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How does your whisky taste?

07 October 2013 BioMed Central Limited

Manipulating people’s senses with environmental triggers can have a significant effect on the taste of whisky. An experiment, published in BioMed Central’s open access journal Flavour, reveals that participants’ ratings of the smell, taste and flavour of a whisky changed by ten to twenty percent depending on the environment they were drinking it in. These results have implications on the environments where people consume food and drink.

Charles Spence, Professor of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford, and sound designers Condiment Junkie, conducted an experiment that examined how changing what people saw, heard, and smelled affected how they tasted whisky. Their results add to the literature demonstrates how changes in the environment can affect how people experience food and drink.

During a whisky tasting event, participants were asked to sample a whisky in three different rooms. Each room had a unique visual appearance, soundscape, fragrance, and feel which was designed to emphasize a different attribute of the whisky; its grassiness, sweetness, or woodiness. The experiment assessed how these different environments influenced the participant’s perceptions of these different attributes.

The room that was designed to emphasise the ‘grassiness’ of the whisky had a turf floor and a soundscape recorded in a summer meadow (which included sheep ‘baa-ing’ in the background). This contrasted to the other rooms, such as the one that was designed to emphasis ‘woodiness’, which had a fragrance of cedarwood and tonka bean and a soundscape that included the sound of creaking timbers, log fires, and wood instruments.

The results showed that participants perceived the whisky as significantly ‘grassier’ in the ‘grassy’ room, sweeter in the ‘sweet’ room and having a woodier aftertaste in the ‘woody’ room. Ratings changed by as much as twenty percent between rooms.

These findings imply that there are opportunities for designing multisensory environments that enhance our experience as consumers. Charles Spence, co-author of the paper, said: ‘These results suggest that, even under realistic and noisy conditions, a change of the multisensory environment in which people drink can give rise to a very real change in their experience. They help to highlight the potential opportunity that may be associated with the design multisensory environments for complex food or drink products.’

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  • NewsRelease_How does your whisky taste


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