Fancy a wee dram?

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Fancy a wee dram?

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Maybe not if you knew what it was made from…

The story

James Gilpin is a designer and researcher with a specific interest in the future of health care.  One of his latest projects aims to educate the public about diabetes by making whisky from glucose extracted from the urine of people with type-2 diabetes.

Gilpin family whisky is made by removing the glucose from the urine which is then added to the mash stock.  When making more traditional whisky, the alcohol is made from the fermentation of sugars in the malted barley found in the mash but adding the glucose from the urine speeds up this process.

The mixture is then left to ferment and distilled to produce a clear alcohol.  Gilpin mixes in whisky blends at this point to make his drink more ‘whisky-like’ which is used when cheap whiskies are made.

Teaching ideas

I confess that I have no idea about the merits of this as a design project but the science behind it is interesting and it could be very useful in waking up and sparking an interest in a GCSE group when talking about either diabetes or fermentation.

For a starter to a lesson on diabetes you could show the students an image of the whisky (plenty can be found on Gilpin’s website) and ask them what this has to do with diabetes.  You will get some random responses but keep feeding them clues until someone comes up with the right answer.

You could then share the anecdote of how doctors used to taste the urine of patients in order to diagnose diabetes.  If you are feeling in a particularly devilish mood – why not make up some tea of varying concentrations and place in beakers.  Tell the students that it is urine of various teachers collected fresh this morning and proceed to taste each one in turn to ascertain if any of them are diabetic. Maybe you could offer a taster to the students as well; I find this most affective if done just after lunch.   You could then go onto discuss why people with type-2 diabetes have glucose in their urine and why other do not.

The story could also be used as a plenary in a chemistry lesson after the students have learnt about how whisky is normally made.  Tell them that the urine of people with diabetes contains glucose and get them to write a method for making whisky from it.

If you wish to find out more about this strange but fascinating project, Gilpin will be displaying his homemade tipple at various shows this autumn including 100% materials in London in September and at the AND festival (Abandon Normal Devices) in Manchester in October.  And if you do fancy that dram there will be opportunities to try it.  Personally, I think I’ll pass.


The page from Gilpin’s website about the project

An interview with Gilpin

Website about proper scotch whisky including a video and downloadable PDFs about how it is made