These Photos of Dried Whisky Glasses Look Like Alien Worlds

An image featuring two planets against a star-filled backdrop. The planet on the left has a striped, red and green surface. The planet on the right resembles Earth but with dark, muted tones and prominent landmasses.

Though they may look like a faraway planet, these remarkable photos are actually of the bottom of a whisky glass.

Photographer Ernie Button has been examining the bottom of his whisky glass for the past 15 years in a project he calls Vanishing Spirits. PetaPixel covered him over 10 years ago but the photographer has since released a book and shot hundreds more empty glasses in that time.

“The project began innocently enough,” Button tells PetaPixel. “After enjoying a dram of Scotch whisky the night before, the glasses were left out on the table overnight. When I collected them in the morning to put them in the dishwasher, I noticed something in the bottom of the glass and when I held it up to the light, I noticed these fine lines in the glass.”

A circular, multicolored abstract image resembling a donut with a black center. The colors smoothly transition from blue at the top left, to purple, and then to yellow at the bottom, creating a gradient effect. The black background enhances the vibrant colors.

Close-up photo of a dark blue seashell with intricate spiraling patterns. The shell is displayed against a solid black background, accentuating its textures and details, with light highlighting the ridges and curves.

A black circular object with intricate, golden geometric patterns in the center, resembling a mandala. The golden shapes contrast sharply against the dark background, creating a striking visual effect. The entire design appears illuminated as if glowing slightly.

A circular glass artwork featuring an abstract landscape. The top half showcases pinkish-purple hues with layered, mountain-like forms, while the bottom has a green wave-like pattern. The design is set against a clean, white background.

Close-up of a translucent, blue, crystalline structure with a rough, uneven surface inside a white circular frame set against a black background. The crystal has intricate layers and a highlighted area that creates a sense of depth and texture.

Abstract artwork featuring swirling, textured patterns in shades of orange and blue. The intricate design resembles waves or cosmic elements within a dark, circular frame, evoking a sense of motion and depth. Bright spots add a touch of light and contrast.

Button uses different colored gels to breathe fresh life into his abstract images; otherwise all of the photos would all be a whitish-gray color.

“I first got the idea by using a variety of lights to illuminate the patterns at the bottom of the glass,” he explains.

“Some were a cooler blue and others were a warmer yellow and when I would mix them in the setup, it would heighten the visual impact of the image.”

Image of Jupiter's North Pole taken by NASA’s Juno spacecraft. The image shows a circular view of the planet with a swirling atmospheric pattern in shades of red, purple, and orange, depicting cyclones and gas storms against the blackness of space.

Close-up of a colorful, round object with a dark background. The object has vibrant shades of blue, green, orange, and yellow, with a dark central area surrounded by a sunburst pattern. The edges are textured and appear slightly illuminated.

A circular object with a pale, beige surface covered in a complex network of thin, dark, intersecting lines, set against a gradient background transitioning from light to dark brown tones. The object appears textured and detailed with an abstract pattern.

A spherical abstract digital artwork with a textured surface. The sphere exhibits a gradient of colors, predominantly green on the upper left, transitioning to blue in the center, and orange on the upper right. It is set against a solid black background.

A dark, planet-like sphere floats in space, set against a backdrop of countless tiny stars. The sphere has a cloudy, textured surface with muted blue and gray tones, depicting abstract, nebula-like patterns. The background is a deep, star-speckled expanse.

A mesmerizing spiral pattern composed of multi-colored dots on a dark background. The dots radiate from the center, creating a sense of depth and movement resembling a cosmic vortex or galactic formation with green, yellow, and red hues.

The key to the longevity of the project is that Button continues to find the different patterns fascinating. At this point in the project, Button has photographed thousands of glasses with tens of thousands of images taken.

“Through the years and hundreds of whiskies that I’ve experimented with, I’ve only found a few whiskies (less than five) that didn’t provide a pattern,” he says.

“So nearly all whiskies work for this project. But I’ve found that different types of barrels help to create different patterns. A whisky that is aged in a bourbon barrel will produce fine/thin repetitive lines whereas a sherry cask will provide thicker repetitive lines.

“A big thing in the Scotch world for the past decade or two are finishing casks. The whisky spends most of its time in one cask and then it is transferred to a different type of cask e.g. cognac, wine, rum, etc. for a few months to a few years. That can impact the taste of course but can also impact the final drying pattern.”

A dark, spherical object with an iridescent blue glow, streaked with lines of vibrant red and bright blue light. The background is completely black, emphasizing the orb's luminescence and the contrast of the dynamic light patterns.

A circular, textured object with concentric rings in shades of gold and blue, radiating from the center. The background is completely black, highlighting the intricate patterns and colors of the circle, giving it a luminous, almost hypnotic effect.

A vibrant, multi-colored, spherical object with horizontally layered bands in varying shades of orange, brown, purple, green, and grey. The bands appear textured, creating wavy patterns resembling a painted marble. The sphere is set against a black background.

A digital rendering of a sphere with a mosaic-like texture in shades of blue, lavender, and pink. The background fades from white at the top to a deep maroon at the bottom, giving the illusion that the sphere is suspended in a gradient space.

A digitally rendered planet-like sphere with swirling red, orange, and white textures on its upper half, resembling a stormy atmosphere. The lower half transitions into dark, deep blue and black hues, giving an impression of a celestial body in space.

An image of a cosmic sphere resembling a planet, with a swirling mix of blue, white, and gold colors. The pattern inside appears to radiate outward from the center, creating a dynamic, explosive effect against a black background.

Button has also photographed other aged spirits which also have to be a high ABV and aged in a cask. Anejo tequila, rum, vodka, cognac, and aged gin can also provide interesting patterns.

“Lately I have been experimenting with Japanese whisky which is typically made with rice instead of barley and initially I thought it was the rice that was accounting for the significant differences,” he adds.

“But I recently tried Hakata brand whisky which is made from 100% barley and I expected it to dry like a Scotch whisky; it did not. So it may have something to do with Koji which is a fungus that transforms the base ingredient’s starches into fermentable sugars.”

A depiction of an egg-shaped object with intricate, abstract line patterns in red and black on its surface. The background is a gradient of beige to light brown, providing a subtle contrast to the detailed designs on the egg.

A circular, abstract pattern featuring a mix of blue, purple, and green colors at the center with an outer ring of brown and black hues. The design resembles a vibrant, organic splash or explosion, set against a plain white background.

An abstract, textured circular design resembling a planet’s surface or a clay sculpture with swirling patterns and mixed shades of brown, grey, and hints of reddish-orange. The background is a solid pink color.

A circular object with a textured surface, illuminated by a vibrant spectrum of light ranging from red to violet. The light creates a glowing effect, highlighting the ridges and contours of the object against a dark background.

A mysterious, abstract image resembling a glowing blue and gold planetary object or orb, set against a dark background. Distinct swirling patterns and ethereal shapes create an otherworldly, luminous effect at the center, evoking a sense of cosmic beauty.

Button’s book, The Art of Whisky, is published by Chronicle Books and is currently available on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

More of his work can be found on his website and Instagram.

Image credits: Photographs by Ernie Buton