People and words

Where angels cycle

This story takes you from Scotland across the Atlantic, then to the Netherlands and from there to who knows where.

It starts a few years ago, when I get involved in a project for the Scotch Malt Whisky Society and Arts & Business. They’re based in Edinburgh, the Scottish capital. As a selected copywriter, I’m teamed up with graphic designer John Tafe.

Our task is to respond to sampling an unidentified malt whisky. We have to use our senses to guide the creative response. Our response has to take the form of a new name and a unique label, which will be used to bottle the whisky.

Sipping our whisky reminds us both of summers at home, that is our homes before we settled in the UK.

John is from Boston, Massachusetts. He remembers the taste of a refreshing rain shower on a muggy American night.

The whisky flavour makes me think back to when I was a young boy in Delft in the Netherlands.

In Delft we often visited my aunt. She lived on the edge of town. Behind her house was a play park. A local association ran it. The old men of the neighbourhood met each afternoon in the wooden shed of the caretaker. They usually played cards. On a warm day, they kept a bucket with ice and bottles of beer beside their card table.

As my brother, cousin and I walked by the shed on a sunny afternoon, I saw one of the men quenching his thirst. Then he said something I didn’t understand. It sounded like “It’s as if an angel is …”

I ran back to my aunt’s house to ask what he meant. Mum quickly answered: “Ben, he says ‘It’s as if an angel is cycling on your tongue.’” It kept me wondering for days. How can angels cycle on your tongue?

Later I learn the actual saying. It’s about something tasting really good. In fact, the Dutch say ‘t Is net alsof er een engeltje op je tong piest (It’s as if an angel is peeing on your tongue). Clever mum, wanting to protect my innocent ears, used the Dutch word fietst, which means cycling, instead of piest, which is peeing.

Drinking my whisky with John, a name starts forming itself in my mind. I suggest it out loud. We take another look at our glass, noticing the whisky’s extraordinary colour, and decide – Heaven’s Leak.

John comes up with ideas for the label. And designs it. Following a showing at the Edinburgh Book Festival, the project’s artwork moves to the London Design Festival. It’s also included in 26 Malts, Some Joy Ride, published by Cyan Books. Meanwhile, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society starts selling Heaven’s Leak. It goes down a treat.

Picture of the label of Heaven's Leak