with the camera moving.
It was a 35mm pan and he used a RED digital camera. For the Time Captured clip, we shot for 14 hours for the first take alone. The models had to be stationary for eight hours and some of them cramped up as a result. The Thom Browne clothing that the models wore worked very well as it bridged the past, the present and the future. On top of that, we had a multi-ethnic cast to show different perspectives and looks.
How did the concept translate to the whisky?
As the project went on, our whisky maker Bob Dalgarno became more and more obsessed with it. He was contemplating how to make a whisky that could sum up the concept. To solve it, he spent two weeks watching the clip over and over again. The idea was to put some of the very old yet without age labels whiskies together.
Back in the 1940s and the 1950s, the world was at war. In the UK, you couldn’t use coal because all of that went into industries to make planes and tanks. So distillers at The Macallan resorted to making whisky with peat. So some of the peaty whiskies from the eras fitted the profile of what we were trying to create with their whiffs of smoke.
Secondly, someone stumbled upon a cask of Rioja wine and he decided to pour The Macallan whisky into it, which we hadn’t never done it before and haven’t done it since. The result from the experiment was an extra interesting layer of red tint with a slight winey note to it. So that makes it unique as it is a one off.
Thirdly, Dalgarno picked from mainly Spanish sherry oak casks and some from American oak barrels. The former brought out the dark, deep and rich notes, while the American oak barrels added the light notes that gave the finished blend its layers of flavours and complexities.
Tell us more about what’s in the set. Is there a backstory?
We went to the El Celler de Can Roca in Spain, twice voted San Pellegrino best restaurant. There we were treated to interesting Macallan cocktails, including one with Aperol served in a martini glass and another with bitters served in a highball glass. So we thought wouldn’t it be fun to have all these in the whisky set, in addition to the 10 prints by Klein cut out from the diorama and the whisky in a special black bottle. Hence in the case are a highball glass and a martini glass. Both of which can house an ice ball.
Apart from that, there are also three tools: a smoker through which you can produce and infuse smoke into the drink, a dropper and an infuser. Finally, the set is completed with a drink recipe book.