December 18, 2018updated 03 Jan 2019 2:26pm

How AI gave whisky tasting a 21st-century update

By Ellen Daniel

It is thought that the origins of whisky can be traced back to as early as the 2nd millennium BC to the Babylonians in Mesopotamia. However, that doesn’t mean that the spirit is immune from 21st-century technology.

One company is harnessing technology already present in many homes, the Amazon Echo, to help whisky drinkers to become more clued up on their favourite spirit.

The London drinking scene is certainly not short of novelty activities, but these can often be costly. Alcoholic beverages company Diageo wants to use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to encourage customers to learn more about whisky this festive season. It is piloting a new Amazon Alexa Skill (app) that allows customers to use their voice to discover the origins of their drink from the comfort of their own home.

Talisker Tasting Experience is a voice activated-skill available for Amazon Echo that that allows whisky fans to “explore the colour, smell and taste” of Talisker as as you would in an in person whisky tasting at a distillery or bar.

Selected Talisker Whisky bottles will be labelled with the specific call to action needed to activate the new skill, and from there customers can go on an audio journey of how to taste Talisker Skye, Talisker Storm or Talisker 10-year-old Single Malt. During a “tasting experience” whisky drinkers will not only learn how to appreciate the richness and complexity of flavours in the Talisker range, but also ask questions about the story behind the drink or flavours of Scotch they may like to try in the future.

And there is no need to be a connoisseur, as the guide is intended to makes the heritage of Scotch more accessible to more people than ever before.

Beyond Diageo: Using AI to embrace food and drink

Using AI to educate is nothing new, but using tech to create food and drinks “experiences” or increase personalisation may become increasingly common in the industry.

Diageo isn’t the only company mixing technology and alcoholic beverages is unusual ways. Earlier this year, one bar in London used data analytics from its social media channels to design a cocktail menu, by using likes, shares and views to determine which drinks and ingredients were the most popular.

In April, researchers in Australia developed a robot that can assess the quality of beer, testing for qualities such as alcohol content, colour and foaminess.

Diageo has not been afraid to embrace AI. In May it launched Johnnie Walker My Edition, it which customers are asked a series of questions about their tastes and preferences to generate a personalised recommendation of different types of whisky to try.

It also recently launched ‘The Bar’ for the Amazon Echo Show which enables consumers to master mixology techniques and shop for ingredients through voice-led practical advice.

By 2020 it is predicted that 50% of online searches will be made via voice and it is an area in which some companies in the drinks industry are keen to experiment. In September the Baileys Almande voice activated ‘send me a sample campaign’ generated more than 6,000 sample requests in its first week of the campaign.

Benjamin Lickfett, Head of Technology and Innovation at Diageo said: “Talisker is a brand with an extremely rich heritage, produced by the sea on the Isle of Skye. We were looking to bring elements of this location and the fantastic tasting tours at the Talisker Distillery into people’s homes.

“Voice is the perfect technology to do just this and provide an enhanced brand experience by putting the consumer, product and brand at the centre of a tasting, in a completely seamless and non-intrusive way.

“Through the Talisker Tasting Experience Skill we’re able to bring the history and traditions associated with Scotch to a new generation of drinkers.”

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