Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Which Whisky Would You Like? Let Me Guess ...

* This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post UK on 12/9/16.

“Taste is the least understood of our senses”
Dr. Adam Moore

Something caught my eye recently – a press release from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society telling me that they could predict the type of whisky I like from my personal characteristics. It seemed an interesting idea and one that potentially makes sense, but can it really be achieved? Do your own personal traits mean that you will like certain flavours over others?

This is the foundation of an interactive new test devised by Dr. Adam Moore, a research scientist and psychologist based at the University of Edinburgh, in conjunction with the SMWS. Intrigued by the concept that certain types of character profiles would be drawn to certain flavour profiles in whisky, Moore developed a psychometric test to try and show this – Project Flavour Behaviour.

Psychometric tests are commonly used to determine key skills and characteristics. Anyone that has worked for a large company will have taken one. I, like many others, have always viewed them with a hint of suspicion or paranoia – what are they trying to find? Are they looking for strengths? Or weaknesses? How will they use the results?

However, this is the first time that I can think of such a test being used to match character profile to whisky flavours and styles. Dr. Moore wrote a series of trial questions and presented them to over 300 whisky consumers in different locations around the world. From the answers given he developed an algorithm that he says determines the consumer’s character and therefore their preferred whisky.

The Flavour Behaviour test analyses the five ‘personality dimensions’ that makes up your character profile – Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Neuroticism and Openness To Experience. After the test you are asked to sample some whiskies and rate them from your favourite to least favourite. The two sets of data are then matched up using similar technology to that in a dating app.

The SMWS have been doing a series of special events to get consumers involved, including sold out ones at their newly renovated rooms at 28 Queen Street in Edinburgh during the recent Edinburgh Festival. For the record, these rooms are now open to the public and not just to SMWS members.  You can also take the test on a dedicated website.

But can such a predictive test really work? Can you really predict the perfect whisky for someone? There was only one way to find out …

I paid a visit to the London member’s venue of the SMWS to take the Flavour Behaviour test and see if it could work out my favourite whisky style. I told them nothing about my taste preferences beforehand. The 35 questions had multiple-choice answers and they were varied, covering many unconnected scenarios such as what my role in a dog sled team would be or how I would deal with an upset neighbour and a dead hamster.

After answering I was presented with five whiskies bottled by the SMWS. These were of differing styles and I ranked them as requested. The two sets of information were fed to the algorithm and I waited with some intrigue about what the result would be. Would it predict correctly, or be way off?

The test told me that I am a moderate and conscientious character with no one clear dominating personality trait (this is good apparently). I am ‘not particularly open to new experiences’ and also have extrovert tendencies but do not like others to know about them. Do not hold any of that against me!

So, what does that mean for my whisky taste and preference?

The Flavour Behaviour test predicted that I would like whiskies with a sweet, fruity and mellow profile with lots of oak and vanilla characteristics. The sceptic in me wanted this to not be true but I have to say it is a pretty accurate assessment. I tend to enjoy ex-bourbon cask whiskies the most and they generally display all of the notes listed. This made me quite impressed.

The Flavour Behaviour test is a fun and mind-opening experience that proved more successful than I imagined it could be. It is always fascinating to test yourself and I do not see why this type of test could not work with other types of food or drink.

Did I learn anything new about myself or my whisky tastes? Not really if honest, but the test did predict my preference of whisky style and I can see how it will assist whisky drinkers, particularly new ones. Why not give it a go yourself? Find out more by visiting www.smws.com.

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