Inhabitable whisky clouds, drinking water with 10,000-year-old glacial ice, an organ that travels the globe and doubles up as a whisky bar … no, this isn’t some crazy dream we had. This is the world of Bompas & Parr, the adventurous and innovative duo who have created some of today’s most incredible installations and events. For what would usually be reserved for the likes of Willy Wonka, they actually conceive and create.
Sitting down with one half of the pair, Sam Bompas, you might expect a purple-haired magician to appear on a flying carpet – but instead you get one fast talking and incredibly enthusiastic dreamer … who takes the impossible and makes it a reality.
One of the duo’s most recent endeavours was the wholly immersive and interactive event, Johnnie Walker’s Symphony in Blue. The idea was born two years ago in partnership with Done + Dusted (the team behind London’s 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony), among a slew of others, and whose subsequent journey has brought forth some truly out-of-the-box creations.
For two days at Merchant Taylors Hall, the multi-sensory spectacle was far more than an ode to the brand. It was a living, breathing, all-encompassing world of Johnnie Walker Blue Label. Bompas said: “Everyone has this amazing palate. It’s not like sending people to art galleries, as that can be quite obscure. Everyone practices, day after day, what they like in terms of food and flavour. So the interesting thing for us, was how do you take all of the things that are going on in the glass — and with something like Blue Label, that’s a lot — and then explode it out. Not only with foods, but on a much grander and even architectural scale.”
It’s a challenge they took on with gusto: bringing to life the elements of the whisky throughout each room of the hall which then culminated in one huge ceremonial dinner and live theatrical performance — a.k.a. The Flavour Symphony.
One of the most memorable interpretations was the world’s first whisky weather system, fully equipped with thundering storms and flashes of light. Bompas explained the inspiration: “If you get a Speyside or an Islay whisky, you can really taste the salt in it. And that comes from the weather. Obviously Johnnie Walker is a blend, so the whisky cloud was representing Scottish weather. We were particularly focussing on the peaty, smoky flavours — creating a breathable cloud with all the implications,” said Bompas.
“Having all that whisky in the air creates a sense of anonymity. You can reach out and touch someone who is a stranger, and it doesn’t feel invasive. And you can ask, ‘What notes did you get? How about you?’ It has important flavour ramifications as well, because in high humidity — you get more flavour out of it. And with the cloud, we made whisky the humidity itself.” And to bring this to fruition, Bompas explained that explosives experts were called in to ensure the room’s safety, and guests could only stay in the cloud for about a minute.
Master blender Jim Beveridge was on hand, giving guests intimate sessions in the Blending Parlour and helping them to discover the six signature flavours of Blue Label: fresh, fruity, malt, wood, spicy and peat.
The evenings were star-studded (hello Jude Law!), but the hero piece was without doubt the Flavour Conductor — a custom-designed organ hand built using 400-year-old techniques hybridised with cutting edge science. The organ is setting off to travel the world and needed to be able to execute the same quality of sound no matter the number of people in the audience or the extreme climate of its location; both of which can have a severely negative impact on the performance.
“The organ builders are insane, their normal client is a church congregation. By comparison — we’re total Apaches. Not only did they have to build the organ but it had to fit this scientific brief and all the materials had to relate to the brand. All the angles of the organ had to be the same angles as the Johnnie Walker labels. And not only did we want the organ, it needed to handle projections on it,” Bompas quickly rattled off. “But they’ve been brilliant — it’s one of those projects everyone really loved. The organists even put in a whole extra set of pipes for us for nothing, just to make the organ complete.”
When asked if there was ever a project too difficult to bring to fruition, his response: “We try not to think that way. We just keep going.”
And because this is Best Bars, we had to know — what are Sam Bompas’ three favourite bars?
- Experimental Cocktail Club: “I like ECC and go there quite a lot. Plus I know the guys, and I have an old friend who works there.”
- The Lord Clyde: “My local pub and it’s a beautiful, beautiful pub. Now it’s a bit embarrassing because I know everyone there.”
- Dandelyan: “I’m really excited about Ryan Cheti’s new place. There are so many good people involved.”
— Sasha Filimonov, @SashaSips