Type 1 Diabetes and Whisky
Some years ago, I read an article where a man discussed the prospect of making wine out of his diabetic grandmother’s urine. More recently, I tried to rediscover this article, but I couldn’t find it anywhere on the internet. Instead, I found one better.
James Gilpin turns urine into whisky.
Type 1 diabetes is where the body does not produce enough insulin in order to regulate blood sugar levels. As a diabetic himself, Gilpin attempted to find some use for his sugar-rich urine.
He first approached his diabetic grandmother for her urine for a trial, and worked out with her the correct way to ask an elderly person for a cup of wee. He went round communities of old people, exchanging soft toys and cushions for cups of urine.
The conveniently large sugar molecules in the urine formed large crystals, and were hence easy to remove and purify separately from the fluids. The urine is cleaned with a very similar process to that used in the purification of the water that comes through our taps.
The removed sugar molecules are added to the mash stock- to accelerate the fermentation process of the whisky- these sugars are usually made from the starches in the mash.
Once the solution is fermented into a clear alcohol spirit, whisky blends are added to add colour, viscosity, and flavour.
Gilpin bottles his product and labels it with the name and age of the urine donor.
His project, Family Whisky, is not one for the commercialisation of alcoholic produce sourced from the exploitation of the elderly. Instead, it is a project aimed at raising awareness of the complications that diabetics have to deal with when they go about their day to day business, he says:
The fact that I am associating alcohol with a severe medical condition has upset some medical professionals that I have met during the process of my project. This was a very deliberate provocation on my part as I wanted to have a dialogue with health care professionals about the real complications of living with diabetes. People still want to drink, eat unhealthy food and experience the messiness of everyday life. In my personal experience this is often overlooked by professionals who can give the impression that theses things simply should not be a part of life as a diabetic patient but they are. I am interested in finding ways in which designed systems can help overcome these very social problems.