Sipping whisky in a room where the predominant colour is red? Chances are you’ll taste more dark berries and dried fruit flavours. Drinking it fireside? Odds are you’ll taste the lingering after-notes of age and wood.
That’s because a change of environment can alter the tasting experience of whisky by up to 20 per cent, says an Oxford University professor who carried out what he calls the world’s first science experiment to look at how the consumer’s surroundings can impact flavour perceptions.
The whisky used in the experiment was The Singleton of Dufftown single malt.
To conduct his study, Charles Spence enlisted 440 members of the public to participate in a whisky tasting that took them through three rooms. The first room, for example, designed to accentuate the green, grassy notes of the whisky, was carpeted in turf and featured the sounds of lawn mowers and birds tweeting.
A room bathed in red lights, curved shapes and ringing bells was designed to highlight the flavours of dark berries and dried fruit, while participants in the third room were subjected to the sounds of double-bass notes, creaking wood and a crackling fire.
The scent of cedar wood was also infused throughout the space, while a tree at the centre of the room was placed to bring out the taste of aged wood.
Participants were aware they were drinking the same whisky as they moved from room to room.
“What these results show is that even under realistic and noisy conditions, a change of environment can give rise to a very real 10-20 per cent change in the experience of the whisky,” said Spence in a statement.
“Therefore, there is an opportunity here to create a multi-sensory environment around a great tasting product to enhance the drinker’s experience and enjoyment of drinking whisky.”
The tastings were held over three nights in March in London. The experiment is part of a wider scientific study to be published this fall on how multi-sensory environments impact the taste of whisky.
Professor Charles Spence and Condiment Junkie, who helped to create the ‘Sound of the Sea’ dish with Heston Blumenthal for The Fat Duck, believe that the results will have lasting implications on the way pubs, bars and restaurants will be designed in the future.
Spence isn’t the only researcher to find a link between environment and flavour perceptions. A small study out of the University of Portsmouth published in 2011 found that loud environments can make alcohol taste sweeter and impair judgement as participants were less able to detect alcohol strength as the noise and music got louder.
Another study published in the British Journal of Psychology found that wine can take on the attributes of the style of music people are listening to. Listening to the smooth voice of crooner Tom Jones, for instance, was associated with adjectives such as earthy and full-bodied for a glass of Merlot.