It’s a well-worn trope that distillation combines a little science and a little art, and many spirit producers choose to evoke this connection in their marketing – speaking in hushed tones about their inspiration, their craft, or just their spirit as a symphony of flavour. In Wilkieston on the outskirts of Edinburgh, however, the combination of distillation and art takes on a whole new meaning at Jupiter Artland.
It is there that X MUSE (pronounced ‘tenth muse’) was conceived and finds its spiritual home at the Jupiter Artland where the farming, distilling and blending traditions of Scotland meet artistic practice and art-thinking to produce a unique blended barley vodka.
With Scottish barley indelibly linked to the whisky industry, X MUSE co-founders Robert Wilson and Vadim Grigoryan have travelled back to explore two strains of heritage grain – long abandoned by most distillers who now favour modern varietals for their higher yields – to create a rich and well-balanced vodka in which the quality of the grain and its distinctive bready flavours shines through.
Using barley sourced exclusively from the UK, they distil the two strains separately producing distinctly different initial distillates. The Marris Otter spirit has a creamy mouthfeel, with a hint of green pepper, coriander seed and some oxidised pear notes, while the Plumage Archer barley gives a strikingly fresher nose with a touch of caramelised apple tart and black pepper. The combination when blended, produces a well-balanced vodka with a light honey sweetness and an orchard fruit freshness – a summery balm for those who believe the best vodkas taste of as little as possible.
The attention to detail doesn’t end with the choice of barley though. As co-founder Vadim Grigoryan explains, “Most spirits are around 60 per cent water, but often very little consideration is given to the qualities of that water”. With Jupiter Artland situated on top of an ancient aquifer, X MUSE takes full advantage of nature’s great gift, drawing water from the depths of the site and resting it on amethyst crystals before incorporating it into every step of the distillation, dilution and bottling process.
The use of amethyst crystals in the production process is no whim. It also serves as one of many nods to the inspiration that X MUSE vodka takes from its surroundings at Jupiter Artland. With a brand motto of More is hidden than uttered, and an ethos based on a belief that art has a transformative power that is for everyone, it is no surprise that the development of the product draws so heavily from its inspirational home to apply tiny secrets to many of its production and design processes.
The use of amethyst, for example, ties back to The Light Pours Out of Me, Anya Gallaccio’s contemporary grotto lined with undulating walls of the jagged and cool crystals long believed to hold healing powers. The bottle, meanwhile, is adorned with tactile ridges inspired by Charles Jenks’ iconic Cells of Life – the rolling landforms and causeway over the site’s aquifer which are themselves a reference to the cellular process of mitosis and the creation of life.
Elsewhere on the site, hidden deep in the woods sits the tenth muse herself, Sappho – so named by no less a critic than Plato and revered as one of the greatest lyrical poets of archaic times. Engulfed in trees, Ian Hamilton Finlay’s sculpture of the feted poetess, who gave her nickname to the vodka, casts a somewhat knowing and aloof look over her surroundings. Quietly pleased at the inspirational power she still holds some twenty-five centuries after her death.
Inspired Signature Serves
Artistic inspiration also lurks in the X MUSE signature cocktail menu. For Star Must Steer – a herbal twist on a martini (X MUSE vodka, Drambuie, Angostura orange bitters, mandarin oil and gold-dusted blueberries), the team was inspired by Finlay’s 1965 work Star Steer, a jagged graphic poem stacking the word star on steer in evocation of the way light plays on water and the way the gold dust from the blueberries plays on the surface of this delectable after dinner serve.
The Signature Martini, meanwhile, needs no artwork to enhance its piercing flavours, with X MUSE vodka, dry vermouth, olive distillate and a caper berry speared by a 24-carat gold plated cocktail pick designed by Milanese design duo FormaFantasma.
The X MUSE Reveal Series – inspired by Pablo Bronstein
In an artland where spirit-making and art-thinking combine, however, the iterative process of development never stops, and this October, X MUSE will release a new limited-edition bottle and gift box inspired by Anglo-Argentinian artist Pablo Bronstein. The X MUSE Reveal Series is a run of 99 bottles featuring hand-painted and foiled Gothic and Chinoiserie motifs inspired by Bronstein’s Rose Walk pavilions at the Jupiter Artland – two ten-metre-high pavilions built in the battling architectural styles of the mid-18th century separated by a 25 metre rose garden.
The striking bottles with amethyst and gold stylings will retail at £350 (700ml) with a portion of profits to be donated to the Outset Contemporary Art Fund, the leading international, independent charity supporting innovative art projects, while the liquid itself has inspired its own cocktail, the Invisible Quatrefoil – named for one of the extremely visible motifs of the artwork – which combines X MUSE vodka, vermouth, a pink grapefruit and purple basil cordial, lemon juice and tonic water.
X MUSE vodka is purchased through xmusevodka.com, Amazon, Amathus, Selfridges, the Whisky Exchange and many more, while X MUSE cocktails can be found on menus across England and Scotland, including The Gleneagles Townhouse, Edinburgh, The Connaught, Claridges and Bacchanalia, London and Bacchanalia and all Art Farm venues.
The X MUSE Reveal Series limited edition inspired by artist Pablo Bronstein will be available from October on the X MUSE website.
To discover more, visit: xmusevodka.com
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All imagery courtesy of X MUSE Vodka.