The Collection

Whisky’s ‘unseen movements’ inspire The Dalmore Luminary No.2

Marking the halfway point in the Dalmore’s Luminary single malt series is an ambitious glass sculpture by architect Melodie Leung said to reflect the swirls in a tumbler and the vapour in a still. Kristiane Sherry was present for its artistic unveiling at the V&A Dundee

Words by Kristiane Sherry

Dalmore Luminary No.2
The Collection
Melodie Leung with the sculpture she designed to hold The Dalmore Luminary No.2 The Rare whisky

‘I was really inspired by starting to imagine the almost unseen movements that create the whisky,’ says Melodie Leung, associate director at Zaha Hadid Architects and the designer behind a striking sculpture created for The Dalmore Luminary No.2 that cradles one of the scarcest decanters ever released by The Dalmore.

The creation – the second in the Dalmore’s Luminary series – was this month unveiled at an exhibit at the V&A Dundee. The chamber-like space was swathed in soft drapes and drenched in an ethereal soundscape, circling lights painting texture across all dimensions. As if in a whirlpool, visitors were drawn into the centre where the sculpture sat atop a plinth. Pillowy with an alluring softness, it’s difficult to imagine that this piece is crafted from the cool unyieldingness of glass. Indeed, the team didn’t know if Leung’s vision could even be achieved in the material, enlisting artist Fiaz Elson from The Glass Foundry to bring the design to life – the only creator in the UK willing to take on the challenge.

Dalmore 16 bottle
The Dalmore Luminary No.2 The Collectible is a 16 Years Old whisky that will be available from specialist retailers

Sculpting the piece for The Dalmore Luminary No.2 involved moulding it at temperatures of up to 890 degrees, gradually lowered to room temperature for polishing, a process that took over 500 hours. It sat in the kiln for almost four months. ‘I’m really excited about the results because I think it’s quite special and pretty exceptional that we ended up where we are today,’ says Leung. The sculptural design surely makes a fitting follow-on from the first instalment of The Dalmore’s Luminary Series.

The Highland single-malt maker kicked off its ambitious three-part project back in 2022. Curated in partnership with the V&A Dundee, the multi-year project blends architecture and whisky. The first Luminary release was conceived by Kengo Kuma, designer of V&A Dundee, and his protégé Maurizio Mucciola. They partnered with The Dalmore’s master distiller Richard Paterson OBE and master whisky maker Gregg Glass for a kaleidoscopic nature-versus-nurture-inspired sculpture and two accompanying whisky expressions. Fifteen thousand bottles of The Collectible, a 15-year-old release, were sent out into the world. Meanwhile, The Rare, a 48-year-old expression limited to just three bottles, was allocated: one bottle along with a sculpture went to auction, with funds going to V&A Dundee; another is on view at The Dalmore Distillery; a third is being held back for a triptych release once the series is complete. This comes one step closer with the grand unveiling of The Dalmore Luminary No.2.

Dalmore tasting
Glass and Leung taste whisky in a warehouse at The Dalmore distillery

The latest release follows a similar format, with Melodie Leung working so closely with both Paterson and Glass that the former exclaimed he had ‘never created something so personal’. This time, The Collectible is a 16-year-old expression – ground-breaking for the tiny parcel of peated malt in its makeup – limited to 20,000 bottles. The Rare, once more, is shared across just three decanters, this time aged for 49 years.

The partnership stretched over more than two years, with Leung, who graduated from Columbia with a Masters of Architecture in 2005, pouring her ‘entire self’ into the project. ‘You bring all of your experiences, all of the training, the understanding,’ she says. In her architecture, this plays out across buildings, hospitals, municipal spaces. But with The Dalmore, it was different. She embarked on a discovery process, with Glass visiting her in the studio, and with Leung travelling to the distillery to explore.

Dalmore sculpture
The glass sculpture spent four months in a kiln, with moulding and polishing taking 500 hours

Leung says she had never experienced whisky in this way: ‘The way that the stills have this movement of the particles which is kind of continuous and three dimensional. Those layers from all of the different casks and the movement of the hands handling the casks.’ These discoveries are reflected in the design, the resulting textures and bubbles said to reflect condensation on surfaces and the swirling of the whisky in cask and glass.

The collaboration worked both ways, with Leung’s experiences incorporated into the shaping of the liquid. ‘They were all built upon Melodie’s experiences, her reaction, her personality,’ says Glass. What emerged as a major focal point was Leung’s early memories of eating roast chestnuts – a flavour and aroma that underscores both whiskies. Synaesthesia, the way flavours and aromas are felt in colours, played a part in the creative process. Glass spoke of sessions with marker pens, building up shapes, layering them. It was about capturing a ‘range and breadth’ of cultural energies that surround you as an individual, says Leung.

Having tasted both, there’s a common dense and savoury element, but the classic Dalmore chocolate orange note rings through

This meant tapping into some very special parcels. The Collectible expression features extraordinarily rare 2000 peated liquid from The Dalmore. ‘We never use it normally, it’s only been used for Melodie,’ says Glass. For The Rare, not only did a Colheita Port cask from 1963 contribute the vast depth of flavour complexity, but so too did a bespoke 1951-new oak hybrid cask made by Glass himself. ‘Prototyping wise, there must have been 300 different [samples],’ he says of the blending process. Having tasted both, there’s a common dense and savoury element, but the classic Dalmore chocolate orange note rings through.

At every stage, these three creators have pushed the limits of what’s possible. It’s going to be a mighty challenge to stretch further still for The Dalmore Luminary No.3.

One Dalmore Luminary No.2 set, including the glass sculpture, will be auctioned through Sotheby’s in May 2024 with all proceeds donated to V&A Dundee. A proof of the sculpture will remain on display at the museum. The Dalmore Luminary No.2 The Collectible will be available from specialist retailers from 2 April priced at £275.