Capturing art left behind in a whiskey glass

Capturing art left behind in a whiskey glass

Capturing art left behind in a whiskey glass

Capturing art left behind in a whiskey glass


At a recent photography exhibit in Las Vegas, you might not know right away what you’re looking at. Visitors suggests the photos on display could be a cross-section of a tree, or a moon or planet. But in fact, these are photos of evaporated whisky crud.

Ernie Button’s evocative image transforms the remnants at the bottom of a finished glass of Aberlour Single Malt Scotch.  

Ernie Button

Ernie Button’s day job is speech pathology. But his hobbies include photography … and drinking Scotch whisky in the evening. That’s how this whole thing began in 2008. “After you’ve taken that last drop or that last sip of whisky, the residue dries in the bottom of the glass and leaves me these wonderful patterns,” he said. “And when I went to collect the glasses in the morning, I noticed this film in the bottom of the glass. And when I held it up to the light, I saw these fine repetitive patterns in the bottom of the glass. I’m like, ‘I can try and do something with this.’”

The title of his project is “Vanishing Spirits: The Dried Remains of Single-Malt Scotch.”


Ernie Button

He uses different colored lights and gels to give the whiskey glasses their purple and blue and orange glows. Without those lights, the whiskey crud would appear whitish-gray. 

“Nature is giving me the pattern, I’m giving it the life,” Button said. 

Ernie Button experiments with photographing the bottom of a whiskey glass. 

CBS News

These days, he experiments with different kinds of drinking glasses, sheets of glass, and whiskeys from different parts of the world. 

He has tried different alcohols. “I found that they have to be aged in a [wooden] cask — taking in, you know, all the organic material from the wood into that spirit that was put in there. Tequila, that will work; that will give me some interesting images. Vodka won’t.”


Chronicle Books

His whiskey photos have been featured in The New York Times and National Geographic. They inspired a published scientific paper, and have appeared in a coffee-table art book.

Is there a lesson to take away from Button’s whiskey glass photography? “The ignored or the overlooked can have relevance, can have interest,” he said. “If you don’t look around, if you don’t pay attention to the really small things in life, you could miss out on something really big.”

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Story produced by John Goodwin. Editor: Emanuele Secci.

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